For the last 4-8 weeks, I’ve been MIA from all of my major and important life duties – family, work, graduate school, internships, even voluntary activities like writing for the Good Men Project. Instead, I found myself hospitalized on four separate occasions over the course of roughly one month. Unlike most people, with each hospitalization, rather than become increasingly worried about my overall health, I grew more and more frustrated. “How much time do I have left” was a thought that seemingly occurred, instead replaced by “Why do I keep ending up in here???” Impatient, I sought out answers in a way, looking back, that probably only made the case for a longer stay than necessary each time I returned.
So, what happened that led me there? In short, I was doing way too much, more than any person who understands the importance of balance should be doing. As a budding adult, I still have work to do in that regard. One of the most unfortunate truths I think we learn as adults is that there are only twenty-four hours in a day. Were there more, sleep would be so far removed from the top of my list (and maybe yours, too) that it’d hardly be a priority. Sadly, that isn’t the case. Because of this untimely truth, most of us, like myself, struggle with time management – aka balance – in our day-to-day lives. For me, I worked way harder than I played, partly because of my goals, mostly because that’s the way life has been for me growing up. Fun was always ancillary to hard work and success.
As a result of this lifestyle, when it became clear to me that I may have a shot at a legitimate writing career, I went into overdrive, scouring the internet for any and all opportunities to grow and develop as a writer while trying to find ways to bolster my overall skill set. The results of such a personal quest led to more sleepless nights than I care to address, coupled with stretching my mental and even physical bandwidths to unreasonable lengths.
The end result was a mental breakdown unlike any I’ve ever experienced in my life. I lost most of my vigor, vitality, and vivaciousness all within the span of a few days, simply because I could not and did not understand how important balance is to success in any venture. While hospitalized, I had more tests done on me than I care to admit to. Needles constantly prodded my skin. Blood was drawn on a surfeit of occasions. Innumerable tests were administered to ensure I knew how to do something as simple but profound as safeguard my mental and overall health and well-being. Sadly, I didn’t. But there is good news: I do now!
I understand how writing about something as personal as mental health woes can make some uncomfortable, but rest assured, I wouldn’t be writing about this topic if I had not moved beyond it to a healthy degree. There is no shame coming from this camp as I type this out. Rather than bottle up my shortcomings, failures, or mishaps, I choose to share them with others – once I feel comfortable doing so – in an effort to showcase my humanity and make it clear that some of the things you, the reader, may privately struggle with are common struggles for all of mankind. Mental health is something we all can stand to pay more attention to and treat with more respect. I learned this the hard way; it’s my hope with writing this article to prevent that from taking place in your life.
Life has been more enjoyable now that I understand the importance of taking care of my mind, body, and soul, especially during a time like the era of COVID-19. I wake up energized. I don’t feel constantly fatigued or as if I’m running on fumes. Above all else, I’m happier (more on this in a future article).
Two simple suggestions to help those of you who also struggle with optimizing your mental health:
Like most people, I’ve been bad about this one. But I’ve realized, the way I go about my day today sets the course for what tomorrow will look like. This includes my sleep patterns. If I’m squeezing in 4-5 hours a night instead of 6-8, I’m going to feel it later on and pay for it with depleted energy levels. Then I’ll need caffeine boosts every so often just to remain functional, only to return home, go to bed, and restart this unhealthy cycle all over again. Or, I can make the necessary sacrifices to get the 6-8 hours I need nightly, cutting out unnecessary social media and leisure time, so I can wake up fully refreshed and recharged. In a time period like the one we’re living through as a result of the pandemic, where people are limited with how much time and how often they can get together, why not use that extra time afforded to you to get some quality R&R in?
2) Take things day-by-day, with emphasis on day-by-day.
Sounds like a cop-out suggestion, but this is one that holds tremendous weight. It’s incredibly easy (and equally discouraging) to get caught up in planning out your days, weeks, and months ahead of time. Doing so, while somewhat helpful, zaps you of energy that could be used to make the most of the current day you’re living in. Even worse, it takes away from your ability to live in the moment, which is key to getting the most out of life. Have you ever felt drained thinking about the entire workweek you have ahead of you as you lounge around on a cozy Sunday evening? That’s the complete opposite of what I’m referring to. When you take things day-by-day, you don’t negate the importance of planning ahead. You merely plan out your days, THEN live in them, rather than plan for things so far down the road, your projections are bound to need revisions once said day arrives. Keep it simple. Don’t take on more than you can handle, especially with something as mentally cumbersome as planning out the future.
The key takeaway here is realizing the importance of mental health during a time and year as stress-inducing as 2020 has been. From politics to the state of the nation to everything in between, this year has been nothing short of climactic and dramatic. The level of increased negativity, especially through media coverage and reports, coupled with our ongoing lockdown, has the power to cripple even the most fortified of minds, lulling them into a state of despair or despondency similar to what I endured for roughly a month. If a lack of adequate rest is also in a mix, then you run the risk of a meltdown as epic as the one I just overcame. Avoid that happening to you by taking into consideration the two simple yet substantial tips listed above to maintain your mental health in the COVID-19 era, and you’ll see how much more fortified your mind can become, regardless of the terrain we now call our world.
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