Can We Have a Conversation About Our Mental Health, Too, Please?
The physical toll of COVID-19 is real, but what about our emotional health?
Yesterday, I packed up my Subaru Forrester, my chihuahua, and drove six hours East out of Los Angeles to Phoenix, where my brother and sister in law live.
Bare with me; I know California is effectively on lockdown and Angelenos were ordered as of midnight on Friday to stay home — at all costs, enforceable by law, and only for valid reasons, like medical ones.
Well, I’m not in Arizona out of physical necessity, but for my mental health, something I’ve worked hard, fought hard, and overcome a lot to have today.
I live by myself; COVID-19 or not, I live a solitary life by day. I’m a writer and a digital entrepreneur. By choice, I work from home, away from humans. It supports my own previously compromised health and happiness best.
My source of sanity, in what can be a notoriously solitary profession, is an array of social activities, workout classes, creative gatherings, and social engagements to ease the isolation many writers know all too well. It keeps me sane. It keeps me connected.
But, what now? There’s no end in sight.
But, here we are, on lockdown. And my source of serenity — my fellow humans — is gone. Maybe not gone, but certainly shifted.
Sure, everything is digital. Heck, I even had gospel choir rehearsal via Zoom last week. It was a beautiful moment as our director led us, digitally, through some semblance of musical cohesion.
I do have fears about my physical health (and the state of the world’s), but that’s not why I’m on here today. Plenty of folks are writing about that and my focus is on mental health; I’ve devoted a lot of my career to studying and writing about it.
As I crossed the California border to Arizona on the long stretch of barren desert at sundown, I found myself asking the question: what happens to our mental health one week from now? One month from now? Three months from now, if this goes on?
I’m protective of my mental health and felt it was in my best (medical) interest to drive to my closest family and hunker down with them. I took precautions — I only used one public bathroom en route to Phoenix and packed my own snacks.
But not everyone has that option — family closeby. Transportation. And for some folks, quarantine with your family will jeopardize (not support) your mental health.
But I’m worried about my fellow humans and our collective sanity. We’re social creatures, we’re not meant for this — not for long, anyways.
I’ve been doing well but there’s only so much talking to myself and my chihuahua that seems normal or healthy.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge believer in technology (I wouldn’t be founding an app devoted to queer mental health if I didn’t believe in digital connection on some level). But I never intended it to replace our need for human to human interaction.
And what about touch? Infants without contact and closeness and holding in their early days have been shown to have lifelong negative impacts on their psychological well-being.
I don’t want to be alarmist — Lord knows we all have enough to worry about right now, but I am concerned for us.
I’m concerned we’ll see a jump in suicides as things progress. I’m worried mental health institutions will flood. Addicts will relapse, cut off from their support networks. Already vulnerable communities like transgender folks will suffer, cut off from community resources. Weed and alcohol sales have gone through the roof. What will that toll be? Sigh.
So this is my call — to bring attention to the matter. Please consider how to protect your mental health, not just your physical health.
Ask yourself: what can you do for yourself these next few weeks (and maybe months) to support your emotional well-being?
If you live alone, do you have an option to go be with other humans? (While respecting the need for social distancing?)
Maybe now’s the time to consider fostering or adopting an animal, or perhaps, to take up a new creative pursuit.
When I was healing from Lyme Disease, I picked up my guitar again, long dusty and forgotten. I started writing poetry. I got children’s coloring books. I started singing. I started writing songs. I had to. I didn’t know when my malaise would pass and I’d be able to join you outdoors and doing the things that used to keep me sane.
What’s the thing you’ve always wanted to do but never have? Could you try that now?
We need outlets, my friends. Your soul needs nourishment in these times.
Maybe considering downloading a mindfulness app and learn to meditate. Naps are good, too. Make sure you’re getting outside in safe ways. My brother and I went for a lovely walk today with our dogs — maintaining distance from fellow walkers (and dogs).
(Bizarrely, an onlooker stole my brother’s leash? I am hoping COVID-19 brings out the best in us, not the worst, my fellow humans. We can’t quite figure out why she’d steal his leash). Personally I will not be touching any stranger’s personal property in these coming weeks. But, I digress.
I don’t know if I have the solution — as much as my hope is to bring awareness. That we need to find joy, forms of happiness, and wellness in these times. However small or simple.
And if you need a pick-me-up or feel inspired to help a fellow human out, consider listening to my podcast on well-being or supporting an aspiring Queerpreneur in their endeavors to make well-being accessible to marginalized communities (and specifically, the LGBTQ+ community I am a part of).