Mental Health Struggles Amid a Pandemic
Two months ago I had my first panic attack. It was 11 pm and I was trying to sleep when my heart started pounding, my body tensed, adrenaline coursed through me, and my brain was convinced that I would have to pull an all-nighter.
I’d never had trouble sleeping before, in fact, I’m usually out cold as soon as my face hits the mattress.
But that evening, I only fell asleep 5 hours later wrapped under the arm of my mom. The panic attack was so random, so out of the blue, yet quickly became my new normal.
From that moment on, my anxiety was fixed at a permanent high. During the day, I couldn’t concentrate in class because I was focused on how anxious I was, how tense I felt, how my heart threatened to pump itself out of my chest. I wasn’t ever very hungry, but I forced myself to eat. At times I was so nervous I felt like throwing up. My anxiety was my shadow; I couldn’t escape it even when I was hanging out with friends.
As much as I wanted, needed, to sleep— heck I was falling asleep in class— as soon as I laid my head on the pillow my fight-or-flight response kicked in and I was suddenly more alert than I was during the daytime. I was fighting myself: I wanted to sleep but my body saw sleep as a threat.
I dreaded nights because I didn’t want to lay awake for hours and I hated days because I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t be present, and couldn’t relax.
I’ve always been hard on myself and my refusal to accept complacency is what has helped me grow as a person and achieve the goals I set. But mental health, I learned is different. I had to be patient with myself. There was no way to “work harder” or more efficiently to reach my goal, of feeling better, faster. I had to be nice to myself, to relax, even though I felt like that was all I was ever doing since the pandemic had started. I longed to be crunched for time, to be stressed, to constantly interact with new and many people once more. As an extremely extroverted overachiever, I was already battling feelings of inadequacy and loneliness and so much pressure from college applications when I developed my sudden anxiety. I already wanted to do be doing more when suddenly I couldn’t seem to do anything.
Day after day, I kept taking mental health breaks: watching TV with my family, journaling, meditating, and cooking. Two weeks in, these breaks were no longer breaks, but a new normal. I couldn’t bring myself to do homework and had watched more TV this past month than I have in the last few years. To be fair, I never used to watched TV, but that thought didn’t do much to quell my sense of purposeless, uselessness, and the new feelings of depression that had developed.
I was trying to pull myself out of a hole, to get back onto the stable ground I once stood on, but school, and life, had driven on and left me behind. In its leave, it kicked up dust that settled atop of me, caking my eyes, preventing me from figuring out how to get out of the hole.
Despite my struggles, however, I always knew that I still counted as one of the lucky ones. My loved ones and I are safe and physically healthy, and I have the strongest support network of friends and family. They have been and always will be there for me. I never forget all that I have to be grateful for, which is why I never expected to have issues with my mental health.
This month-long period of anxiety was terrible, but I’m getting better. I’m able to sleep at night, though I still have trouble falling asleep, and I only have periodic flashes of anxiety during the day. I learned that mental health struggles are not a challenge you can defeat or something you can will yourself out of. I had learn to trust my body and permit it to feel how it wants, to honor my feelings, even if it was excessive anxiety over nothing. I had to stay optimistic that it would get better, and accept it would take time. I couldn’t criticize or invalidate my anxiety, I had to be nice to myself— a very foreign concept.
While the last few months were a huge struggle, I am grateful that my anxiety has taught me how to be kind to myself and how to better empathize with and help those I love take care of their mental health. I’ve also realized that my experiences may be nothing compared to what thousands of others are facing. This bizarre new normal is a trying time for all of us, so it’s alright if your mental health has been affected. Please never hesitate to reach out to others for help and please proactively check in on those around you. In times like these, community really is everything.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)