You Need Help: Trying To Live Through the Pandemic Is Destroying My Mental Health

Q:

Hey y’all,

I am fucking tired, and stressed, and low-key su*cidal, and just don’t know what to do about it anymore.

Things were getting better with the pandemic. And then suddenly every government around the world decided to give up on trying to contain the virus and it just gets worse and worse and worse and I don’t know what to do.

I could
1) spend four hundred dollars on a switch and become a recluse
2) go back to drinking and call it quits
3) ?????

I am so tired with people pretending that the pandemic is no big deal. I’m sick of seeing hospo friends being forced to work when I know their bosses aren’t obeying any of the remaining regulations. I hate seeing people I used to respect post on social media in favour of all those stupid and harmful protests that are going on. I’m scared to death for my disabled and immunocompromised friends and family. And finally, I’m counting down the days until my small town hospital is overrun by cases.

I don’t know what to do. Leaving the house makes me anxious and angry and afraid, but staying in as someone who’s got schizo makes me sick. I’ve made unbelievable progress on my mental health in the last decade, and I’m scared that’s all going to errode in the current global climate.

I’m logging off social media, but I also feel really isolated.

This is big and rambling and you probably can’t answer it, but if you do… halp? pandemic? what do?? aaaaaah???

Lots of love,
MC

A:

First things first: if you are feeling suicidal, please do not suffer alone.

  • The Trevor Project provides chat, phone and text-based crisis support for young LGBTQ+ 24/7.
  • In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached 24/7 by phone at 1-800-273-8255. They also have an online chat and offer services in Spanish and accessible services. You can find this information on their website.
  • Crisis Services Canada can be reached by phone 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566 and they can be reached for text support between 4pm and midnight Eastern Time by texting 45645.
  • In the U.K., The Samaritans can be reached by phone at 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. Also, here is a list of hotlines available in the U.K., including some that can be reached by text or chat and serve specific populations.
  • Lifeline Australia can be reached at 13 11 14. And here is a list of hotlines that can be reached by phone or chat.
  • And more generally, here are three compiled lists of services available by country: Open Counseling, Find a Helpline, and Wikipedia.

In terms of the pandemic, I want you to know that you are absolutely not alone. Without a doubt, governments are moving away from protections, pretending like the whole thing is over, when in fact, even health experts are saying that we are (once again) throwing caution to the wind. And, as you point out, the most recent conversations around pandemic safety measures completely devalue the lives of the people who are the most at-risk if they get COVID, putting the burden entirely on those individuals and their communities to keep themselves safe, which often means further self-isolation while everyone else moves on with their lives.

I know I’m not saying anything you already don’t know, but I just want you to know that I see you: I see your pain and your fear and your anger. I don’t know if any of this will be helpful, but I want to offer you a few thoughts. You may already be doing some of these things or they may not be relevant to you, and so I hope that others share additional recommendations and advice in the comments as well.

As I was thinking about your question, one of the things that came to mind for me was the idea of existing in the present moment. I believe there are certain lines of Buddhist thinking that say, for instance, that hope is an illusion; we must live in the present, even when it feels unbearable. Honestly, I am of two minds on this. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve increasingly found value in existing more in the present rather than living for the future. Often times, when I was younger, I’d pin my hopes on some point in the future only to arrive in that future moment and find it didn’t live up to all the expectations I had placed on it, leading me to even greater despair and disappointment. At the same time, though, some of my hardest, bleakest times have been when I truly had no hope for the future at all.

Ultimately, I think it’s a matter of balance. Acknowledge the pain and uncertainty you feel in the present when you feel it. But also seek out joy in the small places you can, like video or phone conversations with your close friends and family or other means of communication and connection in ways that are safe. One of the things I’ve found to be really helpful is to create recurring video chats with at least some of my friends, because it gives me something regular to look forward to and reduces some of the burden of having to reach out cold and say, “Can we chat?” Also, read books or watch TV shows or movies that bring you a little bit of solace to break up the periods of hopelessness. It’s hard and this is certainly something I am continuing to work on, but I think we need to hold and make space for both the pain and the pleasure in our lives, now more than ever in the pandemic.

Personally, I don’t think healthy distractions (like games) are bad, as long as you don’t spend the entirety of your time suppressing your feelings in that way. For me, this has been a matter of ebb and flow. There have definitely been times in the pandemic when I was just burying my feelings with games constantly, and I’ve had to find ways of pulling that back, recognizing when playing games is crossing the line from comforting to numbing.

Another thing I’ve found helpful is to create projects for myself to work on that I’m genuinely excited about, like learning a challenging piece on violin or writing projects here. I’m not the best at prioritizing those over the games all the time, but having an activity that I enjoy, which isn’t completely mindless with some kind of “goal” helps me break the numbing patterns of endless games and TV sometimes, at least.

For me, alcohol is kind of similar to the games, though more extreme and with an even more substantial toll on the physical body. I’ve personally had to pull back on alcohol and limit my consumption to buying single serving drinks at the liquor store or drinking socially with people who I’m less likely to drink too much with. As before, I think it’s a matter of balance. I don’t think forcing ourselves to exist in our pain, anger and uncertainty all the time is particularly useful, but I also don’t think we’re served by running away from these emotions constantly.

When it comes to social media, honestly I basically stopped using it a few years ago because, similar to what you’re describing, I was finding myself increasingly disgusted and caught up in seeing fucked up posts from people I thought were at least somewhat decent or even some who I actively liked. That said, social media can be a great place for finding out about virtual events and making connections to feel a little less lonely. The way I’ve struck this balance most recently is I’ve essentially deactivated the accounts I had the longest and had the most connections on (in my case, Facebook) and created a new, extremely private Instagram account that I hardly post on and basically didn’t tell anyone except very, very close trusted friends about. I use that IG account to follow artists, groups and organizations I like and respect. That helps me also know about upcoming events I might be interested in and engage with content that I find entertaining without having infuriating political content randomly pop up into the mix. (Though I did have to block a few pro-Trump posts on Instagram a few times before I fully got anything political or news-related off my feed.)

My approach in terms of my news consumption is quite similar. Sometimes, I find that reading the news is another kind of addictive, numbing activity, much like games and social media, but one that takes an even greater toll on my mental health. There have been times where I catch myself spinning through one news site after another, reading endlessly and becoming more and more depressed with each article I click on. Again, I’ve had to recognize when that’s happening and cut myself off. There have definitely been times where I intentionally don’t engage with the news at all because I knew I was already in a bad headspace. Honestly, when it comes to local news I often live in a place of willful ignorance, only checking COVID rates insofar as it informs what I might feel safe doing. I don’t think it’s helpful (or realistic) to fully disconnect from the news all the time, but again it’s about being kind to yourself and recognizing when staying engaged with the news is doing you too much harm.

Balance is really the underlying theme in everything I’ve said. And given the stakes of the situation we’re in, balance often feels impossible. I’ll be very honest: at some point in the pandemic I had to reckon with the way I was taking care of my mental health. I was already in therapy before the pandemic started, but as things started to feel worse and worse (for me, the lowest point was really when things initially started reopening across the U.S. in the summer of 2021), I finally made the decision to take an antidepressant. Undeniably, I have probably struggled with some form of depression for most of my life and in the years leading up to the pandemic, I do believe I was finding non-medicated ways to take care of my mental health. But the pandemic did two things to me. First, it very, very strongly triggered a lot of the isolation and loneliness and lack of control that defined the entirety of my childhood, undoing work I had been doing to deal with that and second, that pushed my struggles with depression to a point that was untenable. It was only after starting medication that I was able to approach my life and what was happening in the day to day with the kind of balance I’ve been talking about. Before then, this type of approach was impossible for me to accept intellectually or emotionally and act on.

I don’t know what this means for you. As a starting point, if you aren’t in therapy, please do try to seek out services. If you haven’t already, share some of the things you’ve written about here with mental health professionals and talk to them about different forms of therapy you might benefit from, different types of treatment options or tweaking your current mental health care approach, as needed. As a dear friend said to me when I first confided that I had started medication, you should not have to suffer like this.

I know that none of this actually changes the reality of the pandemic or the reality of the situation we are in. I know that reading this, it might feel like all I’m doing is telling you more things you should do, when really the problem is all the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers and conspiracy theorists and right-wing politicians who are literally just cashing in the deaths and suffering of the same people who have always paid the price for everyone else’s convenience. I really am so sorry for all of us for the situation we are in. Sometimes, what makes me the most angry and the most depressed is the knowledge that none of this really has to be this way. We (as a society, as a world) are doing this to ourselves and, worse, to each other.

And yet, somehow, we must find the strength to live, despite it all. One of the things I sometimes try to hold is the idea that while I cannot personally change or end the suffering of people in worse and more uncertain situations than mine — whether that’s people who are immunocompromised or disabled during this pandemic or people living in war torn areas or the people most affected by climate change — I must honor their lives. Part of honoring their lives, to me, is about bearing witness to their experiences, doing what small things I can (like voting and donating to trustworthy organizations) and, to the extent possible, making personal decisions that support them (for instance, being mindful about the kinds of activities I’m doing during this pandemic and where I shop). But the other part of honoring their lives is living mine. I cannot materially change other people’s realities, but losing myself and sacrificing my own life by being debilitated by depression from trying to hold it all is a disservice and, honestly, disrespectful to everyone.

Finally, more than anything else I’ve written, I want you to hold this: Even though the world is kind of terrible, your life is precious and valuable, and you are loved.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.


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himani

Himani is a dabbler of a writer. Her work includes reviews of media centering Asian stories, news and politics, advice and the occasional personal essay. Find her on Instagram.

Himani has written 47 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. Oof, really feeling this. Especially “Sometimes, what makes me the most angry and the most depressed is the knowledge that none of this really has to be this way” – yeah. Thank you Himani for such a thoughtful and compassionate reply, I really needed to read this. Good luck MC, I feel you and I’m rooting for you, and all of us.

  2. What kind, clear-eyed, and realistic words of support, Himani. I’m really feeling this too. And even though our situations appear quite different, MC, I relate to the feeling of powerlessness and the suffocating sense of uncertainty.

  3. MC, I feel you so hard, and just want you to know you’re really not alone. I too have pretty difficult mental health issues just generally, which got a lot worse over the course of the pandemic and then reached new heights in the last six months, and I’m just completely at a loss for what to do in the present moment other than just hang on day to day. I live in the US, my partner and I both worked in retail/food service, neither of us has worked in almost two years (we’ve been surviving on money we’ve saved from unemployment). We’re very isolated from friends and family where we live, and we’re currently just trying to pull ourselves out of a very dark state so that we can go back to work in a completely terrifying environment, it sucks. I know we’ll make it through somehow, although I can’t really see how at the moment. Mostly I just want to validate what you’re going through and say that you’re not alone at all, shit is genuinely so fucking rough in the present moment. My fingers are crossed for all of us

  4. Personally, I tried literally anything I could afford: beer brewing, gardening, gourmet cooking, blogging, tv… you name it. Drinking, on the whole, I wouldn’t recommend unless you can keep yourself from crossing whatever you personal line is.

    Just know you’re not alone. Yes, some people suck, but there’s a whole website full of people here who totally appreciate where you’re coming from.

    I am in a similar situation. The world moved on, I did not. It’s been years. I get resentful when literally everyone is unmasked when I go out. And sometimes they are very rude and terrible.

    But, ultimately, you can only control what you do, and finding healthy distractions or hobbies might help? There are still virtual experiences out there- concerts and comedy and lectures and exercise. Maybe something like that might distract, even for an hour? A bubble bath? I’m not one for big advice- you can find that from the expert here. But just know, that the whole day doesn’t have to be good, but even one hour of good time is useful.

    • Thanks so much for sharing this! I love what you say here: “The whole day doesn’t have to be good, but even one hour of good time is useful.” — you’re absolutely right and you said it very well and concisely! I’m definitely going to hold that myself moving forward.

  5. i hope the letter writer is ok – sending you peace. himani, i hope you are ok, too – thank you for again sharing such personal, thoughtful insights.

    like you both and others here have expressed, moving on from demonstrated safe measures is empirically foolish. but, it seems sensible people don’t complain, or at least not as loud as those who aren’t. my people say, we just keep trying until we fix it.

    in whatever small way you can, just keep trying until we fix it.

    • Thanks for reading and your message! I think you’re right about “just keep trying until we fix it.” And sometimes we step back to the place of “let me just get through this hour or day or week.” As with everything, there’s a lot of up and down and ebb and flow. There are definitely times where I’m just trying to keep going and at other times, when I have a little more space and capacity I’m able to do the small things I can. It’s hard, but as you said, we do what we can.

  6. someone told me ~2018, as things were getting worse, something like, ‘this is a hard time be kind and aware [of interconnection].’ . . . being kind and aware [of interconnection] can make this shit unbearable, and those of us who are all these things desparately need each other. so i need you, letter writer. i need everyone who replied. i need you who is reading this and doens’t have it in you to comment. i still haven’t read all of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, but when i can’t take it i remember that Lauren, the main character, feels others’ pain physically, and if i am remembering right, that some ppl in the book and/or some readers treat this as a disability. . . a world that renders empathy disabling, or disables people who are empathetic, desparately needs everyone with empathy.. . on that note, Octavia’s Brood also has some stories that help me find what to do in all this. Sick Woman Theory too. https://johannahedva.com/SickWomanTheory_Hedva_2020.pdf. thank you Himani for making space for all of us to BE. to be connected if not together.

  7. If you’re suffering more depression or anxiety than usual, take it easy on yourself use gummies that make you to sleep well and to relax You aren’t alone in your difficulties. Maintain as much of a routine as possible. Even if you’re stuck at home, try to stick to your normal sleeping, eating, and working schedule. This will assist you in maintaining a sense of normalcy. Thank you so much – Nidra Nutrition
    https://www.nidranutrition.com/products/stress-free-gummies

  8. Thank you for sharing your feelings. There are so many people around me rejoicing at the lifting of restrictions that I already thought that I was somehow wrong. How after all these severe cases of illness and a huge number of deaths, we can simply return to normal life, as if nothing had happened. And this despite the fact that we ourselves see that the coronavirus has not gone anywhere, it remains with us as before, but everyone abruptly stopped noticing it. This is some kind of irresponsibility, as for me, and it worries me.

  9. MC, I am sorry you are going through this and truly feel for you. I have suffered depression for decades in the past, obviously not related to COVID but to lots of other things like gender identity issues, rejection and a crappy family situation. So I understand the depth of pain depression brings on.

    I echo the last statement of Himani:

    “Finally, more than anything else I’ve written, I want you to hold this: Even though the world is kind of terrible, your life is precious and valuable, and you are loved.”

    Reading your question, brought tears to my eyes because I know the pain but also, as corny as this sounds, I do love you. We don’t know each other but we are all in the human family and that is enough for me.

    The really ugly truth about depression is that it causes us to shut off from the world, focus a lot of negative energy on ourselves and its a downward spiral from there.

    A couple of things to try:

    – Don’t be afraid to talk to a doctor and a therapist. I was suicidal everyday for nearly 2 decades and after finally seeing a doctor to get anti-depressants, I was able to shake much of the worst negative feelings. Antidepressants aren’t a cure all, but they take the worst of the sting off.

    – Lean hard on people. Isolation is the worst thing you can do, find people here or elsewhere you can talk to, daily if need be, just to listen and give you a sense of the reality outside your own head. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

    – Find ways to connect to the larger world outside your own negative thoughts. Community volunteering, or any group activity where you can interact with people can be life saving. I started volunteering very regularly in our community starting about 10 years ago and the friendships and sense of contribution took me out of myself and helped considerably.

    Lastly again, people care, find ways to connect to others to help you through this.

    All my love,

    Christina

  10. I keep coming back to this. It is helpful and a salve – I’m very grateful to you Himani for writing this response, and to the letter writer for sharing. I hope whatever they’re doing they are comfortable, safe and happy.

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