Written by Richard Yusim
When I reflect on mental illness and all I’ve seen and learned in my education, career and training over a twenty-year period, I can really recognize the enormity of this crisis and the many lasting effects it will have on our society. For so many Americans, this crisis has pushed them over the line that divides functioning from impaired. They are now experiencing something that is so out of their control and this has “created” mental illness where there hadn’t been any before. Nobody is ever in total control of their life. Terrible things can and will happen to us. Millions of people, however, were able to move forward despite the daily challenges that life presented to them before the global pandemic.
Consider losing a loved one, the loss of your job, the loss of your daily routines that keep you functioning on so many levels, the loss of the ability to connect to others and most importantly, the loss of hope. These are all reasonable reasons to grieve, feel anxious or depressed. The thing I am most amazed by is that millions of people have been confronted with all of these existential threats throughout history but now, every single human is experiencing this simultaneously. For millions of people, 2020 was absolutely the worst year of their life.
For a large portion of society, however, the worst days of struggling with their mental illness are hopefully far behind them. These times of struggle were comparatively much more challenging than anything they may have experienced in 2020 alone. People who were abused at a young age, people who never properly treated their psychosis, people who really hit bottom because of substance abuse and people that are grieving the loss of a loved one or their house burned down have survived. The list of things to recover from are endless is my point and many people have already been through the worst and adapting to life in quarantine or contracting the virus is the least of their worries.
How do we successfully adapt to this new lifestyle we’ve been forced into? This is much easier said than done for some of us. If you have a loving support system and get along with those you live with, you’re doing okay. If you can work from home and parent at the same time, you’re doing okay. If you’re relatively young and less of a risk of catching COVID and you’re basic needs are being met, you’re doing okay.
What if you were relatively isolated and lonely before the pandemic because you live alone and your amount of human contact was reliant on your ability to be in the community? I am one such individual. I’ve been recovering from my own mental health crisis which occurred in August, 2019. I suffered a great deal of loss at one time at the end of 2018. Because of the timing of all of these losses, I eventually had a frightening existential crisis and hit bottom very hard.
I now had to try to get back up.
I had been doing a great job of rebuilding my support system and reconnecting with the community when the pandemic struck. All of the things that were helping me were now gone. I took advantage of meetings and religious services on zoom and this did help to some degree. With the help of my therapist, I learned that I cannot wait for others to reach out to me. I was not okay and I didn’t have anybody to simply call and check on me. I had to rebuild my support network and acknowledge that I had to be more proactive. I love to draw, listen to music, watch things and make things so in a sense I felt very fortunate. I believed that artists in general were welcoming the solitude and excuse for staying inside with their work. Being able to engage with my surroundings and activities in a mindful way has been imperative for my well being but nothing I can do on my own would replace the need for human contact. I started to get really depressed due to being isolated. I saw two different news stories which subsequently inspired me to action that would help me more than I could have imagined…to be continued in the next blog post.