COVID-19 + U
I saw a meme the recently: if 2020 were a movie, it would be written by Stephen King and directed by Quentin Tarantino. The meme game has been strong lately, but it offers a little respite from a really difficult period. My anxiety and depression have slowly crept back. I feel trapped in a heightened state of stress. Not being able to see my friends – my chosen family – because of social distancing has made it especially hard.
When I think about it, I realise I’ve been feeling this level of stress since the bushfires started last year, so it’s been over six months. I read a lot about mental health, and I know that prolonged stress can have a significant impact on physical and mental health and wellbeing. I’m really feeling it. It’s like I have no control over my life, and I feel really isolated. It’s more than being physically isolated; I’ve lost my sense of connectedness. And I suspect that’s the case for everyone in some way or another.
It took a while to work out how I was feeling, let alone what I needed to do about it. But over time, I realised I need to provide myself with the compassion and support that I look for from my friends, while also finding new ways to stay connected. I started listening to my feelings. I paid attention to what was making me feel worse and what had me feeling good. I offered myself patience and understanding so I could sit with my feelings and just be, rather than judging myself for not being productive enough during isolation. I made a list of things that were helpful and those that weren’t, and I started investing more time in the helpful things.
Reading, walking, drinking less, and reaching out to my friends topped the list.
I also built up the courage to ask for help. I was hesitant at first because I know other people are doing it much harder than me, so I felt like I should just suck it up. But getting help made it easier to cope. I found it helped to talk through how I was feeling – it was really validating. And by getting support, I felt more resilient, and I could be there for others, which is a powerful feeling.
I was relying on social media for connection, but that came with the constant influx of doom and gloom about COVID-19 and the state of the world more generally. I found myself getting more and more anxious and depressed, and my thumb was sore from scrolling.
I realised I needed to put some boundaries around my social media usage and exposure to the news, and I started spending less time on my phone. I also diversified my feed. I started following people and groups that posted wholesome, light-hearted content that made me feel hopeful about the world. This really took the anxiety down a few notches and put things in perspective.
I started finding new ways to connect with others. Meridian’s online trivia got the brain juices flowing and was good for a few laughs. Did you know that four countries have Guinea in their name? I also started talking to my friends more on the phone, which is not something I used to do. But it’s been really helpful. Feeling connected is so important for my mental health.
As social distancing measures ease, I’m grateful to see my friends again, and I feel less stressed about COVID-19. I’m still worried about the state of our world, but now when I feel the anxiety and depression kick in, I know I can ask for help. I also know I’m resilient and capable, and I can be there for others and contribute to change in my community.
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Given the changing circumstances around the COVID-19 public health emergency, we advise you to continue to monitor the latest health information on the ACT Health Directorate website.