I think it is universally agreed that 2020 has not been the best of years, for some more than others. Thankfully I have not struggled too much with my mental health thanks to having parents who are relatively open-minded and reasonably comfortable when talking about mental health. They’re also not particularly strict by the standards of many African parents, which makes my experience more positive than a number of my friends. Nevertheless, from time to time, there have been issues that have affected me. This year in particular has been a gut punch and I have struggled numerous times this year.
Coping with lockdown
The COVID-19 Pandemic has had its challenges but perhaps most triggering for me, is that it doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. I had heard about some strange disease from China but I didn’t think much of it. In fact, when the pandemic hit Ireland properly around mid-march, I was actually very casual about it, even mildly ecstatic about the prospect of a small holiday. Many of my friends dreaded the prospect of a lockdown but I had no issues. I was used to staying indoors for long stretches of time and so, it didn’t bother me.
Before lockdown the activities which helped my mental health included going to the cinema, meeting up with friends, trying new meals, a bit of exercise from time to time and trying out something outside of my comfort zone. Since lockdown, I’ve replaced that with watching movies from home, trying out new cooking recipes with the aid of the internet, doing video calls, jogging around my house, and downloading a new language, to stimulate my sense of adventure. I also bought three games –chess, scrabble, monopoly to add to the collection of games I can play with my family.
Avoiding unhelpful news updates
Ultimately, filling my day with a range of activities, as well as my academic work, made the days go by without issue. What I did not do was sit by my phone or television listening to rolling updates about the Coronavirus cases around the world. Myself and my family made it a point to sit and watch the evening news to be informed, but we did not follow every detail of the COVID-19 situation. I would look up what’s trending on social media to see if there’s any interesting information that I might have missed, otherwise I move on.
Focusing on what I can control
While that was a good decision on my part, I wouldn’t say that the decision was due specifically to any mental health concerns. It’s part of a wider pattern where I avoid giving myself sleepless nights on things I cannot change. I would often move on from a conversation or log out of Zoom if I’m having a discussion with someone and there’s no possible way to handle a situation. I am not someone that likes to dwell on things that I cannot change. I think people will live happier lives by focusing on areas that they can make progress on, rather than focusing on barriers and obstacles.
I’m very fortunate that I have a happy family. I think the crucial ingredient for me is that they are good at listening and offering non-judgemental advice. I think this is something we can all do to allow the people in our lives a space to talk and be heard.
Many members of my extended family have been cut-off by my parents so that we, their children, can have a better life. I think young people should decide to surround themselves with people who can build them up and support them.
Lifting restrictions and a new lockdown
All of the above, helped the first few months go by pretty easily. Nevertheless, as Summer approached, I started experiencing serious COVID fatigue. I started doing a lot more phone calls, WhatsApp chats and social media for longer. These were not just as a normal ‘check in.’ They helped to get my mind off things. Many of the things I set up at the start of lockdown started to tire me but just at that point, restrictions were being eased and I was happy.
Focusing on our mental health going forward
Now, Ireland is in another lockdown and I couldn’t be more disheartened. I understand the reasoning, but I don’t know if the cost-benefit has been fully looked at. I think they need to take into account people’s mental health as well as things like domestic abuse.
I am not a politician and I don’t have the answers. One thing I know for sure, the longer this drags out, the harder it will be for me to support my mental health and for my coping strategies to work. I think the same may be true for others. So we need continue to support each other and look after our mental health in ways that work for us.