A little over a week ago, I was really having a mental struggle. I felt like I was losing my mind. I could pinpoint a few specific things that might’ve led to my mini-breakdown, but that’s the thing about anxiety: it can often come well-after a triggering event.
I know that I’m not alone in feeling the stress, anxiety, and even depression of this year. There have been so many changes, and for many, life has been turned upside down.
I started self-isolating in mid-March, around the time I had to post-pone a trip to Iceland with my best friend. About two weeks later, my biggest client cut me due to COVID, and a week or so after that, another client paused our contract for the same reason. I lost $6,000/month in income.
July was the first month where I actually started to get new client work — in April, May, and June, job and gig applications got no response and I even got emails from gig platforms warning users about potential scams. Right before my weekend Blogging Boot Camp started, the University of Texas said it was pausing all Informal Courses until COVID was “under control.” Another loss of income for me.
COVID-19 in Austin
In Austin, COVID is nowhere near under control. For awhile, people were not wearing masks nor were they social distancing. Texas was one of the first states to open, and it was way too early. Austin’s Mayor Steve Adler started publishing daily COVID numbers, warning about the hospital’s potential to reach, or exceed, capacity.
I have never stopped self-isolating, and even cut out grocery trips, because many people in the city traced their cases to essential outings, even while wearing a mask (note: this is not me saying don’t wear a mask; please wear one).
The numbers in Austin saw a bit of a dip after the city announced a mask mandate with a fine of $2,000 if you were caught without wearing one, although they admitted they had no real way of enforcing this. But yesterday’s news said numbers were back on the rise.
To be honest, a lot of the way Austin and Texas has handled all of this has been disappointing to me — so much so that I’m considering moving once it seems safe to do so. I came to Austin for opportunities in my career and the only gig I have tying me to Austin is the UT one, and well, UT has shown that its priority is football games (which are being held in-person with 50,000 fans).
The things I love about Austin — the food, the live music, the festivals — aren’t really available. In fact, many of the smaller local restaurants have closed for good and many music venues have said they may have to close, too.
Mental Health in 2020
So, yeah, of course things feel pretty shitty this year. At the start of lockdown, I tried to keep things as normal as possible. I was setting an alarm, doing client work, and taking virtual exercise classes.
But then I lost a majority of my work and I realized the virtual exercise classes were so, so difficult. It was tough to focus and obviously my apartment isn’t the same as a yoga studio or a dance studio in terms of size or equipment.
So, I started taking walks around my neighborhood. I was listening to podcasts or audiobooks while I walked, but let me tell you how fast the scenery gets boring when you’re staring at the same scene for 3miles per day, every day.
Since March, I haven’t been within six feet of anyone except my dentist, my hairstylist, and anyone who works at the post office or the grocery store. It’s lonely in here.
I’ve lived alone for 13 years, and I started working from home full-time at the end of 2018. But nothing is going to prepare anyone to stay at home 24/7 and not see or speak to people in-person. Before lockdown, I was going to the yoga studio every single day and I certainly miss seeing my classmates there. I miss picking out my own groceries instead of having meal kits delivered every week. And I miss roaming the library stacks and going to the free events there.
I know that my discomfort is very different compared to others around the country, who are experience other kinds of loss. Researchers at the University of Southern California have found that due to the enormous loss of life, more than 1.2 million people are experiencing the grief of bereavement.
According to recent data from the Census Bureau, nearly a third of Americans are reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety – or both. So, anyone feeling this way is certainly not alone — although it’s not good news that so many people are feeling this way.
On the other hand, I know many people are no longer self-isolating and it’s nearly soul-crushing to see friends or people you follow on social media out and about, living life, going on vacations… while you’re stuck at home having food delivered.
So, Where do we go from here?
One of the toughest parts about this year, this pandemic, is that we really don’t know when it’s going to end. I do think it would be different if we could say, “By holidays we’ll be able to visit the Trail of Lights” or in January, we can safely take trips again.
If you’re a planner, like myself, not thinking and planning for the future is nearly impossible. But staying in the present and thinking day-by-day is really the best thing to do right now.
I am also trying to focus on the things I CAN do, instead of the things I cannot. What I can do right now is continue to work and get new clients; I can take virtual yoga and dance classes; I can cook delicious meals for myself; I can get things done around my apartment; and I can go outside and get fresh air.
When I was feeling really down last week, I tried to focus on these small things, plus some things I have coming up, such as meetings for a virtual book club I joined and a tie dye kit I ordered.
I have also really focused on making sure I get a good night’s sleep. Anxiety and no sleep are not a good mix, especially for emotional stability. So, I’ve been taking sleep aids and always try to make sure I’m getting into bed at a reasonable hour.
I know these are not solutions that will work for everyone, but I have been feeling better. Even just admitting it to friends and family helped me. I put it on social media, too, and several people reached out and said they felt the same way.
Times are tough right now, but I have hope that we’re all going to get through this — one way or another. Hang in there.
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