As someone who has personal experience of at-times debilitating anxiety and depression, I was asked to reflect on what I’ve learnt about myself during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If there’s one thing we all should have learnt during recent times, it’s to be less surprised by the unexpected.
Yet as I reflect, I still find myself surprised by a most unexpected personal outcome of the pandemic. That is, the fact that I have been, and am, OK.
This might be because I had already faced significant adversity in terms of my mental health. It might be thanks to the wellbeing approach I already follow. It might be due to my long-term commitment to meditation.
It’s probably a combination of these and other things. Regardless, it’s been a pleasant realisation.
So much uncertainty
At the beginning, the sheer uncertainty seemed to have everyone bracing for the worst. Hoarding toilet paper and stockpiling groceries. Cancelling holidays, flights and important events. Bunkering down for the long haul without knowing what the long haul would involve, or when it might end. The damage to our economy. The businesses that have had to adapt, or pause, or close. The people who face significant financial stress through loss of work or a reduced income.
Not to mention the obvious health considerations for those most at risk.
From a personal perspective, my father-in-law passed away just as we first entered lockdown and with his passing came a natural sense of grief and loss.
Throughout it all, I felt a sense of calm that came from what I can only describe as an understanding that I would be alright.
Adapting (and re-adapting) to a new normality
As always, I would begin each day by clearing my head through meditation. I would also employ whatever other measures I needed to combat the fluctuating anxiety or low mood I might be feeling (which rarely – if ever – were a direct result of the pandemic).
The way people everywhere began to support others has been heartening. Seeing this kindness and experiencing the renewed sense of community assisted my own wellbeing. Without wanting to overstate things, it helped restore a belief in humanity.
During the most severe restrictions, my husband, myself and our three sons have (for the most part) enjoyed spending so much time together as a family. We remained connected to loved ones and offered support to those who, like many others around Australia, were facing much more challenging adjustments and difficult circumstances than we were.
This certainly increased the sense of gratitude I felt for my own work situation. My work remained consistent in that I continued to write and teach yoga, albeit having to adopt to new ways of working.
Unsettled... but OK.
I’m not saying I haven’t been unsettled at times – I have.
Being a resident of Melbourne as restrictions were reintroduced has been frustrating and really upsetting knowing how it’s affecting others in our community. Continued contact with extended family, friends and neighbours has obviously been through technology, which has its limitations. I’ve also started to watch the news – something I would usually avoid for the sake of my mental health.
Away from the uncertainty of COVID-19, losing my father-in-law has been hard, as has supporting my husband (who is usually ‘the rock’) and children through this loss. My husband has faced many challenges in his work, I’ve had a stress fracture in my foot and we've adapted (twice) to having the boys at home for schooling.
If you had described all of this to me in January, I would have told you that I’d be extremely distressed right now. I might have expressed a fear of spiraling into a crisis of sorts by this point.
Having experienced debilitating episodes of depression and anxiety for many years, I consider myself well in touch with how I’m travelling. And as I write this, I’m proud and slightly surprised to say that I have maintained a strong sense of balance through the pandemic.
What I’ve taken from this time
It feels as though through the pandemic, there has been a communal shift in understanding as to what truly matters. That many people may be coming to this understanding for the first time. In some ways – and without trivialising the tragedy of loss we’ve experienced globally – this has felt like a deep exhale for the world.
It feels to me that there may be slightly more recognition and understanding from others around how anxiety or low mood could affect many people as a part of daily life.
It also feels to me that those who have had previous experience with anxiety and depression may be the people most well-equipped to support others who are experiencing symptoms for the first time.
And for all of these realisations, I’m particularly grateful.