Solidarity Sunday #3 – Mental Health

Moments like this act as magical interludes placing our hearts at the edge of our souls: fleetingly, yet intensely, a fragment of eternity has come to enrich time. Elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn – and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb.” Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

How is everyone doing?

We are now, let’s see, 6 months into COVID-19 self-isolation measures. Half. A. Year. How is this possible? How can it possibly feel like no time at all has passed while also simultaneously seeming like we’ve been in isolation forever? Is this how hermits feel all the time? The mind boggles.

Like many others, I have struggled during this time to keep on top of the many productive tasks I set out to consistently chip away at despite having what appears at first blush to be an unlimited stretch of time laid out before me each morning.

Wait, scratch that, who am I kidding? I have a 6.5-month-old daughter…I wake up before the sun and by the time I catch a moment to take a deep breath that same sun is somehow on its way down again. I wonder if the days feel as unreasonably short to a baby as well.

Motherhood aside, as this is not what I wished to post about tonight, I can summarize the last few months in one single word: Rough.

My mental health has not been in a good place. After all my platitudes about “getting back in the game!” and “taking care of myself!” and “writing every damn day again, finally!” every day for the past several months has seemed like a bit of an uphill battle.

OK, I said this wouldn’t be about motherhood but, lets be real, postpartum recovery has played a large role in the status of my mental health since January.

I know I was warned that the first year (…all of parenthood) wouldn’t be easy but, man, IT IS NOT EASY. Every day brings new challenges, new lessons, new moods (for both baby and mommy) and juggling all these things while trying to carve out time for myself AND keep the family safe from a FRIGGEN PANDEMIC is a recipe for absolute disaster.

Anyone else feeling this right now? Please say yes.

A little context here. Back in April I started experiencing vertigo after going back to my job a mere 11 weeks after giving birth.

Side-note: I know it is a privilege to even get any time off after giving birth. A privilege I am indeed very grateful for. I am only saying that since I am lucky enough to have the option to take more time…I should probably have stayed off work for longer.

OK, back to my story. The vertigo lasted for 4 days or so making it hard to fall asleep at all. Add to this a baby waking up every few hours and, well, let’s just say I was not in top shape.

Following the vertigo, just when I thought I was getting better, I started feeling numbness spreading throughout my body. Without explanation.

Cue the panic.

What followed were multiple hospital visits, DURING A PANDEMIC, as well as a CT Scan, two MRIs, a ridiculous amount of blood tests, and a neurological exam. Not to mention approximately one million phone calls to my doctor and telehealth.

Terrifying potential diagnoses were bandied about flippantly with doctors following up their mention with “we just want to rule the possibility out” as if this was supposed to make me feel better. I mean, I know they were trying to assuage my fears but how is a new mom supposed to NOT have a panic attack when someone tells them they might have a chronic or fatal neurological disorder. No matter how slight the possibility is.

Many tears, sleepless nights, and a whole hell of a lot of panic attacks later all my test results came back, and they found…

Drumroll please.

Nothing. Not one single thing. Nothing immediately treatable, nothing worrying, nothing even remotely troublesome. Nothing at all.

They didn’t say so in so many words but the sense I got was…”I suppose it is just all in your head.”

Cool. Cool cool. So, that’s it then?

I was told that anxiety and stress disorders were heightened during the pandemic. That many patients checked themselves in to the ER with the strangest symptoms that turned out to be, well, nothing physical.

To me, this was indicative of a mental health crisis. A pandemic within a pandemic, if you will. The nesting doll of health crises.

I should mention, however, that despite the lack of diagnosis, my family doctor has remained supportive and committed to helping me get better which is incredible considering the incredible strain he must be under right now.

But let that sink in for a second. There is nothing physically wrong with me. No neurological disorder, no tumour, no injuries, no physical disease. Not a thing. And yet, I haven’t felt well. Not really, not until recently. Not until I started taking real steps towards feeling strong mentally before I can once again feel strong physically.

And, one by one, the physical symptoms have started to dissipate.

I stopped having dizzy spells, stopped getting the spins, stopped feeling nauseous, stopped feeling numb, stopped feeling like there was no hope.

I’m on my way to a happier, healthier place.

But my story is not unique, and it is not specifically postpartum related.

Because while this pandemic has brought the world to its knees, killing so many people, the effects of this disease are not merely physical. In fact, even if you have not had COVID you could still be suffering because of the waves it has made in society and in our very minds.

Living through a pandemic is hard. It is unprecedented for the vast majority of us, unless you happen to be over 100-years-old. And there is no road map. No instruction manual. No set of steps to guarantee you make it out of this unscathed.

So, let my story be a warning. If you start to feel yourself slipping, if your mental health is suffering, if you feel physically unwell due to the overwhelming pressure of existential fear or the fact that a light has yet to appear at the end of the tunnel: get help. Please do not delay like I did. If all this post does is spare one person the several months of pain (both physical and mental) and wondering what is happening and if they might actually be dying, sharing my story will be well worth it.

You are not expected to be OK. It’s OK to not be OK. But you will be someday, I promise. Remember that, remember to take care of yourself in the meantime.

As Muriel Barbery so elegantly phrased it: Moments like this act as magical interludes placing our hearts at the edge of our souls. But when our hearts and souls are this close together, it can be hard to stop one’s aching heart from spilling its anguish over into what may once have been a happy, healthy soul. Add to this mix a mind spinning on the edge of despair and all can seem lost.

Take a breath, my friend. You’ve got this.

There IS hope. And, remember, life is beautiful. You hear that, monkey mind? Yeesh.

xo

Erin

3 thoughts on “Solidarity Sunday #3 – Mental Health

  1. I already had a lot of anxiety around health (due to previous issues) so this pandemic sure has been … fun.

    I’m glad you’re looking after yourself and doing a little bit better. Mental health is not easy at the moment.

    1. Agreed! I think people really need to hear this, especially right now with so much happening outside our control. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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