- Mindy St. Claire, This One’s For You - May 9, 2020
- On Coping Mechanisms: Thank You, Evan Hansen - June 14, 2019
- On Coping Mechanisms: A Safe Haven Called Stars Hollow - April 8, 2019
Hello! I’m back! And a happy mental health awareness month to you and yours!!! I’m so glad to be returning to the blog to put in my two cents about the effects of the pandemic on my own outlook and mental health, and how I see us moving forward as functioning humans.
(Re: title: catch up with The Good Place, silly gooses!)
Relative to the catastrophic nature of this pandemic and its effect on the human populace, my life has not been turned completely upside down and my current conditions are, by all accounts, good. I lived at home before, so my surroundings did not shift practically overnight, my parents are able to work fully remotely (as am I, to an extent), I live in a safe, adequately large, suburban environment, and I have all the necessary tools to engage in online learning and to otherwise keep myself entertained and “productive”. This is not to minimize or invalidate the difficulties I’ve had during this time, but to highlight just how much everyday interaction and a perceived sense of safety keep me functioning optimally. Because even I, with close-to-ideal “quarantine conditions”, am struggling to maintain some modicum of motivation, hope, and overall well being, I have had the challenge (and partial privilege, I suppose) of looking at the deeper impacts of Miss Rona on my life now and after we all climb out of our respective rabbit holes.
On productivity and people-ing
As an anxious, type-A spaz who thrives on structure and schedules, but also a lazy, lazy human who needs adequate justification to actually do anything ever, managing to get up before noon and accomplish all the things has proven to be quite a nuisance. I’ve never had time management issues before, since a combination of intrinsic motivation to be superior in my endeavors, extrinsic motivation to please people who likely couldn’t care less, and a desire to attain some societal standard of achievement together proved enough to keep me moving forward. However, I now find myself weighing my daily tasks against the weight of the outside world, which is quite an unbalanced standard. This often results in the conclusion that nothing is really “worth it”, at least in this current state of limbo. Thus, with varying levels of success, I’ve had to find alternative means of incentivizing. That, too, though, has been problematic because I haven’t really been wanting to do much of anything, including watch movies or read for fun or what not, so even developing a reward system has been largely ineffective. The listlessness (if I can even call it that) has made it so procrastinating does not equate to my typical alternative productivity (baking, TV, etc.). Instead, I tend to find that it’s three o’clock in the afternoon and all I’ve done is make coffee and order another swimsuit I won’t get to wear till 2022.
On that note, I’ve also had trouble being kind to myself a significant portion of the time, perhaps because I’m now my own primary source of companionship, which is absolutely terrible. I’ve read dozens of tweets and think pieces about forgiving ourselves for such sins as not being productive, not appreciating this time with our benevolent family members (if we are fortunate enough to be quarantined with folks of that sort), or otherwise failing to count our blessings during this time, but have failed to wholly internalize these sentiments. Instead of reasoning that the gravity of this situation is affecting me in ways I can’t conceptualize and accepting the negativity and lack of forward movement for what it is, I tend to chastise myself for another day of sitting on my couch taking three hours to do an assignment that, under typical circumstances, would have taken 45 minutes. But that’s the point, I guess—this isn’t a typical situation, and I have to accept that my way of functioning has been severely limited by factors beyond my control. Easier said than done, of course, and something I’ll have to continue to watch out for, especially when I don’t have looming assignments and the ever-present threat of—god forbid—getting a B to keep me chugging along. Granted, chugging like The Little Engine That Couldn’t, but chugging nonetheless.
Being the extrovert that I am, the lack of basic interaction with people is surprisingly less of an issue than I thought. I choose to use this as evidence that I truly don’t like groups of people all that much, and that my affinity for social interaction is the result of a) my brain moving too quickly and needing stimulation from external sentient beings and b) an inherent dislike of considering my own personal thoughts, feelings, and fears for too long, for they are frequent and usually unpleasant. When I’m in class or even hanging out with friends, for example, I get bored or antsy if I don’t talk or contribute often enough, which is one of the reasons I would do very poorly in prison (trying to connect the dots there? Me too.) When I am with others, I have a reason to put on a shiny face and attempt, to the best of my abilities, to make people laugh and appreciate my wildly enjoyable Katie-ness, whether it be genuine or not. Stuck in quarantine with my parents, who I love dearly but are starting to make me want to throw pieces of furniture and who also know very well that at my core I am merely a mildly amusing scamp who they love unconditionally anyhow, and my cats, who will either love or hate me at any given moment no matter what I do and also don’t do much because they’re cats, I have no reason to be a better version of myself. This is perhaps a long-winded way of saying I don’t miss other humans and the people-ing of it all as much as I miss the person I am when I’m around other people, which I assume applies to all of us to varying extents. And the kicker here is that I don’t miss actual people enough to put in the effort to organize group calls or other opportunities to show off Quarantine Katie in all her glory (although when they do happen, she is simply marvelous). So I’m basically stuck in a pattern of texting the word “ugh” with increasing amounts of the letter “h” to the two people with whom I actually do enjoy interacting. It should be quite interesting to slowly return to the daily song-and-dance that is me doing life alongside others. Stay tuned.
Say it louder for the people in the back
As a future mental health professional, one I’m sure folks would be lined up around the block to see if they read this doozy, this has called more attention to the indirect barriers to optimal social and emotional functioning. I say indirect rather than invisible, because even though these factors impact individuals in a clearly observable way, they are even more difficult to pinpoint and detect than the “invisible” conditions associated with the field of mental health. For example, the current U.S. demographic of 18–25 year olds was born right before or in the aftermath of 9/11, experienced the 2008 recession in childhood, and are now entering young adulthood in the wake of covid. Also, we all had a front-row seat to these and a plethora of other catastrophes because of the 24/7 news cycle and the ubiquity of modern technology. This entire process has caused me to look at the costs associated with being fully connected (or having the ability to be connected) 100% of the time. While this is undeniably contributing to deteriorating mental health, quarantine, in particular, has given me more time to reflect on the way we receive and process information, and one does not balance the other out. We simply cannot healthily take in and understand this much information at the rate it is delivered, and I hope to impart in others the importance of doing so—in addition to helping them do so myself.
Children are especially vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the state of the world in ways they (and we) cannot comprehend, potentially fueling existing or newfound stress and anxiety. The pluralistic nature of our country in particular, with its dizzying miscellany of highs and lows, is intensely hard to handle. Additionally, this is highlighted even more clearly as Miss Rona sweeps the world with population density on her side, and most of us are left with feelings of helplessness. What are we to do in crises like this, when doing nothing does not feel like enough? We can’t very well march, or launch grassroots campaigns, or do campus or community advocacy—let alone live our normal lives. And I think this comes back to my point about productivity: in this country where we are told from a very young age that doing the Most Possible Ever will yield success and happiness, it is cognitively dissonant, super unnerving, and quite anxiety-provoking to not have a Next. Even if that next is unrelated to humanitarian progress (which for most of us, it isn’t), I imagine it has been difficult for almost everyone to a) feel purposeful and b) feel productive, which are two concepts that have been increasingly separate and hard to attain simultaneously, if at all.
I want others to know that it’s okay to be lethargic, or disconnected, or burrowed like a mole sometimes.
Even though the world may feel like it’s collapsing around us, we are not obligated to bear witness or to do something every single day. I want health and happiness to be a goal, not productivity and satisfaction. I want people to understand the power of self-talk, self-care, and self-reflection. Distraction and advancement should not be coping mechanisms, folks. They can exist in tandem with stress and the fear, but should not be the result. I’m still struggling with that myself, clearly, in large part because I, too, have been raised and socialized in this environment, but, if anything, this time has allowed me to analyze my own behavior and emotional unease, as well as surmise what exactly we as humans can do to make our individual lives a little less scary and a little more comforting.