Cruising through COVID. Is it possible?

It’s incredibly hard to feel accepting of a steady decline in your mental wellbeing. A steady decline is also, unfortunately, incredibly hard to recognize – because… well… the whole gradual drop-off business can be so fractionally imperceptible, so glacial in its pacing, that you can almost convince yourself it’s not happening. Almost. You really only come to see this as a “thing”, when you find yourself screaming at a slow Zoom connection, or when you start sobbing quietly at your steering wheel during the weekly drive to Coles. Sometimes, up until that point, even though all the newness of your circumstances, life was simply cruising along, and you were just following behind it. As you expected yourself to do. As everyone else seems to be doing.

But are we all just cruising along?

Sometimes, rather than continue listening to the news or browsing your various feeds, you need to stop and take stock of the very real impacts that COVID-19 restrictions are having on you. In these reflections, you may come to notice that the restrictions our world governments are using are both necessary and damaging. Necessary to slow the spread of the virus. Necessary to ensure our health systems have enough resources and manpower to weather the crisis. But damaging because so many people have lost their income and their connection to society. These necessary pressures can have a profound impact on who you believe yourself to be and how you choose to interact with your world. All of a sudden your place in the pattern of living seems to have shifted. You can’t hug your immunocompromised grandmother, or go to the pub with your mates on Friday night after work, or stop by a café for a quiet coffee. Your sense of freedom gets smothered and well-loved routines seem impossible to follow. Realistically, none of us can be confronted with these frequent changes and still maintain that we are cruising.

  1. Do you have a clear understanding of what your version of good mental health looks like?
  2. Are you brave enough to acknowledge when your version of mental health is on the slide?
  3. Are you more irritable than usual? Has your general reactivity heightened?
  4. Have you found it difficult to get out of bed? To shower? To prepare yourself a meal?
  5. Are you walking around your home feeling a little lost? Are you feeling agitated like you need to be doing something?
  6. Have you started cleaning to a higher standard?
  7. Are you masturbating more than you would see as usual for yourself?
  8. Is the constant presence of your partner and/or children becoming suffocating?
  9. Have you lost enjoyment of activities that used to be favourite hobbies?
  10. Is the lack of routine making you feel out of sorts?
  11. Are you watching a screen more often than you would think acceptable?
  12. Do you feel slightly nervous or panicked when you go to the supermarket/pharmacy/shop?
  13. Have you forgotten to speak to people (other than the people in your home) for several weeks?
  14. Is your sense of hope for the future feeling shaken?
    Did you give a “No” response to either question 1 or 2?

How many “Yes” responses did you score from questions 3 to 14?

This is by no means a standardized and validated test, but it’s a pretty good spitball estimate of whether you should consider reaching out to family, friends, or health professionals for some guidance and support.

As a sidebar, I remember being at a function once, where the lady I was speaking with was describing the issues her teenage child had been having whilst studying on a scholarship overseas. She reeled off a full list of symptoms that any psychologist would have seen as serious indicators of developing depression, but when confronted with this idea, her response was “GOD no! He’s just a little lonely and needs a chat!” Her vehement reaction rammed home to me that many in our society still aren’t so good at recognizing mental health as a vital system that needs tending and care. So now, with self-isolation, I wonder how many people are noticing small indicators of suffering, but yelling to themselves “GOD no! I’m just getting a little lonely and need a chat!” rather than appreciating that some of these feelings may need to be taken slightly more seriously.

Don’t go off and Dr. Google yourself into a clinical diagnosis – but simply – Stop. Take note of the tiny impacts. Take note of the larger impacts. Feel the jar of the accumulation of changes to your world. Then give yourself permission to reach out for help. There are people around you who care, and professional support available when needed. Don’t forget to recognize the larger impact of even the small stressors. That’s how you can just keep cruising along.