Your mental health will be challenged during this pandemic and that’s okay

The author urges people to accept the deep feelings of panic, worry and sadness amid this disruption and use this time for strengthening human connections.

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Julius Boatwright, photographed in Beechview, where he and his wife live. (Photo by Lauren Stoner)

Julius Boatwright, photographed in Beechview, where he and his wife live. (Photo by Lauren Stoner)

In the midst of this COVID-19 public health pandemic, everyone’s mental health stability is being challenged like never before. As a mental health professional, one would think that I have all of the skills necessary to calm myself down when the waves of anxiety come rushing in at 2 a.m. That couldn’t be any further from the truth. I, along with billions of people worldwide, am struggling to manage my mental state during these uncertain times.

I’m here to highlight that you’re not alone, and it’s okay for us to be experiencing these deep feelings of panic, worry and sadness. Now isn’t the time for those “toughen up, get over it, and keep pushing” speeches. It’s an opportunity for us to embody empathy with intention, provide our loved ones with endless grace and exercise extraordinary amounts of patience while spending quality time with each other.

Before this pandemic surfaced, some of us navigated the world with an entitled sense of freedom that we can only sit back and dream of now that we’re socially isolated. We attended community events at our leisure and barely worried about who we touched. We shopped for food and supplies that we needed without fear of a shortage. We weren’t endlessly and overly frightened about the possibility of being infected with a life-threatening disease.

Since social distancing started, I’m waking up regularly in the middle of the night with heightened levels of anxiety. Here’s why: I’ve convinced myself that when (not if) I’m infected, I’ll be hospitalized and die. In my mind, I ruminate on its inevitability. I repeat phrases like, “You should’ve bought more life insurance coverage, death is a part of living, and no one lives forever.” I've created this horrific storyline, and I feel there’s nothing any therapist, family member or friend can say to change my mind.

When thoughts like these overtake our mindsets, it doesn’t mean these things will actually happen. Nonetheless, we don’t need people telling us we’re overreacting. Our feelings are simply fighting to find their new baseline. We must acknowledge these moments with care so people don’t feel further isolated. We must provide inspiration to help each other find solace. We must connect each other with mental health professionals if it’s welcomed.

We shouldn’t place capitalistic pressure on ourselves to be productive. While some folks have the ability to start that entrepreneurial endeavor now, others are simply trying to balance home-schooling kids with their professional obligations. In addition, others are committed and called to ensure that those around them have what’s necessary to stay afloat.

However, If we don’t put on our oxygen masks first, we won’t save anyone.

Let’s get to know ourselves on a deeper, more intimate level. My wife and I have committed to this action and it’s strengthening our connection. Once this pandemic ends and life returns to our regular routines, we’ll be more empathic, compassionate and thoughtful. There’s a silver lining in every monumental setback. We’re going to emerge from this mentally stronger and more connected than ever before. I look forward to sharing a handshake or heartfelt hug with you all in person soon.

Stay safe and be well. As always, you’re loved, valued and deeply appreciated, my dear friends.

Julius Boatwright is the founding Chief Executive Officer with Steel Smiling. They bridge the gap between Black people and mental health support through education, advocacy, and awareness. To learn more, visit www.steelsmilingpgh.org, email info@steelsmilingpgh.org, or call (412)-532-9458. You can also connect with them on social media at SteelSmilingPGH.

PublicSource has a special page dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for the Pittsburgh region. See it here and sign up for our newsletter to stay informed. We hope you are following the news and, if your situation allows, social distancing guidelines.  Have a tip or an idea? Please email mila@publicsource.org.

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