Entering into this global pandemic as a teenager with clinical depression, severe anxiety, and OCD, it was clear to me that I would not do well in the upcoming months. In my mind I was going to struggle, and I would be hit harder with the isolation and the fear that was to come. It wasn’t “if” it would deepen my mental health issues, it was more of “when” I would begin to suffer. Sorry, I lied; the beginning of my suffering was long ago, but it would continue to become worse until I reached my breaking point, my inevitable breaking point.
My psychologist and I spoke about how my perspective of the pandemic would be vastly different from others and how that might affect me. I suffer from Crohn’s disease as well as my mental health issues, and I take immunosuppressants in order to control my Crohn’s, which puts me at a greater risk for Coronavirus. I began this experience with the promise that it would be nearly impossible for me to remain “okay” throughout the pandemic, but what was I to do about that? I had no way to change what was happening in the world, so I had to just push forward and pray that I would get through (easier said than done).
I surprised myself during the first week of virtual learning and isolation in my house. I felt normal. I am aware that “normal” for me still consists of random gut-wrenching feelings of sadness and sudden urges to touch anything and everything 4 times, but I guess it has become more of a routine at this point for me to feel pain. At least it wasn’t excessive. I was proving that I could continue with my life as well as anyone else could at that moment, and that was all I wanted.
It shouldn’t have surprised me when I started losing sleep and searching for answers to every question I had about the Coronavirus, but it made me feel weak. Everyone was going through this; why is it so hard for me in particular? Why am I struggling? Why am I not helping everyone else get through it? What is wrong with me? I tend to ask myself that question quite often, as I’m sure most people with depression do, but it still never gets easier to answer. I needed to be worth something; I needed to throw myself into something to get by. I started exercising every second that I could, taking at least four fitness classes each day, doing high-intensity workouts whenever I could. There had to be something for me to live for, something to push myself in. An unhealthy exercise routine became my life force.
Many emotions and desires for a person who suffers from mental illness don’t make much sense. The pandemic took away the control I had over my life, bringing out more pain and overwhelming emotions. I began to take advantage of the things I could control, like my exercise routine. When I worked out, the entire world disappeared. Nothing else seemed to matter when my heart was racing on a long run around town in the pouring rain. I spent every waking moment planning and doing workouts. It wasn’t until I burst into tears in the middle of a workout that I realized I had lost the final shred of hope. These outbursts of pain and sadness come in waves and take over my body without any warning and leave without any indication of when they may return or why they had come in the first place.
I think that at the beginning of quarantine I had convinced myself that the pain I felt daily would prepare me for the pain that would come in isolation. It never occurred to me that the pain brought on by the world’s pandemic would increase from each person’s baseline; the emotional pain of a person with depression is already so much greater, so their sadness would increase from this already high point. Pain is inevitable. There is no escape from the cage it puts us in. We struggle to find the keys to let us out, to find the strength to break through. Is it possible that a way out doesn’t exist? Maybe we’re meant to feel this way and push ourselves forward to try to fight it. Or maybe when we accept the fact that there is no escape from our immense pain, we have lost the uphill battle called “life.” Does acceptance make us weak? Does ignorance make us strong? Does strength even exist anymore in this world, or is it a facade we make to convince ourselves that we are enough, and we can’t give up?
Maybe I’m fighting a losing battle here. Maybe I’m pessimistic to think that life will never truly be the same again, or maybe I’m just a 16-year old girl trying to navigate her way through mental illness, trying to convince herself that the pain she feels isn’t her fault, and she doesn’t deserve it. At the end of the day, we are not defined by our mental health. I am not the irrational emotions I feel, or the outbursts of sadness, or the pessimism my brain creates.
I’m just me, and I will get through this.
If you or someone you know is need of mental health support please visit our Resources section for links to organizations that can help.
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