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Running in the sand while being chased by a bear? Nahh, just anxiety

I said I wasn’t going to write about the virus again. Mostly because I am just tired of hearing about it. The death toll, the fears, the protesters, and now the conspiracy theories that ‘Big Pharma’ is trying to control us all … I am just over it.

But as the province prepares for the gradual re-open starting next week and everyone, albeit apprehensively, looks forward to a shift back towards normalcy, I have noticed that my anxiety is worse than ever. I have been fairly open with my anxiety in my social circle but have yet to really touch on it in my blog so I will give the coles notes version.

I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life. Like many mental illnesses, it gets better at times and worse at others. For the most part, I am able to manage it well, but there are times (such as last spring) when it gets unmanageable and I have to take medication.

** For some reason, even though I know better, I have always felt some shame around needing medication … which, quite frankly, I am DONE with. When you speak to shame (or in this case, write), you take away it’s power so there you have it. #medicated #noshame #endthestigma

Anyway, when Covid-19 initially hit, everyone braced themselves. There was talk of how we were experiencing a trauma response, of how we were thrust into flight, fright, or freeze as we grappled with the panic, uncertainty, and sudden restrictions. Even my doctor cautiously called me, “Christine, how are you doing? I just wanted to check up on you and make sure you were coping okay”.

Oddly, and much to my surprise, I was okay. Generally speaking, my anxiety level was very manageable. Yes, it could be argued that I seemed to do well due to the fact that I was proactive with my mental health. Or that I was not in a demographic that was highly affected by the virus (ie: I am not living in a high-risk area, a small business owner, immunocompromised, a frontline worker, etc) but still, when there is a pandemic sweeping the globe causing mass panic and economic crisis, it would certainly not be surprising to find ones anxiety a little higher than normal.

I mean, of course, I went a bit stir-crazy. I definitely had my days. But for the most part, and particularly as things went on, my mental health actually seemed to improve. In fact, I almost felt guilty about it. Seriously, Christine. You get anxious about going into a department store to get shoes but a global pandemic has you feeling all “I got this”. It didn’t make sense.

Then again, mental illness rarely does.

But, a few days ago, things shifted. As the community and my social circle started to buzz excitedly about the glimmer of hope that we might see a ‘normal’ summer, as workplaces started to get ready to ramp up for business again, as my kids expressed their hope that even schools might re-open, the only thing I felt was dread.

Okay, seriously. You have got to be kidding me.

I felt even more ashamed.

I reached out to a friend. “Of course, you are feeling anxious Christine. There is still so much uncertainty. We don’t know what is going to happen. Just be gentle with yourself.”

Although excellent advice, that wasn’t it. At least that wasn’t all of it. These past 6 weeks have been filled with uncertainty, nothing has changed on that front. I think the thing that has been causing my angst is the inevitable increase in speed that we are all going to experience. Back to the hustle.

I have realized that the reason my anxiety seemed more manageable during these last few weeks is due to the slower pace of life. I realize that I thrive in a slow, predictable routine. And the very thought of things speeding up again, has my stomach in knots.

Don’t get me wrong, I cannot wait to sit on a restaurant patio again, sipping a drink with my friends. I miss my people and I can’t wait to hug them ALL. But the idea of the work grind, the rushing, and the weekends jam packed with socializing and plans makes it feel like I can’t breathe.

We live in a world where ‘the hustle’ is not only glorified, but celebrated. And rest is considered ‘for the weak’. (Another bullshit stigma.) But one of the many things this pandemic has taught me is how badly I need downtime.

One of the things about anxiety is it always has you feeling like you are running in sand. Rush, rush, rush. Panic, panic, panic. Not getting anywhere.

The ability to slow down and convince my nervous system that we are not, in fact, being chased by a grizzly bear has been an absolute blessing.

Things are going to speed up again, there is no doubt about that. And in all reality, it would be terrible if they didn’t. After all, we need an economy. But I don’t want them to go back to full-tilt again. Not for me.

These next few months are going to be filled with a lot of learning, change, and of course, more uncertainty. But I think my main focus needs to be balance. I’ve learned what I need, and now I need to learn how to incorporate that into this new normal. How to give myself time to reset and recharge. How to recognize that when it feels like I am being chased by a bear, I need to rest, not run.

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Things I want to thank Covid-19 for

My anxiety has been a little heightened lately. Probably fairly typical when a pandemic crisis is sweeping the globe, I guess? I am tired, irritable, on edge. Quite frankly, I am having a hard time wrapping my head around it all. People are dying at alarming rates, our econcomy is in trouble, and everyone seems lost, confused, and scared.

I find I float in and out of angst. One moment I am filled with panic and finding it hard to breathe, and the next I am shrugging it off and saying “It will all be over soon. We just need to focus on …”

I bounce back and forth between reading grim news stories and statistics and then listening to podcasts and reading self-help books so that I can use this time to ‘be my best self’.

It’s exhausting really. I think we are all exhausted. I see people scurry around the grocery store, stocking up on items that they don’t truly need but because having those items makes them feel a little bit safer. I see people juggling children while trying to manage layoffs and financial stress. I see people struggling with loneliness, uncertainty and fear. Fear of loss. Fear of getting sick. Fear of what the future holds.

I’ve always been a ‘look on the bright side’ type. A glass half-full, rose-colored glasses kind of girl. And I have been trying even harder as of late to keep my focus positive and centered around gratitude.

I recognize that this might seem arrogant as it is easy for me to sit back and look for the blessings in the situation when I am lucky enough to still be working, I live in a relatively low-risk area, and thankfully, no one I love is in ICU fighting for their lives. I know that all of that can change at any time but as of right now, I am in an okay spot. I am safe. But I have been noticing something lately, pieces of gratitude and little lessons I might not have realized had it not been for Covid-19 and I want to write about them so that I have a reminder later. Because when this is all over, there are things I want to take forward with me. They say life will never be the same after this and to be honest, I think that could be a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to the days when I can dine in restaurants, travel, and spend time (in the flesh) with people I care about but there are pieces of this pandemic that I don’t want to lose, pieces for which I am thankful.

The first thing I have noticed is improved relationships and a deeper level of connection. I know this isn’t true across the board. Tensions have been high and last night I had to refrain from snapping at my fiance for breathing ‘at me’ while we slept. But I am seeing people play board games with their kids, going for walks together as a family, and having giant zoom parties with friends. I have reconnected and reached out to friends that I had lost touch with. I have set up regular chats with people that always seemed difficult to arrange before as one of us was always ‘busy’. I have received more memes, jokes, and GIF’s from friends than I ever have before as we all work hard to keep each others spirits high. The bottom line is the busyness is gone, as are the excuses. We are scared and it is causing us to seek support and be a bit more vulnerable. One of the beautiful things about vulnerability is that it makes connections stronger. I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want to be ‘too busy’ to connect with friends or to spend time in nature. I feel as though many of us will exit this pandemic with stronger, more connected, more vulnerable and honest relationships. I want to make sure they stay that way.

The second thing – perspective. Man, how things have changed! And one thing Covid has shown us is just how quickly that change can happen. The things that were stressing me out 6 weeks ago aren’t even on my radar now. Now I worry about losing my job, not being able to pay my mortgage, or getting sick. And not only am I worrying about these things for myself, but also for every single person that I care about. Covid has shown me what is important, how fragile life is, and how much I have to be grateful for. It has also shown me the difference between need and want. All of those things I so badly ‘needed’ a few months ago have suddenly lost their meaning and value. It has shown me how much money I spend on crap, how much time I waste, and how damn distracted I was. It has shown me that it doesn’t matter how important you think your job is, turns out the world can make it without you just fine … unless you are a cashier, grocer, or someone in the medical field – we need you guys. So much so. And thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Social isolation is hard but I think we all needed to be sent to our rooms. The bottom line is, we are blessed. If you are lucky enough to have a home to isolate in – blessed. A government offering help when you lose your job – blessed. A hospital nearby to go to if you get sick – blessed. A bank deferring payments to ease your financial stress – blessed. You are reading this blog so you have internet and electricity – blessed.

These things have become so much more apparent to me now. I needed this. I needed to be shaken, to be humbled, because I was doing it wrong.

We will get through this, there is no doubt about that. And if we get through it a little bit kinder and a little bit more patient (because Lord knows being stuck in the house with your family for weeks will teach you patience), then that is a win. If we spend less money on things, and spend more time with the people we love. If we spend less time on screens, and spend more time outdoors. If we treat the cashier with the same kindness that we do the high-powered executive. Then those are all wins.

We are in this together. That has never been more clear.

Stay safe, friends. Stay connected. Stay vulnerable.