Keeping the “Black Dog” at bay.
It was recently pointed out to me that I haven’t been posting very much in the last while. Apparently there are a few of you who have noticed my absence enough to make mention of it to me (thank you, that means a lot). The fact of the matter is I simply wasn’t capable of writing anything more than a grocery list. The motivation and inspiration I’d had left me completely and my ability to concentrate was all but nonexistent.
It would be fair to say that the mental health of a significant portion of the population at this moment is not at its best. Like millions of others I suffer from depression, and had fought it for decades prior to the arrival of COVID-19 and, like millions of others, the pandemic has taken a significant psychological toll on me. I was in the process of grieving and healing from some personal losses which I had experienced last year when the world changed forever. On Friday, March 13th, and in the days and weeks the followed I began to sink deeper into the all enveloping darkness of hopelessness and despair that accompanies depression. The “black dog” that had hounded Churchill in his life was once again nipping at my heels, and I was finding it very difficult to outrun it.
In the beginning I felt a great deal of disbelief. How had things come to this? Something like this simply wasn’t supposed to happen, and if it were to ever happen it would look a lot different than what was happening. My fear was that there was a very great potential for complete social breakdown to occur here and in the United States. Even if the worst of it was limited to the US, Canada would still feel the effects from our closest neighbour and biggest trading partner.
It was sheer absurdity at the very beginning as the greedy and the panicked turned toilet paper and hand sanitizer into commodities more sought after than oil or precious metals. Then there came the realization that there would be a quarantine and we would be living under lockdown. Soon we were living almost like prisoners in a maximum security facility, or so it would fell to many of us, and I was disquieted by the new lack of mobility that had been imposed upon us. I was by and large a homebody before so it isn’t like I was used to galavanting about or travelling the world or anything like that, but even so it was deeply disturbing to me that my freedom of movement had been taken away. It was something that very few of us could have even envisioned happening, and yet now it was the new reality.
For many the lockdown would become time for a vacation from personal hygiene, so I wasn’t alone in this regard. The same would apply for not wanting to crawl out of bed for days. I was alone and locked up with my thoughts and I would suffer a setback in the grieving process for the two people I lost last year, especially my brother. I missed him terribly, but also I also realized that he would have had a difficult time adjusting to the things that have happened since, and so in that regard it was good that he wasn’t around to see it.
It is often said that humans are very much social creatures, which we are, so the notion of “Social Distancing” can seem almost foreign to some. We soon found out what it was like to not be able to socialize with others in the way that we used to like being together as a group and perhaps even harder still what it’s like to not be able to have physical contact with others. We had to see our families through glass and were unable to give our loved ones a hug at a time when we so very desperately needed to feel one ourselves.
Change of Plans
Change can be one of the biggest stressors in a person’s life. Now a lot of things were going to be changing for people, with little to no warning or time for them to make preparations. There are also a lot of people whose plans for the future were suddenly very much in doubt as a result of this pandemic, myself among them. Hopes and dreams that once seemed attainable were now completely obliterated by circumstance and it was very disheartening to say the least. It has only been in the last few years that I began to discover my purpose in life, that thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. Now it all seemed lost in the enormous shadow of this damned virus.
Eventually I reached the point where I was tired of crying and smelling bad, and so I decided that it was time I dealt with things. Dying simply isn’t an option for me, so it would mean having to deal with this head on and finding a way to live life again. These are some of the things that have helped me along the way, and I thought I would share them in the event they might help someone else.
The Power of Self-Talk
Of all of these tools this is the one that I feel needs to be used first. Being in a negative mindset can be self perpetuating so it is important to actively make an effort to practice positive self talk in order to start having a positive mindset. I can remember scoffing at the idea when it was proposed to me one time by a therapist. I immediately had a vision of myself sitting in front of a mirror like Stuart Smalley (Google if you don’t know who I’m talking about) and telling myself that I was good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it people like me. But the fact is there is more to it than just a daily affirmation. Negativity breeds negativity, so having a more positive outlook about things will result in a more positive mindset. It’s about constantly talking yourself up in your mind with the ultimate goal of restoring your self-confidence, enabling you to envision victory was once there were only visions of defeat, which leads to victories.
Talk To Someone Else
No doubt mental health professionals are going to be busy for quite some time dealing with the fallout from all of this. I was fortunate because at the time the lockdown started I had been in grief counselling so I had access to someone to talk to about things that were happening with me in the wake of the pandemic.
Not everyone will be in this position though, so they will have other alternatives open to them. In jurisdictions across the US and Canada a variety of mental health supports are available online or over the phone for those that need it, and as always anyone who feels as though they are in danger of harming themselves should call 911 or go directly to the nearest hospital emergency room.
Keep in touch with your network of people be it family, friends, or both. Do a “buddy check” on a friend by calling them to see how they’re doing and the result could prove cathartic for the both of you. Talking about how you are feeling will be an important step towards finding a much needed and therapeutic emotional release.
Establish A Routine
It has been well established in the literature that there are numerous psychological benefits to establishing routines. Importantly, routines and schedules help to alleviate stress and anxiety in times of chaos and uncertainty. They add stability to lives that have been torn assunder and provide a sense of control at a time when we are powerless to do anything in the face of chaos. As the economy begins to open up again many people will find it difficult to go back into “work mode” so getting back into the routine ahead of time will help them to adjust to life back at work again.
Exercise and Nutrition
Diet and exercise are also important components of good mental health, not just physical. Studies have shown that exercising or working out regularly contribute greatly towards the improvement in people with depression. How many people do you suppose gained more than a couple of pounds while in lockdown because of a lack of regular exercise and a diet rich in junk food and take-out? Proper nutrition not only feeds the body but also the brain, so a balanced diet is also essential for good brain health as well.
Find/Maintain Your Purpose
For years various authors and self-help gurus have been charging people a lot of money in order to pass along some wisdom, that is quite simple though perhaps not quite so obvious to a lot of us. Knowing it and acting upon it could mean the difference between life and death for some, and what it boils down to is finding a reason to get out of bed every day. Find a (your) purpose for yourself. If you haven’t yet done so with your life up until this point, now would be a perfect opportunity to start doing some reflecting.
Maybe you had already found that purpose but because of the pandemic it looks as though you might have lost it. It can seem as though you’ve lost your purpose and are now wandering rudderless in rough seas.
It’s important to remember that all might not be lost, it will just be put off for a little while longer than originally planned. Take advantage of this time to retool your original plans, or if you were in need of purpose to begin with, this would also be a good opportunity to do some deep thinking about your life and examine your priorities in light of current events.
The Power Of Prayer
There also really must be something to be said for the power of prayer. I’m not going to tell you who you should pray to or how you should be doing it, just pray. Simple.
To yourself and to others. We’re all going through some shit right now and frankly it would just be nice.
Difficult Days Lie Ahead
Forgive me if this seems negative but the reality is that we are going to be in for some very difficult days ahead, we simply have to accept this and prepare ourselves. That said it’s difficult to prepare for the unknown. What we do know is that people’s mental health will continue to be at increased risk for the forseeable future, especially as the economic impacts of this pandemic become clearer and start hitting home.
With this in mind, maintaining mental health in the face of these challenges will be a difficult road for us all, so it will be important to be as prepared as possible and to have the tools available at your disposal to assist you.