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Which Items Are ‘Truly Essential’ for Self-Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

If you’ve experienced domestic violence or emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.


One of my friends and I were texting today about how judged we felt any time we went into a store (separately, and with masks, of course). Many U.S. states, Maryland included, have issued stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) — the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system — and leaving is only permitted for “essential purposes.” We talked about how we had both experienced feelings of judgment from others, side-eyes in stores, checking to see if what was in our cart and what we were buying was “truly essential.”

And my friend said something really important. She said:

“If you need it, it’s essential! Different things are needs for different people. If cards or art supplies or chocolate or gym equipment keep someone from harming themselves or feeling depressed, then that shit is essential AF. If people can use these things as a means to escape and find some peace, let them fucking have that.”

We don’t have the right to judge what is “essential” to buy and what is not for other people. It’s not our place to do that. Yes, we should limit leaving our homes and yes, we need to be safe for everyone around us. However, your safety matters, too. And sometimes, maintaining your well-being and mental health means picking up some things at the store others might not feel are “essential.” But like my friend said, if it keeps you from hurting yourself or brings you peace in the midst of such anxious times, it can be essential.

As someone who struggles with self-harm and intense suicidal ideation, music and running are sometimes the coping skills that are the difference between life and death for me. After I was forced out of my college housing, I had no headphones — all of mine were at school. I need to be able to listen to music when I go outside; I need headphones for my virtual therapy appointments so the whole house doesn’t hear the conversation; I need headphones to block out the incessant fighting in my home. So, when I walk in the store to buy a pair of headphones, please don’t tell me they’re not essential. Respectfully, you don’t know what I’m going through or what I need them for.

As I mentioned, I also struggle with self-harm, and needless to say, a global pandemic that has left me isolated and trapped in my parents’ house has not helped the urges. Very few coping skills work for me at night when I can’t go outside and the darkness seems to overwhelm me. However, what does typically work for me involves putting a Band-Aid over where I want to self-harm (the idea is healing before hurting). Then, even if I do end up reaching for something to harm myself with, it’s over a Band-Aid, not my skin.

But it’s funny how fewer stares I get when I go to the store for a box of Band-Aids.

So, Band-Aids or headphones, gym equipment or milk, art supplies or eggs; what is essential to you is, indeed, essential. You have permission to get what you need to keep yourself healthy and safe (within reason, of course). Your mental health is important, and you’re strong for getting what you need for yourself. So, next time you’re at the store and you find your mind wandering into judgment about others’ purchases, please consider there’s probably more to the story. We have no idea the battles people are facing right now. Tensions, stress, anxiety and despair are high, and the last thing we need is judgment for just trying to hang on however we know how.

Struggling with anxiety due to COVID-19? Check out the following articles from our community:

Photo by Brittani Burns on Unsplash

Originally published: April 20, 2020
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