Updated: Jun 12
After my last post and the email I sent out at the beginning of this clusterfuck, I started feeling the pangs of faux superiority. Just in case anyone has been reading with a scoff and thoughts about TBOT - I know I'm not a mental health wizard and I don't want to imply that I'm having a good time throughout all of this. I want to make it clear - I'm shouting out all these tips because I need them myself, at multiple times, every day. The pointers I've been sharing are the ways I'm forcing myself to cope, often at times when I would rather be miserably laying in bed and staring at a wall with a near-empty box of sugary cereal decorating my face, fingers, and sheets.
Similar to everything I write for Traumatized Motherfuckers, in general, this focus on staying mentally healthy through the pandemic is as much of a tool for me to keep my shit together as it is advice for others.
I want to make it clear - I'm shouting out all these tips because I need them myself, at multiple times, every day. The pointers I've been sharing are the ways I'm forcing myself to cope, often at times when I would rather be miserably laying in bed and staring at a wall with a near-empty box of sugary cereal decorating my face, fingers, and sheets.
I want to be transparent that I think it's correct for everyone to be feeling a little batty right now. Those of us with underlying mental health problems... universally aren't having the times of our lives. If you're feeling off-centered, manic, depressive, obsessive, agoraphobic, health-paranoid, exhausted, agitated, annoyed, over-indulgent, anorexic, hopeless, frustrated, fearful, or totally blank... congratulations, you're normal.
If people around you seem especially cavalier and unaffected
by this whole thing, don't judge yourself or let them make you feel crazy. You aren't wrong. You (probably) aren't overreacting. You aren't lesser for being concerned the way the news says you should be.
You are having a unique response to an unprecedented time. You're programmed to look out for danger and anticipate the worst. Similarly, for their brain, it makes more sense to compartmentalize. They're choosing to ignore it as their individual coping method. They've learned to sit back and let everything work out for the best. Different life strategies based on different experiences. Don't compare yourself to others. Don't internalize the disaster-deniers. Don't tell yourself how you "should" feel.
If you're noticing old patterns emerging during your isolation,
don't freak out. Dipping a toe into the old behaviors that marked dark times in your life doesn't mean you'll be grabbed by the ankle and dragged back into the depths of mental distress. It's okay to slip once in a while. A day of lazily staring at the TV, binge eating, neglecting yourself, or having a beer too many isn't the sign of imminent mental breakdown. I would argue that it's healthy to have one of these experiences, as long as you pick yourself up the next day and do better. It proves that you can have a bad time and recover from it, which is confidence-building and anxiety-relieving. I think it's getting "stuck," "pulled under," or "lost" when these activities become crutches/patterns that put you in danger. Forgive yourself for your missteps. Don't read into them. Analyze where things went wrong, historically why that's your response, and do something different next time.
There's no danger in feeling. It's okay to acknowledge your tumultuous inner landscape right now, even if your closest associates are unbothered by the news circuit. Just make sure you balance out your inner chaos as much as possible throughout the day with reasonable thinking and concerted effort to act with self-integrity. Don't let yourself slip into something that disgusts you, just because your brain is touching upon some unhealthy old tendencies. Acknowledge them and rein them back in.
Dipping a toe into the old behaviors that marked dark times in your life doesn't mean you'll be grabbed by the ankle and dragged back into the depths of mental distress... Analyze where things went wrong, historically why that's your response, and do something different next time.
If you need a stonger perspective shifter
To get back to my original statement about acting like an authority, when I can assure you that I'm also struggling, I want to share one final trauma hack for desperate times - the one that changed my life, lassoed my dysfunction, and started TMFRS.
The best tool for getting my shit together and resetting my victimhood mindset in seemingly uncontrollable times... is reminding myself of who I need to be for others. When the focus isn't about you and when you remove your own perceived weakness from the equation, it's incredibly easy to step up to the plate.
When the focus isn't about you and when you remove your own perceived weakness from the equation, it's incredibly easy to step up to the plate.
When do I get super traumatized, anxious, and (frankly) pathetic? When I feel powerless, when I feel like I'm relying on other people, and when I feel like I can't do it on my own.
This "along for the ride" thinking enables my brain to spiral, very quickly, into a dark pool of learned helplessness. I can't do anything, I can't keep my head on straight, and I can't survive without X. I need so and so. I'm not going to make it on my own. I am like a fluid bowl of jelly, without structure, boundaries, or form, and I need someone to hold me up. I'm nothing without the support of others.
This thinking turns my brain into depressive mush. I have no motivation to do better because I don't believe it's a possibility. My anxiety goes wild, I feel like I'm always desperately "waiting" for something, and I can't shake the feeling of hopelessness.
Conversely, when do I feel instinctively calm, collected, and capable? When I have to show up in support of someone else.
When someone else is in need, I don't have time for my own self-indulgent bullshit. My brain goes into "mom mode," and all of my focus is directed at being calm, strong, and effective. I can't panic, or the other party will surely lose it. I can't freeze up, stare off into space, or let my anxiety ADD take over. I can't be a doomsdayer, or else everyone will crumble.
There's no room for feeling helpless or appealing to someone else for survival, because I'm suddenly the only option, and I have to be a good example. It's the same when we're talking about maintaining mental health. Sure, it's easy to feel bad for myself and to give up... but then, who will I be to others?
When you're feeling particularly lost, try this.
Envision who you wish you could be during this trying time. What kind of person would child-you want to become?
A strong, stable leader who provides comforts to others, or a blubbering pile of anxiety who shut down on isolation day 1? Who do they need right now? What would help them to feel better? How can your energy positively influence theirs? What can you say to comfort them? What reasonable information can you relay to reframe the experience?
Write down a list of characteristics and behaviors that you would benefit from in a leader/guardian that demonstrate internal strength, and that send a message of loving care... and then pretend to be that person. Just fucking pretend. Immediately, you'll feel a shift. You'll start to become the super hero you need to be.
... and then pretend to be that person. Just fucking pretend. Immediately, you'll feel a shift. You'll start to become the super hero you need to be.
Just fucking pretend to be whoever you idealize in this scenario.
Gather your emotions off the floor, lace them up to your backbone, and stand tall. Tell yourself you're capable, you've survived so much worse, and you make good decisions. Show up in some small way for someone else. Send a light hearted text message to your most freaked out friend. Make your SO a great dinner - gourmet or nostalgic and comforting. Do something silly, like building a fort or turning coloring book pages into racy spectacles with your isolation buddies.
Immediately, you'll feel a shift. Every time you redirect your brain from helplessness to helper, you'll start to become the super hero you want to be.
Wrappppp it up
And that, folks, is my strategy for pandemic survival... plus, actually, the creation of Traumatized Motherfuckers.
I'm not doing better than anyone else, and I don't mean to lecture on the ways to "easily" control your mental health in times of global disaster. I'm just choosing to show up as the person who might be able to help, instead of waiting elbow-deep in a box of Capt Crunch for someone to make me feel better.
Ready to show up for others? Send your best coping tools. Tell us what you're doing to stay healthy and emotionally balanced. Be the person you would want to know during these times.
Good luck out there.