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Social Distancing Gives Me Too Much Time to Get Lost in My Dark Thoughts

There aren’t many people the coronavirus (COVID-19) — the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system — outbreak isn’t currently affecting. The pain, the anxiety, the fear — they all seem inescapable. Most of us are either out of work, or confined to working from home. We’re trapped and we’re bored, and aside from the few essential businesses that remain open, we’re out of places to escape the madness that is social isolation. The majority of us are already feeling the negative effects this quarantine has inflicted upon us in just a couple of weeks (exhaustion, loneliness and stir-craziness — to name a few).

While these feelings may be mutual worldwide, and it appears that we’re all in this together, it is crucial to recognize those living with mental illnesses are hurting extra in these times. To someone living with depression especially, this pandemic means way more than not being able to leave the house and resume a normal lifestyle. It’s important to note that we all have our own experiences with the COVID-19 crisis. Mine is from a mental health perspective. It is not intended to devalue those who are actually sick with or have family and friends suffering from coronavirus, because those stories matter too. Here is mine.

As someone living with depression, I’m terrified. From an outsider’s perspective, it’d be hard to tell that I suffer daily from the trials and tribulations of depression. That is because through hard work and years of experience, I’ve established quite a “normal” life for myself. And I’ve been managing it more than well, until recent events. The COVID-19 crisis is rapidly, and quite aggressively disassembling the recovery blocks I’ve worked so hard building up for years.

Keeping a busy lifestyle has always been my distraction from the dark thoughts that occupy my mind on the regular. Immersing myself in a daily routine not only gives me an escape from my depression, but a strong purpose to keep going. It’s the reason I overfill my plate of life. When I am working multiple jobs and engaging in all of these extracurricular activities, there is significantly less time to sit with my sad thoughts, and notably a lot more time to focus on areas I thrive in. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic practically shutting down society, there is plenty of time to think, and no switch to shut off the continuum of negativity. What is my life’s purpose as I’m sitting on this couch overthinking everything that could go wrong in the course of this quarantine? I’ve lost all motivation. I feel useless, irritable and unequivocally sad.

So typically, when I’m in a bad place, I turn to my coping mechanisms and supports to lift me out of the slump. As the COVID-19 crisis aggresses with each growing day, I’m not left with much. Activities I gravely depend upon for coping are either already gone, or in the process of being taken away next. I can’t go to the gym. I can go outside (for now), but what about that week of rain forecasted ahead? I can’t go to the places that bring me joy. I can’t plan fun days to look forward to like vacations or outings with friends. I’ve found a great deal of solace in my depression battle when surrounded by good company. But with everything going on, I’ve been isolated from my support system. Sure, everyone’s just a call away on FaceTime, but virtual interactions can only do so much. It’s only a matter of time before my in-person therapy sessions are halted too. As someone who relies on that kind of weekly professional support, I’m panic-stricken. The thought of being confined to my apartment for an undefined amount of months without access to my most valuable healing tools is entirely unsettling.

I want to help flatten the curve, but I wish I wasn’t doing it at a detrimental cost to my mental health. I’m hurting. I’m feeling hopeless, depressed and scared beyond words. If you live with mental illness and are feeling the same way, please know that you are not alone. It’s not selfish to feel this way. Your feelings matter. We’re essentially being told by the law to disregard our treatment plans. We’re stripped of any activities that bring us comfort, pleasure and the strength we need to get through this monster of an illness. What makes this even harder is the uncertainty. We’re not sure when this will be over. There is no definite timeline, no light at the end of the tunnel. Ahead, it’s pitch black, and my flickering lantern is close to burning out.

Check on your family and friends with mental illnesses, because I bet a lot of them aren’t OK right now. Though I’m unsure what kind of response we need, I can tell you what we’re better off without. Please don’t tell us to “calm down” or “stop overreacting.” While this may not seem like the biggest deal to some, it’s everything to us.

Our way of thinking might be a little convoluted right now and while our thoughts may seem irrational, they’re uncontrollable. If you really care, all I ask is that you validate our right to feeling what we feel. Try, “I may not understand exactly what you’re going through, but I can’t imagine how hard it must be. Your feelings are valid and I’m here to listen.” That stands for everyone who is reading this. Your feelings are valid and your COVID-19 experience matters. Although healing from this life-altering occurrence will take time, I hope we can get through this together, and come out of the tunnel of darkness stronger than ever imaginable.

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