A Testimony About Mental Health During the Pandemic

Image By Max Böhme

Online school has not been fun. From not being able to walk around campus and see friends to even just going to class, COVID-19 has had a negative effect on everyone. Depending on our living situation, we may only be able to see our family or roommates. And so, in terms of general mental health, we can all relate to a shared sense of isolation.

Those of us who were already grappling with mental illness before COVID-19 were hit just that much harder. Over these past 7 months, the pandemic has had a big impact on my depression. As nothing seems to change, it feels as though every day is just dragging on. My sense of time has been lost. Each day is “wake up, finish an assignment, eat, watch a lecture, and repeat.” With the assignment based structure of this term, school feels less rewarding. Assignments, lectures, and exams are just pushed towards you and expected to be completed. There is no leaving PAC with your friends and complaining about an absurd exam question. There is no laughing at the random attempts of our professors trying to be relatable. Everything seems dull.

Even without school dragging me down, COVID-19 has also made it so much more difficult to find an external outlet for my happiness. I can’t see my friends as often as I’d like. Having the opportunity to schedule a session at the gym that is not only available, but also fits within my school schedule is few and far between.

I’ve found that most people view the isolation aspect of the pandemic as the biggest negative contributor to their mental health. Personally, I consider myself to be a fairly solitary person. At first, the solitude didn’t affect me as much as it did my extroverted friends. Now, however, it’s hard to see the end of this and even us introverts are starting to feel the effects.

The worst part of this is that the worse my depression gets, the more I withdraw. I stick to myself. My room gets messier because I don’t have the energy to clean anything up. I find a lot less pleasure in the things that usually bring me happiness. The isolation factor of online school has only helped to enable this behaviour. It’s gotten bad enough that I am now stuck in a Catch-22 with my depression. I’m depressed because I can’t do anything, but I can’t do anything because I’m depressed. It’s a cycle that, once started, is hard to break, and I’ve lost sight of when things are going to get better.

My depression is linked to my anxiety — they grow alongside each other. It’s gotten to the point where one is my solution to the other. I’ll feed into my depression to control my anxiety or vice versa to try and ease my state of mind. For instance, if I’m extremely anxious about an exam, I’ll tell myself that nothing matters and lean into a depressive episode to combat that feeling.

Looking back, even before the pandemic, I can’t quite remember the last time I was truly happy. If I had to guess, it was most likely when I was a lot younger — a carefree child. Things ended up getting a lot worse once I hit highschool. I lost most of my innate happiness and had difficulty finding hobbies that brought me joy. As most people view teenagers as moody and reclusive, how I was feeling was written off as a teenage stereotype. At least during this time, my mood was manageable. Though I knew I was sad, I wasn’t cognizant of how deep that feeling ran.

By the time Grade 12 rolled around, every day was awful. I felt hopeless and nothing made me happy. Talking to friends, partying, playing outside; nothing worked. My parents would always tell me to “go outside and get some fresh air” because they didn’t understand the extent of how I was feeling. They didn’t want me to seek help because they didn’t think it was necessary. A constant battle of “do you really need to go see a doctor? Do you really need medication?” It felt really discouraging knowing that my parents were actively fighting against me. Not only was my depression something I had to struggle with, but I also had to deal with a lack of support.

Still, I knew I had to seek help because I didn’t want to think about feeling completely empty for the rest of my life. I remember breaking down in the doctor’s office during my first appointment. There was nothing more difficult than opening up, being vulnerable and admitting that I wasn’t okay to a complete stranger. Talking to a counsellor truly helped. Eventually, I started taking antidepressants and, after some trial and error, my mood started to stabilize. The antidepressants don’t effectively end my depression or make me instantly happy, but they help reduce the emotional turmoil. I am no longer riding a rollercoaster of emotion everyday. There are no more intense lows, but there’s also a lack of intense highs.

Now? The only thing that’s left is to figure out where to go from here. I realized that I need to create something to look forward to everyday. I need to set goals. By this, I don’t mean completing tasks on a to-do list. While completing an assignment or applying for a job is an accomplishment, it’s not something that I find fulfilling. Rather, it’s anxiety inducing — taunting me until it’s done. I’ve started setting personal goals that are related to aspects of my life outside of school. I want to become more physically fit. I want to bake more. I want to save up enough money to build my own PC. These goals give me something to work towards and help remind me that I have something to look forward to.

There’s a part of stoic philosophy that has stuck with me while trying to mitigate my own anxiety and depression that I will leave with you:

You don’t control what happens, but you do control how you respond to it.

You may not be able to change what has happened in the past, but you can work to make things better for the future.

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