Back into the light with Patricia O’ Hare
At this moment, I feel profoundly and deeply disturbed and agitated. My mood is dark. I feel hopeless and helpless. Several people who I spoke to this week echo my sentiments – no matter the age cohort to which they belong. My 15-year-old granddaughter is experiencing a crisis because she has been isolated from her peers for too long. My 45-year-old ex-colleague feels untethered and adrift having worked from home for 100 days. My 68-year-old friend feels she has reached the limit of her endurance of being cut off from life, alive but not living. The list goes on. I am hearing only about the negative. I am overwhelmed by the political, economic and social crisis our country is facing.
A couple of events this past week, and my reaction to them, forced me to sit down and reflect what was actually going on. My domestic worker, who had been part of my family for 50 years, unexpectedly came and returned my house keys stating she could no longer risk using a taxi because of Covid. I understood her reasoning because she falls in a high-risk category because of her age. Intellectually I could grasp what was happening, but emotionally I could not cope with this abrupt and unceremonious departure from my life of a key and beloved figure. I cried non-stop for the entire day. This reaction should have been a warning sign to me because I am not someone who cries easily or frequently, but I chose to ignore the warning. A couple of days later I had a bad experience at the dentist, and once again, my reaction was totally over the top. Another warning I failed to register as ominous and out of character. I have always been an exercise freak and could not go to sleep at night if my IWatch had not registered that I had completed 10000 steps. This week I never achieved my target once, but it failed to register in my brain. I usually do at least five yoga classes per week, but last week I only did one. Unusual? Yes. Did I reflect on this phenomenon? No.
Eventually, my mood and lack of energy and enthusiasm forced me to sit down and reflect what was happening. I found that I was behaving uncharacteristically. I was emotionally depleted. I had no energy. My thoughts were pessimistic, negative. Where was that person who usually wakes up in the morning singing one or another song from the 60s? Where was that person who could normally outpace a fellow yoga practitioner? Where was that person who was usually enthusiastic and full of energy? Where was that person who bopped around the house to rock and roll music while doing her chores?
I’ll tell you what happened. I allowed myself to be sucked in by negativity. I allowed myself to believe I was worthless, useless, hopeless. I believed the future was hopeless. Sure, my husband and I had just retired, and sure we were both living under lockdown restrictions. I had to have a long, hard talk to myself – just because I was no longer earning, just because I was no longer at the hub of a socially affirming life, I was still a person of value. While I was no longer an active participant, the wisdom I had accrued over the years still had value and relevance.
To anyone who has had a similar experience, I urge you to take some time to reflect and become conscious of how you got where you are and why. Once you become aware of the mechanisms that dragged you down, you can adapt and change. If you have no consciousness, you will never be able to effect change. Without being aware of the process, I allowed my ever-darkening mood to isolate me from all the things that had given me pleasure in the past- exercise, dancing, listening to music, gardening, reading. Now, with awareness, I can reengage those pursuits which I know have given me pleasure before, and I can mindfully and purposefully begin to get my life back on track. I have also opted to remove myself from the company of doomsayers and pessimists. I have done everything possible to ensure that my retirement years be free of financial worries. I am blessed with good health and a great support system. I didn’t reckon on the effects of Covid-19 but am sure that the resilience I have shown over the years will now stand me in good stead. I have to be watchful that when I start straying off the path, I immediately engage in corrective measures to bring me back on track. For that to happen, I need to continually practise mindfulness – one of the greatest techniques to manage the angst of 21st-century living.
The purpose of sharing my story with you was to emphasise how important it is to keep tabs on your mental health. We have all been preoccupied with avoiding the Corona virus at all costs but we may have neglected our mental health in the process. Living in lockdown, separated from friends and family can cause extreme stress which builds up insidiously. Unless you develop the capacity to constantly monitor your thoughts, emotions and behaviours you may not even be aware of the increasing stress levels until they become totally debilitating. If you have ever been treated for anxiety and depression, you should be especially mindful of your current vulnerability. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you start feeling overwhelmed.