May is mental health awareness month, and I have not had much of a hold on my mental health to talk about it… until now. While states are beginning to open back and life seems like it’s attempting to get back to normal (whatever that’s supposed to be), I thought now was a good time to chat about how this pandemic affected me and more specifically my mental health. It’s important to realize that EVERYONE reacts differently to a situation like this, and no one is necessarily wrong in how they respond. (Unless of course, you’re a jerk by not following guidelines and common sense and pretended to be too good to listen to science, I have no time or energy for that foolery).
I had a hold on my mental health (specifically my anxiety) when this pandemic first kicked up into high gear… or so I thought. I lasted about a week before things began to spiral. Let me give you a little back story. I work in retail, and my store was considered essential because we sell groceries and have a pharmacy inside, among other non-essential things, so we were open, and I was working. My mom is hurt, has a terrible immune system, and still has a recovering cough from all the years of smoking (that she thankfully finally gave up over six months ago). Even if I wasn’t sick myself, I was always the culprit of bringing things home to her when I worked in daycare, so I was beyond paranoid that I was going to bring this terrible virus home to her. I’ve had pneumonia before, I’m always getting bronchitis, and I struggle with other health issues, but I was more worried about my mom than myself. The problem was that I had to work, not only was I an essential employee but I was the only one working in the house at that point, we had many bills to pay, and it just wasn’t an option to not work. I was working 6-8 hours a day at least four days a week, and I was struggling. One positive was that Misha Collins had an Instagram live session at the beginning of all of this with a psychologist Dr. Ali Mattu where he asked tons of questions, and Dr. Mattu touched upon multiple areas of mental health and how Covid is affecting it. It made me not feel crazy about how it was affecting me! He said it was normal, and that helped, he gave a few new techniques that I hadn’t tried yet, and they were great. Misha putting this together helped me a lot that even though I was struggling hard, it was normal, and it would be okay.
(I think I need to mention that this is my journey. I’m well aware that people had it worse, some got Covid, there are thousands of health care workers right up in it day in day out, and that is a journey that I’m glad I didn’t have, and I’m thankful that those workers sacrificed so much to help those who needed it. So, as I’m telling my story, I’m in no way discounting or overlooking someone else’s.)
While I won’t go into it, I should also add that during this time, I was also having a very hard time with my sister which brought on even more financial, emotional and mental stress. I WAS HAVING IT. Eventually, I was missing work because either 1. My blood pressure would be so high it would spark dizzy spells, 2. I could not fall asleep the night before because my anxiety was so terrible and 3. I quite literally could not drag myself out of my bed, even if the room were on fire, I wasn’t budging.
I was having depressive episodes. I would become so angry upon seeing someone browsing and buying non-essential things, I sometimes, instead of helping them, I needed to walk away from them. Why are you out here buying dish towels, new plate sets and kitchen appliances, and risking me and everyone else? You could be home, I’d like to be home, and I can’t be, and you might not look sick, but you could be sick, but here you are, and you’re unbelievably selfish, is just the tip of what I was feeling. I have been overwhelmed time and time again, and I usually have bouts of anxiousness that I have to work through, and then I put my hair up and handle it. That wasn’t the case here.
I was in all definitions, an absolute train wreck.
Finally, I decided that I had to take some time off. We’d gotten those stimulus checks that made me be able to justify it. (of course, that only went so far, I missed two paychecks, and I’m right back to struggling) but it came down to the fact that I had no choice. My anxiety, anger, and sadness were the worst I had seen it in such a long time. None of my usual fixes were doing anything, my blood pressure was dangerously high, I was miserable, and I had to put my health first, which was incredibly hard for me to do. I thought of more than a dozen reasons why I couldn’t take off for two weeks. Thankfully my job made it very easy to do this, although I hated hearing the words “No, it can’t be a paid leave, we had to draw the line somewhere” the line being my mental health wasn’t good enough, but the process still went rather smoothly.
During this two week period, I did everything I could to pull myself together. I only left the house to do our grocery shopping and my grandma’s grocery shopping when she needed it. I utilized my conquest journal planners more than ever. Planning out movies night (movies I’d wanted to watch and never got the chance too), keeping track of my blood pressure, anxiety levels, if I took my vitamins, and more. I made it a point to get up by at least 9 (once I got my sleeping on track) and do some reading with my coffee. I absolutely love cozying up in bed with coffee and a good book, from Felicia Day’s Embrace your weird, to Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, many books kept me company. I never missed The Regulars Podcast on YouTube at 12:30, so even if I slept in a bit (if I had a hard time the night before), I never slept later than 11:30 because of The Regulars Podcast, and it truthfully became my saving grace. I knew for at least one hour I could throw in my headphones and have a giant laugh, good conversation, and float away. Some of the days when I felt a little out of sorts, I would put on makeup and curl my hair, just because and I made sure to prioritize my school work as to get behind and bring about more stress.
Most importantly, I think, was I started writing again. One night I had just watched an episode of TV that really sparked something, so I sat down and wrote a scene, then another and then another. I guess it was fan fiction, but it was a story, nonetheless. That sparked even more writing, and I’m currently on Act 9 of a story that I’m just going where my pen takes me. I just throw on my headphones, get lost in the music, and tell a story. As much easier as it is to type, having to put pen to paper slows my mind down a little, and I find it to be so much better when mapping out where you want a story to go! I hadn’t written much that wasn’t a paper or school, or the occasional blog post, and I felt a sense of accomplishment when I’d finished a scene that I hadn’t felt in quite some time.
I also decided and started the process of changing my college major. While I love Environmental Studies, I began to love Psychology even more. I took it as a minor because I knew I would enjoy it, and then I found myself realizing that I actually did, in fact, know what I wanted to do as a career. I could never answer the question of “What do you want to do with your degree? And it was eating at me. Then it suddenly became clear. I wanted to be a psychologist, a therapist; I want to work in behavioral and mental health. I want to help people, to let them know that they’re not alone, the same fight I’m fighting, so many others are as well. I know it took a long time for me to get any kind of idea as to what was happening to me, and I did it alone, and I still continue to fight it alone (and when I say alone I mean there’s no one around me to help me through these things, there are other online resources and such that I use, and I know that I am not truly alone in it), and it’s not easy, but it’s the hand I’ve been dealt. I want to do something that makes someone’s life maybe just a little bit easier.
When I finally went back to work, I was anxious, of course, but feeling better. Most were happy to see me, some (a couple of my bosses) weren’t thrilled with me for missing work, but I told myself I wouldn’t apologize for putting my mental health first and I didn’t, not once. Not apologizing for my anxiety attacks, my panic attacks, my depressive episodes, is not easy at all; it’s something I’m working on, and it’s something that I’m slowly getting better at. The fight against mental illness is apart of me, it’s a part of anyone who is fighting, and we’re strong people. It might not always feel that way, but we are. Everyone is dealing with this pandemic differently. Some are in isolation and having a hard time with that; some like me, can’t be in isolation, and are having a hard time with that. Some are losing loved ones, caring for other people loved ones, missing their family, missing weddings, graduations, baby doctor appointments, and so much more, and we’re all struggling, and it is all valid.
May is just a month. One month dedicated to the battle of mental health, but for most of us, we battle it 12 months a year, and we’ve been hit with quite a curveball that not all of us were able to handle. States might be opening back up, but it doesn’t mean that this pandemic is over, and that’s not my anxiety talking, that is just a fact. Some people might be itching to get back out there and get back to their version of normal, but I don’t think things will or should just go back to normal. I’m going to listen to myself when deciding when I feel comfortable going back out again because even going to a friend’s bonfire with five people still seems like more than I’m ready for.
I think the most important thing is to listen to yourself. Trust yourself. You’ll know when you’re ready; you’ll know when you need to take a step back, you’ll know what is best for you and your family.
Just remember to
Always Keep Fighting.