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When the COVID-19 global pandemic took full force, the world changed for many of us in ways that just a week before we would never have believed was possible. As the COVID-19 crisis gained momentum many of us who live with underlying mental health diagnoses were, as-ever, in the midst of maintaining good mental well-being, or perhaps we were even suffering in a period of crisis and doing our best.
For the last four months, I have been managing some underlying issues with my Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). I was receiving excellent therapeutic help, fantastic medical services, and support from family and friends. I was making steady progress and I was beginning to see a light at the end of a tough period whilst also knowing I still had some work to do.
Then all at once, like everyone else, my world was turned upside down by the pandemic.
Suddenly, my news feed was full of images of people gravely ill and dying, schools and businesses were closing, the media spoke relentlessly of suffering and devastation.
I sat in the midst of it, paralyzed by the enormity of suffering. I began to watch myself withdraw from everyone around me, sinking into my shell and trying to put on a happy “everything is OK” face.
When my facade cracked I was left feeling guilty for still suffering from my own pain.
One day I found myself saying: “I’m fine, truly, I’ve nothing to complain about, people are dying and gravely ill, I don’t have problems compared to other people, everyone is suffering I need to pull myself together”
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My ever-patient husband replied: “Just because the world is suffering right now doesn’t mean your suffering has stopped”
Now, I admit I am a master of trying to diminish my needs. The reasons for this are complicated but I know I’m not the only one who does it.
Even without a global pandemic many of us feel that perhaps our suffering should be put on hold and only worked on when it fits around other people’s needs.
We often convince ourselves that other people’s needs are far more important than our own.
Encouraging this thinking and allowing ourselves to diminish our suffering or view it as selfish doesn’t actually help anyone.
I’m fast realizing that this “false martyrdom” in the end causes the fall into despair to be far greater than it needs to be.
In truth, each morning I battle the desire within me to shelve my own journey and face what I need to face. Instead, I try throwing myself into anything else. And when I start this thinking it is a sign that my coping skills are becoming unhealthy as I try and hold onto some control.
I know that my disordered eating, poor sleeping, and my desire to harm myself are exacerbated when I am not engaging in my healing.
It’s like a pan of boiling liquid; the lid will begin to lift and the contents of the pan ooze out over the top of if no one keeps lifting the lid and attending to its contents. And so, during these intense times for our world, I’m learning that I still need to attend to the contents of my mental wellness even in the midst of other people’s suffering and a global pandemic.
I’m learning that taking care of my own mental well-being isn’t just okay, it’s vitally important because my suffering matters too.
Acknowledging and honouring our suffering and how to care for ourselves is always important and it’s never been as important as it is now, as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, I thought I’d share my plan to cope well. I write this as no expert in the field, more as one learning as I go, but this is working for me.
How to honour your feelings during COVID-19:
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1. Ask “How Am I Feeling”
Truly, how am I feeling? I ask myself this every day. The answer is sometimes quite painful, but it is better to acknowledge that pain, because normally when I stare it down, it can lose power.
2. Tell Someone
When I have a sense of the answer to “How I am feeling” It can help to tell someone. It might be a text message, a phone call, or letting my partner know. I don’t instinctively reach out but when I bottle it up things don’t go well.
3. Find a Supportive Community
I’ve created a support group and if you haven’t already, I recommend it. Find some trusted family and friends that will check-in with you each day.
4. Practice Self-Care
(I snort as I write this) This is one of my biggest challenges in life. Each day I do something life-giving, even if I don’t feel like it and even if I don’t feel worthy! Sometimes that is just sitting at the piano for 10 minutes or lying in a warm bath, but I feel better after it.
Related: Redefining Self-Care for YOU
5. Engage in Healthy Coping Skills
I try and engage in my healthy coping skills. I love to run and exercise, this is tricky with only being allowed to exercise outside once a day but I’m finding there are ways around this. There are so many online exercise videos/groups and platforms and so much is being offered as free content at the moment. Have a go!
6. Acknowledge Your Suffering
I acknowledge when I’m not okay and that it is okay to not be okay. Most people in the world right now have high anxiety levels and those of us who have lived with anxiety for years will still be experiencing this. Sometimes I find just accepting that I’m not okay and remembering that it will pass can be a huge relief.
7. Keep Up With Therapy
I have carried on engaging in my regular therapy schedule. Many therapists are still offering sessions using video platforms. If you are engaging in therapy this can be a great way to carry on. If you haven’t yet started therapy, this may be a good time to start.
8. Most Importantly: Be Kind
The most important part of this is to be kind to yourself. Running away from your suffering right now isn’t ultimately going to help. Just because there is a global pandemic that doesn’t mean the pain and suffering you were experiencing before has stopped.
As a friend said to me “If you had broken your arm before COVID-19 would you have expected your arm to have miraculously healed because there’s more need in the world right now? You wouldn’t expect that so why would you expect your mental pain and suffering to have miraculously stopped?” It’s a good point.
Right now, it is time to care for yourself better than you have ever done before.
We need to be here at the end of this. It’s not selfish, it’s healthy and it’s because we matter.
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