I’m happy that mental health awareness month is here. It’s so critical that we be open and honest about our feelings, and about what we’re going through, in order to feel like we’re not alone. In my case, I suffer from severe anxiety. Before I began to address some of my behaviors with comprehensive therapy, I struggled through difficult days consistently, and much more often than I’d ever wished to. Whenever I was forced to ruminate on my situation for too long, I would find myself sinking into a mire of doubt, and could only ever dig myself out once I’d stopped wringing my hands. However, if ever I’d been granted a mission, or a purpose—even a list of simple tasks to complete—those actions would propel me forward, unsticking me from the earth. Given a list of things to do, I could “check them off,” moment to moment. Tasked helped me to tie all of those disparate—desperate—parts of me together, and blended them into a single, tangible solid form.
Consistent therapy helped me immensely to craft the little “to do” lists that kept me grounded—but, after the onslaught of the pandemic, I couldn’t comprehend how was I meant to approach my particular anxiety issues. What was I supposed to do without my typical behavior modifications, once all of the “shelter in place” ordinances began? Those “shelter in place” lists felt way too short to me now: fewer grocery store trips, fewer opportunities to walk to a library, to read outside of a cafe. To share brunch. To meet people. To see a person genuinely smile at you, and to smile back.
I need a community. I need solidarity. Whenever I notice my anxiety increasing to what feels like an unmanageable level, one of the most powerful methods I’d developed for dealing with it was to lean on the support system of trusted friends and family around me.
In order to fully address my mental health during the lockdown, I’d have to discover some new methods to connect meaningfully with people around me, even if we have to remain at least six feet apart.
After months of “waves ‘hello’” from afar and plenty of online meetups, I’ve learned that distancing is not the same as isolation. If you live with and are sheltering with others, make it a point to talk to them in meaningful conversations. In the years before the pandemic, I would come home to my roommates and almost immediately head to my room—I wanted some “alone” time to chill out—and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I rarely ever made time to sit down and get to know the people with whom I was sharing a home.
I discovered that I hadn’t spoken to my neighbors too much either until I learned their names as I’d go for walks around the block. I began to socialize from afar, setting up car “drive-bys” with close friends, so that we could see each others’ faces, and feel each others’ warmth of spirit. I thought of friends that I hadn’t spoken to in a while—the sorts that I hadn’t ever spoken with on the phone before—and I set up a time to video chat. Instead of feeling completely undone by the isolation as it squeezed in on me, I used the opportunity to send out invitations to others that I believed might have been going through some of the same struggles as myself. Even though I’d fallen out of touch with some of them, I understood that now was the time to send a friendly “hello” to them again.
If you feel like you’ve been missing out on this crucial aspect of socialization and mental health, then put out some feelers: you’re most likely not alone. See if your friends and family are interested in hanging out as a group, virtually, and be the one to set up the meeting or hangout.
You Don’t Have to Be Perfect
If you feel like you need it, getting mental health care is especially important right now. Even if you think that you don’t have it all that bad, a professional can help you sort through your feelings and establish self-care habits better than any article ever could. There are going to be losses in the next weeks and maybe months, from canceled graduations and weddings to sick loved ones in your community. I had to learn that I was allowed to have complicated feelings about that, and so should you. Remember that there are numerous opportunities for outreach among your very own communities. Reach out. Even from a distance.