It is currently a little after midnight on Monday, November 23rd. Toronto is officially in its second lockdown and I need to talk about it. However, I feel the need to clarifying a couple of things before we begin:
With that being said, let’s get into it: I’m struggling.
Over the last couple months, my anxiety disorders have been creeping back into my life in a way that I don’t think I noticed at first. It started with a general unease, but a general unease is normal in a pandemic. You can’t see the virus, so the general unease keeps you safe and vigilant. It reminds you to wash your hands and wear a mask. Honestly, people without unease during a pandemic scare me a little bit. Are you not concerned for yourself? For the people around you?
But the unease developed into restlessness. Like my entire body was jittering. It was the kind of jittering that kept me up until 3am just lying in bed. And the jittery-ness and the unease made me exhausted, but I couldn’t fall asleep no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t take a nap, I couldn’t rest, I couldn’t find enough space in my mind for a peaceful sleep.
So, I used my new hobby – working out – to try and manage the stressors. I did yoga, I ran farther, I tried new workouts. I worked out more and pushed myself, but it wasn’t working. When I started working out in May, I could almost “burn” off a stressor. I could make my anxiety seem obsolete with a spin or a long walk or a brutal workout. But recently, there was no distance I could run, no number of reps I could do, to get the restlessness out of my body.
And it started creeping into work. During the pandemic, I’ve been working in retail and I’m really happy with my current position. But I had to step off the floor more to take breathers. I found myself doing stretches in the hallways of fitting rooms when nobody was around and doing downward dog in the breakroom just to try and get myself to relax, but it wasn’t working.
At this point I want to sideline the progression of my anxiety to talk about why this was happening. In my life I have developed a three-pronged coping strategy: music, social interaction and structured activity. These three pillars hold up my mental health and keep me grounded in reality when the rest of my world is spinning. Music provides expression, social interaction provides support, and structured activity provides distractions. Throughout my life, these three categories have changed in content, but the general structure remains the same. For example, structured activity used to include school whereas it now includes work.
Early on in the year, we all lost a ton of our social interactions. And during the beginning of the pandemic, while I adjusted the weight I placed on each pillar, I had a difficult time. However, I was able to put more focus on activity and music to make myself feel more balanced. I also learned to change the way I was interacting with people, as we all did.
And now we return to the progression of my mental health, because (like many people) I just lost my job. Temporarily of course, but for the next four weeks I am unemployed with too much time on my hands. That prospect alone has caused a slight spiral. There is not just jittery feelings or general unease but panic.
2020 has me exhausted, frustrated, and anxious. My structured activity, one of my remaining pillars has been removed from the equation and I am unsure what that means to me. I don’t know how to fill my days. I have made such incredible progress over the last couple years regarding my mental health and while 2020 in ruthless in what it takes, I am determined to hold my ground here. I just don’t know how yet. It’s easy to say I will be better than my panic attacks, than my anxiety, but I also know that I don’t always get to make those calls. I don’t always get to decide what’s a trigger, especially when I’m losing coping mechanisms faster than I can replace them.
I don’t know what I want you to do with this information. Maybe I just want to scream into the void “FUCK THIS” and this is my way of doing that. Maybe I want to know if other people are riding the struggle bus the way I am. Maybe I just want to write it all down so I can finally admit it to myself, because that in and of itself can be difficult. All I know is that I don’t want this to be a pity party. It’s almost Christmas and while “normal” is in short supply, I want to find a way to stay keep bits and pieces of my life the same. Even though the world feels heavy I want to find a way to make it manageable.
I guess all I can say is keep reaching out and supporting each other. Find humour in new places and fun where you least expect it. Try a new hobby and fill everyday with at least one good thing. I say this knowing it’s 1) super cheesy and 2) something I haven’t been able to do yet, so I don’t blame you if you laugh at this advice. But all we can do is our best.
From me, with love, to you,