Monday, December 6, 2021

The anxiety epidemic

 

We all relate a little more to this picture than we did in 2019...

I had a catchup with John (not his real name) over Skype the last week. It had been a while, and I was hoping all was well with him. I soon discovered that it wasn’t.

After a few minutes of catchup and idle chit-chat, the topic of mental health came up. They weren’t doing too well. Indeed for them, it was sucking the joy from life, they didn't feel any hope left for 2022.

I wasn’t surprised. Because I’d been having this conversation a lot – in video chats, in private messages, in emails. With so many different people in my life.

Our lives have changed so much since the early months of 2020, when a deadly virus started its world tour. Covid-19 has been terrifying.

The necessary lockdowns we’ve endured have helped to contain the spread and deaths to varying degrees (it seems like going hard and early has paid off for countries who have). But they have been difficult on us all.

For myself, even though I totally agreed with them, I could still feel claustrophobic and shut-in at times.

I would do a daily doom-scroll of numbers in different countries where I had people I loved and cared about (a lot of countries, a lot of love). I felt anxious for a lot of people, scared even for myself.

And it went beyond the life-and-death fears. As companies responded to the epidemic, sadly, a lot did so by throwing employees under the bus. People who lost their jobs feared what they could do.

Those of us who still had jobs were in fear of losing them if we couldn’t be productive enough at home.

It was a tough time. And for some of us, it’s left us changed.

I’ve got so used to working from home and it just being my wife and me, I felt like I’ve become severely introverted. I find social situations and anything which requires a bit of extroversion from me to be challenging and a little terrifying.

 

In a talk I did for ATD online last year in 2020, I talked about how we did not give ourselves enough credit for JUST GETTING THROUGH such a tough year.

Back then, it felt like normality was just within reach. Vaccines had been trialed and were effective. Indeed, they helped to sever the connection between infection rates and deaths. But their rollout took time.

In 2021 we saw more lockdowns as Covid-19 mutated into Delta.

But we were out of the severe mortal danger.

 

So why was I having so many conversations like that I’d had with John?

Indeed, I’d been proactive on reaching out to many friends during the last couple of years, just to see how they were. Ironically the Covid-era has made up more comfortable and less self-conscious about doing video catch-ups, or just text chats.

But when I heard both my father and brother had been diagnosed with anxiety, I began to realise just how big this was getting. John had a history of mental health issues. But a lot of folks like my father and brother were not those I’d traditionally associate with mental health struggles.

Indeed, I’ve had patches where I’ve found it difficult. More so this year than last. Perhaps it’s a feeling of going on too long. The seaman in the submarine drama who suddenly loses his nerve while being depth charged. You can only hold yourself together for so long, and then it becomes too much.

But definitely, it’s become an epidemic. And something that needs to be acknowledged.

 

That doesn’t mean I’m advocating for no more lockdowns. On the scale of things, preventing Covid spread vs mental health impact, dealing with the former involves the least harm. Although the second, especially through increased suicide rates is no soft option either.

And unfortunately, I can’t offer any easy advice. Except this most important of notes – to remember that if you feel this way, you are far from alone.

Indeed, one of the most vicious illusions we can experience when dealing with mental health problems is to imagine that we’re alone. We’re not.

 

If you’re experiencing issues, I recommend first of all that you speak to someone. It can be a family member or close friend. A lot of workplaces have counseling services available (I’ve had to use these myself in the last year). If no one else will listen, my DMs on Twitter are always open, but my response will depend on timeline differences. And, of course, there are local helplines to talk to who are available 247.

[Of course, this time difference might be of benefit, if you’re in the UK up and fretting at 3am, it’s probably just 5pm my time]

If this goes on for a while, it’s worth talking to your doctor. There are medications that do help take the edge off things like this. My wife has to take some for her anxiety, and they have helped change her life and her world.

 

But most of all, like I’ve said, acknowledge that this has been a tough time. Each of our respective countries should issue us a medal for the sacrifices we've made to do this. Okay, maybe not a big medal, more a certificate of acknowledgment.

But also remember that you’re not alone. The one good thing about Covid has been how it’s brought many of us closer together through social media and the various Skype/Zoom/Hangout offerings. Video calls have become a convenient way to share time with people we love.

Support and company is just a jangly ring-tone away.

We will get through this, like we have got through to date, together.

Take care and best wishes for the holidays whether you’re going to be with family or chilling at home!


[Thanks to the folks who have likewise thought to check on me during this year - I've really appreciated it]

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