Change has always been hard for me. Specifically, big life changes. Kind of like what we are all experiencing right now.
The first time I got rocked by change was when I had my twins. If diving into parenthood with two newborns wasn’t challenging enough, we had also moved to a new city a week before they were born, my husband started medical school, and I took a five-month-long maternity leave. My life was unrecognizable, I had lost my previous identity, and I felt secluded not knowing anyone in our new city. My mental health started to slip. I had occasional suicidal thoughts. One night, during a particularly depressive, angry episode, I took several of my leftover painkillers from when I had my babies. I don’t think I wanted to die, but I definitely wanted to slip away from life for a while.
My perspective is so different on this now. I had no clue at the time that I was in danger. I didn’t see my behavior as abnormal or alarming. My mom and husband had to intervene. Luckily, I was able to get professional help. I sought counseling, was prescribed an SSRI and made taking care of myself a bigger priority.
I had a similar episode two years later after getting laid off from my job. It was easier to pick up on it as both my husband and I recognized the depressive behaviors this time. Recovery was also quicker because I knew what I needed to do to get myself well.
And I have stayed well for about five years now. I know what I need to do to protect my mental health. I exercise and try to eat well. I get out every day, see friends, and socialize. Or at least that’s what I did until the quarantine.
Three weeks ago I was furloughed from my job. I found out my kids would be home from school for an indefinite amount of time. I no longer had access to my gyms, my social outlets, my friends. But I don’t have to tell you that, because you know. It’s happened to you, too. But just because it’s happening to everyone doesn’t make what happened to you or me less disappointing or less difficult to cope with. We all have to mourn our losses and find ways to cope.
When all of these things started happening, my anxiety went through the roof. I became terrified of what might happen to my mental health without having access to my typical self-care routine. The anxiety was drowning me, and I needed to take action. So, I shared my fears with my husband. Saying it aloud helped make me more aware, and it also made my husband aware to keep an eye out for any depressive signs.
I still make sure to get out every day. These outings aren’t quite as exciting as before, but they help. A walk around the neighborhood. A run around the neighborhood. A bike ride around the neighborhood. I actually got a bike so I could ride around the ‘hood with my girls. We’ve started having family basketball games every night. When we go to pick up free lunches from my girls’ school, we ride with the windows down, blast music, and sing at the top of our lungs. This helps, too.
I’ve done Zoom workouts with friends, lots of Marco Polo messages with family, and Facetimed my friend down the street while we made whipped coffee together for the first time. My anxiety has started to subside knowing that I am finding healthy outlets to replace my usual self-care. I feel that currently, I’m at a lower risk of becoming depressed.
Please be aware, and take care of your mental health during this time. According to Mayo Clinic, traumatic and stressful events are major factors that can increase the risk of developing or triggering depression. If you are worried or even think there might be a chance you are depressed, tell someone right away. Get ahold of your primary care provider — almost all doctors are still taking visits at least through telehealth. Mental Health America also has this depression quiz you can take to see if you’re displaying any signs.
While almost our entire focus is on physically protecting ourselves and others from COVID-19, please do not lose sight of your mental and emotional wellbeing. Even though we are all experiencing this together and everyone is going through hard times, your individual problems and struggles still matter. YOU still matter.