There are many blogs I'd like to write, begun crafting in my mind, and even joked about; this, though, was never on my radar. Never did I imagine needing to write about maintaining mental health in the midst of quarantine/social distancing/title of your choosing--because, well, let's be honest, who ever even imagined this would be our life.
And yet, here we are. The numbers in my home state are doubling daily. Selfish hoarders are stripping shelves of basic necessities simply because they can. And because they're selfish. But that's a trail I won't go down because I refuse to feed the panic and the fear.
Mental health in the midst of all of this is no joke. People with very mild (read: basically forgotten) depression and/or anxiety are being triggered left and right. Imagine, then, how people are faring who, pre-virus, fought daily just to exist without you ever knowing about their battle?
We are at a new level of necessity in de-stigmatizing mental health. Depression is real. Anxiety is real. Bi-polar, borderline, schizophrenia; yep, all real. People fight every day to mange them and the often co-occurring addictions.
This is the last thing they needed.
This is the last thing we needed.
This is the last thing I needed.
Whether or not you acknowledge it, we all fall prey to the pull of depression and/or anxiety at some point in our lives. I fully believe that. It might not always be the version triggered by a chemical imbalance; I assure you situational depression and anxiety are just as real. Maybe you're grieving. Maybe your friend was in a major life transition before the world changed. Maybe your job security is gone and your bank is still asking for its mortgage payment. Bottom line, we are all at risk of an uptick in anxiety and/or depression at this time.
But, there is hope.
Anxiety and depression are kissing cousins who work in similar fashion to create the same end result: paralysis. Anxiety paralyzes with fear, depression with desolation.
Both. Are. LIARS.
With virtual field trips, calls for puppy pictures to brighten the news, and pay it forward challenges, I see us trying to help each other. This is my contribution, because I believe in educating on anxiety and depression, in naming each as they liar they are, we can learn to beat them back and keep them at bay. I pray what follows will help you find peace and hope.
1. Unmask it: There's a scene in an episode of the original Charmed (Lindsay, thank's for the introduction all those years ago!) when the sisters each need to deal with their dreams. Phoebe, played by Alyssa Milano, does this by ripping off the mask of the person coming after her. In ripping off the mask, she was able to identify, understand, and overcome. Essentially, she named it and we need to do the same. Bring your anxiety or depression (or whatever it might be) into the light and name it. Both will tell you they have control over you, but I promise you that isn't the case. You CAN regain control and the first step is naming it.
2. Don't go it alone: Yes, social distancing is real and needs to be followed. But, Google Hangouts and FaceTime are allowed. Phone calls are allowed. Going for a walk with a friend or two is allowed. Quarantine does not need to be a synonym for isolation. Be honest when you talk to people. Now, more than ever, take the time to answer honestly the question: "how are you?" After all, what's the point of ripping off the mask if you're not going to talk about what's underneath?
3. Move: One antidote to paralyzing fear and/or desolation is movement. Simply put, moving gets the positive chemicals in your mind flowing and flooding your body--it shuts up (sorry, Mom!) the sucky (sorry again, Mom!) ones, drowning them out. In my county alone there are 100 trail systems. 100! I think I've walked 5. Yep, 5. Dance, run, lift, play Twis--okay, don't do that one, but I think you see the point. Move your body and your mind will reward you.
4. Gather Evidence: Back to the fact that anxiety and depression are liars. One keeps a person in panic, trapping them in the lies about safety and constant attack. In those moments the body is flooded with chemicals that literally traumatize your body and prevent your brain from recognizing that, actually, right now, in this moment, you are perfectly safe. Yes, you, reading these words. Look around you. You are safe, right here, right now. If your brain is telling you something different, tell it to stop lying to you.
So, one keeps a person in panic. The other traps in isolation and desolation, telling a person to stay in because, and each person fills in the blank here with their personalized lie, they are: unworthy, unloved, incapable, etc. Anything to keep the person trapped and alone.
The solution to all of it is evidence. Gather evidence contrary to what your brain is trying to tell you. Getting up and getting dressed is a win against depression. Stepping out of the house is a win against anxiety. Make a list of all of your accomplishments, big and small. And if you can't think of any? See #2. Evidence of your capability, safety, and the fact that you're loved surrounds you; depression and anxiety try to steal that part of your eyesight and I'm here to remind you that part of your eyesight is 20/20.
5. Interrupt: Both anxiety and depression are cyclical and they thrive on keeping people in their loops. Figure our your loop and interrupt it, even if only for moments. Every interruption is a time when you prove to yourself that you are in control--every interruption, then, is also a piece of evidence for #4. Handy, huh?
Here's what this looks like. My depression keeps me on the couch or in bed. I watch movie after movie or just sleep. I think of things to do and then don't follow-through, because there's no point. Then, the more I sit on the couch or sleep, the worse I feel and the more difficult it is to care to change. Do you see the spiral? So I need to be intentional about changing my routine. I get up and walk the dogs. I take a shower. I put on a real bra and real clothes. I eat 3 meals a day and get up at a normal hour. I go to a different room to work. Each of these things reminds me that I'm still here. The world is changed, but it hasn't ended and I need to keep moving.
6. Feed your soul: Do something each day that reminds you there is existence beyond your nose. Dust off your journal. Turn on some music. Read your Bible or other sacred text. Meditate. Observe nature. Read. Laugh. Play. Anything that gets you out of your head and into life.
Maintaining mental health in the midst of imposed limited human interaction is a necessity and it is a necessity we absolutely can manage if we remember we're in this together. I hope the suggestions above are helpful for you. I also hope you'll comment here (actually here on the blog, not on Facebook) and share what you do to keep the liars quiet.
Let's rip the masks off of anxiety and depression, drag them in to the light, and then show them who's boss (catch that?).
Foster hope. Love yourself and love each other. Extend grace.
May grace and peace be yours today.