GUEST POST: My Experience in Coping with Mental Health During the Pandemic (and How You Can Too!)
By Viv Bowman, Vivie Writes
In 2019, I graduated with a bachelor's in English, my heart set on starting my career as a writer. Unfortunately, when the pandemic hit, my dreams - along with countless dreams around the world - came to a screeching halt.
I took jobs just to make rent, convinced that eventually, I’d be able to work towards the career I wanted. I lived on a friend’s couch for four months just to make it further south where the jobs are. In 2020, I landed a better paying job than I’d ever had, but one that simply wasn’t for me.
Currently, I am a factory worker. Every day is the same routine. I wake up, get dressed, work, sleep. The daily machinations got to a point where I could predict what color the traffic lights before my job would be when I got to it.
After a while, it started to feel suffocating. Like this was everything I had worked up to and now that the world seemed to be frozen in time, and this is all it would ever be.
It took a bit, but I find myself managing the feelings of loneliness, stress and machinations day by day. Sometimes not well, mind you, but journeys to recovery and healing are never linear.
This is one small story out of hundreds of essential workers who, for similar reasons or not, are feeling the same.
It’s easy to understand how much stress the current economy and job market are putting us under. Everyone has their own story; many still ongoing. There are days where it seems impossible to survive.
The only answer I’ve found in these past ten months is that there is no answer. But there are many ways to cope.
Acceptance can help.
Though it isn’t easy. The fact of the matter is this is the reality we find ourselves in due to forces out of our control. Therapy and good friends have taught me; ‘in times of stress, you can only control your reaction.’
This doesn’t mean we should all just “choose happiness” instead of this feeling of hopelessness. This means we choose to accept the bad with the good, however much of either there may be.
Emotions are human.
We can’t escape emotion. There is no point trying to quell the despair and fear and panic from living in a pandemic. It will continue to be there as long as these stressors last, and for those who have faced trauma because of this experience, they might last longer.
What this means is that we can control our actions and reactions. Did you lose your job due to COVID? Take your moment to grieve, to feel anger or sadness, or all three. Express yourself to friends, to a piece of paper, to an instrument. Use anything you have to talk and address the emotions that stir within you. Then ask yourself, “What can I do about this?” If your answer is “There’s nothing I can do,” you may need to revisit those feelings of hopelessness and express them some more. If I learned anything from battling with mental health is that hope is never lost. No matter how dim the horizon may seem, the dawn always comes.
It won’t just come to you. While the vaccine holds a lot of promise, we’re not out of the woods yet. Since you can't escape your situation, find ways to see things in a positive light.
For example, there may be a better job opportunity waiting for you remotely. COVID taught the world that not all jobs have to be in person. Now, instead of being limited to the area where you live, nearly all of the United States has opened its arms to you.
Also look for happiness in the tiniest moments of your life.
Find happiness in the quiet under the morning sun, sitting on your back porch, or next to your window.
Find it in the snowflakes that get stuck in your eyelashes. The first snowfall always is the most beautiful.
Find it in your cup of morning coffee, or in a few deep breaths in the middle of a busy day.
Those small moments are always there, waiting for you.
Waiting on a better future isn't reasonable-- Be Happy Now.
No one knows what the future holds, so we can only prepare and hope. In the same vein, we need to allow ourselves some breathing room. Grab that candle you saw in the store that smelled divine, light it and sit in your bathtub, or on the edge of your bed and just breathe.
And if tomorrow doesn’t allow you to do so, then do it the next day. If today wasn’t the best, then check in with your own feelings. Why was the day awful? Be honest and don’t try to pretend there is normalcy anywhere. Since March I have been taking life day by day. I had to stop waiting for circumstances to get better because we were six months in. I stopped holding back on treating myself to things I wanted for the sake of saving a penny. I keep treats to a minimum, one a week. COVID has shown me that life is too short to not indulge in simple pleasures.
Our current situation is about as far from normal as you can get without chaos ensuing. It’s no wonder we are stressed and desperate, maybe even breaking down each day.
It’s okay to feel this. Face yourself and what’s inside. The truth of our emotions may be a lot to bear. But it is just as necessary to feel and process them.
The journey ahead...
Now, after I’d written the first draft of this article, my life began to change. Anxiety and depression weighed down on me, egged on by the existence of familial stress in my home life. If you’re like me, this may also be what you’re going through.
I started going on nightly walks. The reason? Doctor’s orders.
Although it’s cold and dark out, and I don’t like going it alone, I know this is for the good of my mental health. That’s enough to give it a try in my mind.
I tell myself the purpose is to prove that I’m not trapped in my current life, no matter what I may believe. While I’m still learning all the benefits these walks have to offer, I can speak up for the consistency of it. It’s having something to look forward to every day.
And perhaps it’s moments like these walks that we need to find.
Maybe it’s a scheduled talk session with a good friend.
Or maybe it’s an aimless trot up and down your street.
It could be ten minutes of stretching with quiet music playing.
A moment to draw whatever your mind tells you. Keeping a daily journal.
Whatever your method, it’s important to find those small things to hold onto.
Keep trying. Keep safe. Keep living.
Viv Bowman is a professional storyteller and creative writer, residing in New England. She has written for publications such as Here in Hanover, a magazine run by Mountain View Publishing, Centripetal, a literary magazine run by Poets and Writers student organization at PSU, and The Clock, a newspaper at PSU, and the AE Palmer Copy blog.
You can find her work, freelance availability, and more on her website: Vivie Writes