Taking a Cue from Those with Mental Illness During this Pandemic

Today we distance ourselves from others. We have for a while now. But long before that, some of us were already isolating. Instead of the government, our brains laid down the orders. And we stayed home and away and lived in isolation while still trying desperately to escape ourselves.

Today we live in fear that something bad could happen. That it is lurking behind every corner and countertop. Something that could invade and alter or kill our lives forever. Some of us have felt this way for decades — way before a pandemic made us all afraid.

We take things by the moment now, not knowing what will happen from one day to the next. How we will act, where we will go, what is allowed is always in question. Yet, for 1 in 5 of us, we’ve always faced this uncertainty. One day we can take on the world, the next we cannot get out of bed. In flux is our way of life.

COVID-19 has altered daily existence dramatically, but, for many of us, it’s simply globalized a way of life that was already all too familiar.

Mental illness affects about 20% of people, and the symptomology resembles the new reality that the whole population is now experiencing: the isolation, the nagging fear, the obsessive worry, the fluctuating energy and motivation levels. Before COVID, many of us simply called this life as usual.

Those who have lived with mental illness are in a unique position to, dare I say, deal with our “new” global reality perhaps even better than others? We come equipped with decades of handling the emotions/feelings/circumstances that may feel new to those who’ve not been plagued before by depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD and the like.

We get this. It’s our stomping grounds. We know what it’s like to be okay one day and not able to move from the couch for the next five. It’s in our wheelhouse to be immersed in fear and panic, yet go on putting one foot in front of the other day after day after day. The world is just now experiencing our norm.

Yet it is also in our repertoire to heal. We understand what it feels like to give each other grace, to be easy on ourselves on harder days, to adjust our expectations, to be tender with our symptoms. We have things like coping skills and therapy and medication to combat the loneliness and obsessive fear of a life beyond our control. Yes, we have been a population marginalized in the shadows for the way our minds function. But, maybe, now is our time to light the way.

Julie Benn has been the Communications Specialist at NAMI’s San Diego affiliate since 2006. Out of their current workforce, Julie has actually been there the longest. She has extensive writing and public speaking experience and has worked on everything from ad campaigns to webinars, press releases, blogs and more. Julie combines her professional expertise and her unique lived experience with mental illness to cultivate compassion and understanding in both the written and spoken word. 

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