This past year has been full of fear, isolation and heart-wrenching loss. My anxiety got so severe at the beginning of the pandemic that I started taking an additional medication to help manage it. In the process, I realized just how much energy I spend worrying about whether I'm doing life correctly. It wasn't until the world stopped going out, stopped taking classes, stopped life as we all know it, that I gave myself full permission to be an introverted homebody who loves spending time with her cats more than most humans.
The pandemic required society to adapt to a different way of living, at least temporarily. The new goal for everyone is to survive, and it’s a relief that nothing more is expected of me for a while as sometimes all I can handle is getting through the day. It is this among other reasons I have found relief from my anxiety during the pandemic.
I'm not expected to be happy
As much as I would like to think society is evolving, there is immense pressure to put on a happy mask and be bubbly and enthusiastic. There is a good reason that “fake it till you make it” is a common mantra among people who repress their emotions in favor of maintaining an image.
Much like a river dam, the wall holding back all those feelings can break under enough pressure. A novel virus invading every corner of the earth, and taking the lives of more people than I can process, has shattered that dam. People are not doing well right now and, for once, they are actually being open about it. It is a relief that I can finally (comfortably) let my guard down and be my imperfect-human self. These days, no one is going to judge me for not being okay.
I am supposed to stay home
My home is my safe space full of creature comforts. I like turning off the big lamps and allowing the multiple strings of holiday lights to provide a relaxing ambiance. We recently added a little machine that projects the night sky complete with rolling clouds and blinking stars onto our ceiling. You can often find me in my big, comfy recliner, under a blanket with a snoozing cat on my lap, watching Netflix.
This is when I push pause on life and leave the many stressors of life at my door. This is the best way I've found to manage my anxiety, and I'm happy to go multiple days in a row without leaving the house. My anxiety increases the minute I walk out the door. However, since anxiety is the ultimate trickster, I often fret that I'm not truly living life the right way by staying home.
I used to make infinite lists of all the things I was not doing. I should exercise more, go to the lake, go hiking, see a movie, go to a bar and the list goes on. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy those things when my anxiety is at a low enough level that I can enjoy being social. Then my anxiety tells me I'm a boring person and makes me wonder why my boyfriend loves me or my roommate likes talking to me. Pretty soon anxiety sneaks its way into my happy, comfy home sanctuary. That is, until the pandemic hit.
Suddenly, my favorite place to be was the place experts demanded I stay. As businesses closed and the world retreated, my list of things I “should” be doing vanished. My mission was to survive and relaxing in my oasis was what I needed to do.
We all need to social distance
Only three people in this whole world don't cause me anxiety when I'm trying to connect with them. Otherwise, I'm only a sentence away from the panic that threatens to overwhelm my core if the conversation stalls. Because anxiety tells me that if I don't perform as the perfect conversationalist then I am a pathetic loner.
In my younger days, before the traumas of life took a toll, I used to be a social butterfly, invigorated by conversations with strangers that soon became friends. Unfortunately, my mind was not able to purge my inner dialogue as it continued to inform me that I'm not as good as I used to be. Then, COVID hit hard and fast.
Suddenly, I could order food and not have to make awkward small talk with the delivery driver. I could preorder my groceries and stay in the car, avoiding the anxiety minefield I navigate whenever I'm in a crowd. I didn't have to worry about missing out on life while stranded at home by my fear because nothing was happening. The freedom to just be safe and content, without questioning if there were “better” ways to spend my time, has been restorative.
I am happy to report that this time has helped me relax, focus on my mental health through counseling, and heal. I conquered my initial fear of Zoom calls (it’s weird being on camera), and I'm enjoying the authentic stories I've shared with people feeling just like me. I love being at home, but I'll be ready to go play in the real world when it’s finally safe again. It helps to know I'm not alone with my struggles.
Tanya W. spent years caring for patients, first as a CNA then as an RN. Nearly every patient struggled with their mental health, but most were too shy or ashamed to talk about it. Tanya had the privilege of working at a psychiatric hospital, and that experience helped her gain the courage to seek help for her own mental health. She was relieved when she was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 disorder and the treatment changed her life for the better.