Friday, April 19, 2024

State of the Nation: How Are You Feeling?

What a time it’s been… two (plus!) years since life as we know it got weirder and harder, Emma Clifton takes a look at why so many of us are still feeling emotional whiplash from recent events.

Because I am a renter in Auckland, and because I have moved eight times in a decade, one of my resolutions was to stop buying books and start getting them out of the library. A year ago, somewhere towards the start of lockdown, I was researching mental health books (for my own brain) and everybody recommended The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Dr Bessel van der Kolk.

When you request books from the library (and everyone should, it is an excellent service), they can sometimes take a couple of weeks to turn up. NO PROBLEM, I thought. Between lockdown and demand, I expected it to take a month or two.

Turns out, it took a year. Turns out, I was one of 250 to request this specific mental health book. So if you are still feeling wobbly in the mental health department, if the effects of everything are still very much being felt on your physical or emotional health, let me assure you:

YOU ARE IN GOOD COMPANY. EVERYONE ELSE IS TOO.

I have written so much about mental health over the past year that even I am a little bored of it. And yet, here we are. It’s still relevant for everyone. We may no longer be in ‘immediate, panic stations, our lives are in danger mode’ but I also don’t think we’re very far away from it.

Everybody is tired. Everybody needs a holiday. Everybody is still stressed. Everything is a lot. And it will continue to be.

You may have also lost your job. You may have taken a pay cut. You may have lost out on a big life plan. You may have had a relationship break up and had to go through a lot of the pandemic by yourself. You may have lost out on seeing your family for a year or more. You may have lost out on seeing your friends for a year or more. You may have lost momentum in your career because you have had to home school your kids so much. You may have lost momentum in your career because, actually, something about ***all of this*** has zapped your ambition and now you’re kind of meh about the whole thing.

We are SWIMMING in grief, still, for all that we have lost and also for the sense of normality that has disappeared as well. We still can’t make plans with any certainty. Everything still feels really hard. Anecdotally, a lot of my friends who have had mental health distress like OCD or self-harm have had it come back in the past two years. We are still very much in the thick of a challenging time, and we need to remember that and acknowledge it both in ourselves and in everyone else. No-one is firing on all cylinders at the moment (and if you are, please lend me a cylinder! I’m not sure this extended metaphor works!)

Before we moved into the first Level 4 lockdown, it’s fair to say that most people were struggling with the incessant pace of our moderns lives or, even worse, struggling with burnout. If I had a dollar for every time someone guilty whispered to me that they enjoyed lockdown because they got to be at home more, I would have MANY dollars.

Last week, I was in my pyjamas on a Zoom call to my therapist – not a new low, I’m proud to say; last year I actually went to an appointment in my pyjamas with a coat over the top – I said ‘why does my body feel still feel so shit all the time?’ She told me that in her field, all of the top therapists take a holiday every 10-12 weeks because they know how important a break is for their mental health, and they have to keep their mental health in tip-top shape so that they can be there for their patients. I have thought about this on an hourly basis since. For many people, the pandemic was the first experience they’ve had with mental distress and it’s a big and sometimes quite intimidating world to navigate. But if we can take more breaks, and if we give ourselves more of a break in knowing that we’re not alone and that everyone else is also struggling a bit, then we might be in better shape as a collective whole.

(also, you should request this book from the library, it’s worth the wait).

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