I have a strange relationship with pain. This is partly due to the fact that when I’m experiencing pain I often stop breathing. Either I take a deep breath and hold it, or blow out all the air in my lungs. This never causes any lasting harm; I haven’t ever passed out doing this. My lungs always eventually remind me how much they like oxygen and I start breathing again.
I’ve noticed increasingly over the last few months I’m feeling breathless a lot. It’s almost as if my body is trying to prepare me to dive deep underneath or climb over whatever is causing me pain. The thing is though, pain doesn’t work like that.
Whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, sometimes pain just demands to be felt. That’s how it feels right now. The state of society, my country, the world, it hurts. It hurts and it seems like there’s nothing I can do but sit with the pain. But I don’t have to just sit with it; like any other pain, I can at least attempt to manage it.
Those of us who are familiar with experiencing physical pain in the long term likely have some form of a pain management routine. Hopefully that routine mitigates, if not completely deals with, any physical pain. But regardless, each individual is the best judge of what methods work best for them, especially in regards to any pain relief.
Unlike physical pain, which most of us experience in some form or another to varying degrees of severity, mental and emotional pain may be unfamiliar territory for some. Especially in uncertain times like these, it is not uncommon to experience symptoms of emotional and mental distress (heightened anxiety, periods of depression, irritability, changes in sleep and eating habits etc). And if you already deal with mental health issues, current events undoubtedly have you dealing with more intense symptoms than you may be used to. Whichever category you fall into, know it’s ok. Your feelings are valid.
For those who are familiar with mental health issues I won’t belabor the point too much, but there are some basics that might be of use to you newly initiated. These are all relatively simple and straightforward. Maintaining a balanced diet; getting enough sleep; exercising; and practicing hygiene and self care have all been shown to help some people struggling to improve their mental health. But as anyone with long term experience with mental illness can attest, none of these are a cure-all. Getting eight hours of sleep and five servings of veggies a day won’t magically correct your brain chemistry.
You may need to talk to your doctor about starting on medication, seeing a therapist or a combination of the two. Try as many treatment options as you are able to until you find what works best for you. And remember these might not be a cure-all either. It may take a combination of therapy, meds and the suggestions listed in the previous paragraph to get you where you want to be. That is completely ok; don’t lose hope.
Speaking of hope, you probably realized right about now that all of the things I’ve mentioned as being helpful for improving your mental health are either being made harder or completely impossible right now. And you’re right. Given the restrictions in place and scarcity occurring many places, it is going to be harder than usual to make sure our mental health needs are being met. For many marginalized communities it was already difficult before the idea of a global pandemic was even on anyone’s radar. And in the era of social distancing access to healthcare, proper nutrition and other necessities might look a little different than you’re used to, but that’s where community care comes into play.
For those unfamiliar with the term, community care is just what it sounds like: caring for your community members, making sure their needs are being met and they’re being supported in the ways they need to be, and you’re allowing them to help you when you are in need. It’s making connections and sharing resources. It’s supporting those around you so that you’re all better able to survive and thrive.
We are living in uncertain, unprecedented times. So much feels up in the air. Plans have been undone, special moments changed or completely lost. This leaves an impact that can be hard to deal with. Community care can be an invaluable tool in coping with so many changes and so much disappointment.
So take this opportunity to lean on your community. Call your Nana. Text your best friend. Video chat with your two year old nephew. Be there for them and let them be there for you.
This is also a great time to remind yourself of the things that give you comfort, the things that make you feel good, and indulge in them. Watch that movie you loved as a kid for the 7000th time. Put that song you can’t stop dancing to on repeat. Cook, paint, sew, sleep. Do what replenishes your soul.
No one is going to be perfect at handling this situation we’re in right now. Allow yourself space to feel and grace when you fail. That’s the only way to get through this. One day, one minute, one breath at a time.
Remember that I’m proud of you. I love you. Be well, dear ones.
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