To be honest, I’m not sure how to begin this post because I feel like it’ll be a chaotic and emotional rollercoaster just like the pandemic has been these past 8 months. Although it’s tough for me to reflect on all that has happened and how I reacted to it, I know that this is probably one of the more important posts I’ll write.
One thing’s for sure: I have not been okay. I’m sure many, many of you feel the same way. Our worlds have been rocked and life as we knew it was taken away from us and reduced to the four walls we live in. It was a drastic change to say the least.
As you read this post, you might not see my situation as anything out of the norm. I’m not writing this because something catastrophic happened to me. In fact, I’m actually really fortunate. However, I definitely didn’t do the best job at recognizing how fortunate I really was during this time. I allowed the doom and gloom consume me and tortured myself mentally with things that were completely out of my control. There were some low points that I had never experienced personally before and it was scary. I quickly had to make a decision to either remain in the awful hole both that I felt I lived in and had dug myself in mentally or do something about it.
What I hope you get out of this post is either to understand and recognize that you share some of the same experiences I had or gain a new perspective of how people react differently to the same situation. I also hope that you get inspired to give yourself what you need during this time whether it is sunshine, banana bread or any of the things I did for myself (listed below). All I ask is that there is no judgement. If your intention is to judge, you can stop reading here and keep it moving.
Feeling Trapped (Physically)
When we were placed in lockdown back in March, everyone was physically trapped in their homes. Everyone’s living situation is different. Some have really taken years to make their house into a home while others chose their dwellings based on the idea that they wouldn’t spend a lot of time in it. Me? I was somewhere in the middle. I had been living in my apartment for the past 6 years and it definitely had its pros and cons (more cons if we’re being hones) but I got complacent and hated moving so much that I just stayed.
There were so many red flags over the years that I just ignored. Case in point: I’ve always had issues with neighbors. My unit was completely sandwiched—neighbors on both sides and above and below. Most of the time, things were tolerable but it helped that I was able to distract myself with activities we were used to doing pre-pandemic. Once we were forced into lockdown and I had nowhere to go, this issue, among others, was amplified.
Not only did I feel physically trapped within my own unit, I was also trapped into hearing my neighbors all of the time. You don’t realize how much goes on when you’re not home and boy, did I wish I never found out. Not only was the noise and general nuisance created by my neighbors annoying, it became exhausting over time. Their drama became my drama because as a self-proclaimed empath, I had absorbed all of that negative energy.
On top of that, emergency vehicles seemed to visit my building quite frequently. To be clear, this is highly unusual as I don’t live in a major city nor do I live in a high-rise. It truly became concerning since we’re in the middle of a health crisis! For all I knew I was locked down in a virus-infested building where people were contracting it left and right and I was next. My four walls started to feel like they were closing in on me and it got harder and harder to find any sunshine through the darkness.
Feeling Trapped (Mentally)
It’s no surprise that I struggled mentally during this time as well. Most people’s mental health has been severely impacted. Just like our living situations, everyone’s mental health situation is different. There are those that have, again, worked hard over the years to make the mental “house” into a “home” and those that have spent more time distracting themselves rather than living in their mental “home.” Well, 2020 spared no one and we had to not only spend more time in our physical homes, but our mental ones too.
The exact moment when my mental health really started to suffer was on Easter Sunday and my fridge suddenly stopped working. This began a horrible and (unnecessary) anxiety-filled 5 months until they finally replaced it in August. This sounds like a weird reason for me to go into a mental spiral and I’m honestly embarrassed that I let it get to me that much, but it is what it is. Without the typical distractions of everyday life to remove me from the situation, I had to sit next to my fridge essentially all day and choose how to react to it.
[Narrator: She ended up not reacting well to it. Not well at all.]
Just like I got complacent with my living environment, I got complacent with my mental health and didn’t know how to cope with it. I had just accepted it as something I was going to struggle with forever. As a constant worrier in general, it doesn’t help to have something to actually constantly worry about. I’d rather go back to my old-fashioned type of worrying where I would just come up with imaginary scenarios that never end up happening. Instead, I worried about my fridge breaking and well, it did time and time again.
It was complete and utter hell for me because when it rains, it tends to pour and it felt like bad things kept happening to me. I had some of my darkest thoughts in those moments. I’m not proud of it at all and realized very quickly that I needed to get in control of my thoughts and overall mental well-being if I was going to survive this lockdown. All of this because of a damn fridge. I(t) robbed me of all of the peace and joy in my life that I couldn’t even get myself to partake in lovely lockdown activities like making banana bread.
The Breakthrough (Physically + Mentally)
It is truly scary to reflect back on how I dealt with the lockdown. It brought out a side of me that I never want to face again. I want to come out on the other side of this more resilient and in control of my mental well-being.
If you noticed in the last paragraph of the previous section I wrote, “I(t) robbed me of all of the peace and joy…” I wrote it that way because, naturally, I want to blame the fridge for messing with me mentally, but I allowed it. I chose to obsess over it. If it was going to break, it was going to break but I didn’t need to sit there agonizing over when it was going to happen. It’s okay to acknowledge that I had those obsessive thoughts, but I would’ve managed them better. I didn’t need to torture myself with something that was completely out of my control. What I can control is taking actions to help me be a better person.
I’m sure you can relate that the pandemic has put a spotlight on aspects of our lives that we might not be proud of whether it’s financial, familial, physically, mentally, and so on. I personally have multiple spotlights going and because of this, I needed to figure out how to take action and change my current circumstances. Below are some of the things I ended up doing to breakthrough the personal hell I had been living in both physically and mentally.
Continued to See My Counselor
I had started seeing a counselor earlier this year because I felt like I was at a huge crossroads in my life. By the end of March, I needed her more than ever. I’m SO glad that I had already established that relationship before the pandemic because she really understands me and could help me holistically throughout the lockdown period. She provided me with a lot of resources and exercises to try and learn how to cope with my crippling anxiety and depression.
Simply talking to someone who isn’t in your circle of friends (although I feel like she is my friend lol) or your family is so helpful. The added benefit is that a counselor or a therapist can help you work through your thoughts and issues. They have the research and effective techniques in their back pocket that they can use to help you. It’s so wonderful to have that time carved out to truly dedicate to your thoughts and feelings. You’ll be surprised at what you’ve been internalizing once you start talking about them out loud to a trusted professional. Trust me, it’s a game-changer.
Decluttered My Space
This was a big one for me. For the longest time I had “affectionately” referred to my bedroom as my “depression den.” It honestly looked like a bomb had gone off in it. Clothes and junk were just everywhere and I could barely see my floor. I can’t believe I’m willing to share that. I’m definitely really embarrassed right now. But, it was a true physical representation of the mental struggles I had been going through from my early- to mid-twenties. I was trying to suppress those issues by surrounding myself with stuff. It was awful.
Decluttering was something I knew needed to happen for YEARS but it just always felt overwhelming (if you couldn’t already tell). What motivated me was when one of my good friends was in the process of moving. She truly was my inspiration in changing my own circumstances because she was doing exactly that. We had set up weekly FaceTime sessions and while she packed, I decluttered. Having that accountability was so helpful. I 10/10 highly recommend it. As a result, I ended up with a clearer space and mind.
I *Actually* Moved
The last thing I thought I’d be doing during a pandemic is moving. Like I said before, I hate moving on a regular day but during a pandemic?! That’s just crazy. The thought of random people touching your stuff all day long and packing up 6 years worth of stuff was horrifying (the decluttering in advance definitely helped a lot).
This was a huge and risky decision for me to make but it clearly needed to happen. It was long overdue. The lockdown showed me that I shouldn’t take my living situation for granted ever again. My quality of life was drastically depleting because of my living environment when it should be a place of peace and solace from the world (even though we can’t be out in it). I never should’ve become complacent in the first place, but now that I know better I’ll know to be better. You should never be scared to change your situation if you know it will truly help you feel more at peace. Your peace is so valuable and often factors into your overall happiness.
Began a Pursuit of (Inner) Happiness
So, I prioritized my mental health, cleared out my space, and sought a better living environment, sounds like I solved all of my problems, right? Wrong! So, now what? I’m starting to sound like a piece of work.
Sure, I’ve made some huge strides in my life to improve my circumstances and for that I am so proud of myself. But, along with all of the situations mentioned above, there were others I experienced during lockdown that made me think I should alter my approach to life in general. And that is to generate my own happiness. Let me explain.
For so long and I’m sure many people can relate, I’ve chased validation and happiness from external sources whether it’s other people, buying certain items, my job, what I chose to eat or drink, etc. Once the pandemic stripped all of those interactions and options away from us, that external reliance on and source of happiness was gone. So, how does your “happiness” generate now?
What really jumpstarted this pursuit of internal happiness was seeing people online saying how they wish it was 2021. It’s true that 2020 sucks, but how do we know that 2021 is going to be any better? I didn’t want to rely on waiting for 2021 to bring me happiness because I already know I’ll be let down. Instead, I want to focus on how I can generate my own happiness now so that no matter what happens in 2021 I’m not drastically affected because I’m operating from my own happy place.
I have to admit, this is a journey that I just recently embarked on. I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with this idea of self-generating internal happiness, but I’m proud that, through self-reflection, I recognized this as something I need to work on to establish and maintain a sustainable source of inner peace. I’m really excited about what this journey will bring and hope to update you soon on some sort of progress. I’d also be happy if you’d like to join me in this pursuit. Let me know in the comments below.
As embarrassed as I am about sharing how horribly I dealt with the lockdown, there was no way in knowing how any of us would react to it because we’ve never gone through something like this before. Our world hasn’t gone through something like this for 100 years! I hope we never have to ever again. I hope that my honesty and actions empower you to consider what you need to do for yourself to help you through this trying time because unfortunately it’s not over yet. Feel free to reach out. I’m here for you if you need some guidance. I want to see everyone on the other side.
Until next time, stay safe & be well,