For more than 45 years, Lifeline has been supporting members of the Canberra community. Its…
Two weeks ago, while my toddler was playing in the backyard on a sunny afternoon, I had a panic attack.
It came without warning; an involuntary reaction to the uncertainty and fear I had been burying inside, bubbling up to the surface until I could no longer breathe.
Before then, I kept telling myself I was “fine.” I was luckier than others: thanks to the recent Jobkeeper announcement I have been able to continue working for the time being, my kids were healthy, we still had a roof over our heads.
Stop worrying, stop stressing, don’t you dare cry because there’s plenty worse off, was my mantra.
It was as if my body shook its head like an exasperated mother and announced: “you are dealing with this.”
Afterwards, I felt better, lighter. Finally acknowledging what I was feeling was a kind of cathartic resolution.
As Canberra heads into another term of online learning and we brace for more job losses, uncertainty and isolation, it’s a given that there will be more bad days ahead.
A few memes have been passed around on social media along the lines of: “Stop complaining, what we are doing is simply being asked to stay at home.”
But we all know it’s much more than that.
What we are doing isn’t easy. What most parents, in particular, are doing is near impossible: home school, work full time and continue to run a household. Many are single parents who have lost their livelihoods and simply can’t get a new job while they’re helping young children learn at home. I’ve talked with bleary eyed mothers who have been up until 2am, trying to cram in their work while their children sleep.
Yet any concerns or worries are often tinged with embarrassment, with the obligatory line of “I know I’m lucky, there are lots of people worse off.” I’ve seen a lot of “I don’t know why I’m crying, sorry.”
Articles and social posts from parents telling us home schooling isn’t so hard – that their kids have adjusted well and are enjoying this new relaxed lifestyle – while well intended, can add to a sense of failure when other parents read them in a house that is a screaming mess of tears and tantrums.
While it’s great that some have found online learning – and the situation itself – easier than they thought, people who are struggling should be able to say so without being told to “harden up.”
Take last week, when Sky News journalist Annelise Nielson shared her struggle with loneliness as a newly single woman in COVID-19 isolation.
She talked openly about going from finding solace in friends pre-COVID-19, to thoughts about “jumping off the balcony” in the aftermath.
The Facebook comments that followed could only be described as brutal.
“There are people worse off, stop complaining. You’re lucky to have a job.”
“Harden up, generations before us have had it so much worse.”
“I’m reserving my sympathies for the sick. Take your nonsense elsewhere.”
What these comments are saying is that our feelings aren’t valid. They must be ignored, buried down. There’s always someone worse off so we need to put up or shut up. It can only be detrimental to our mental health.
According to provisional clinical psychologist Victoria Tarratt, “suppressing your emotions, whether it’s anger, sadness, grief or frustration, can lead to physical stress on your body. It will affect blood pressure, memory and self-esteem. Longer-term, there’s an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, along with problems with memory, anxiety and depression.”
We have a long slog ahead of us. This will be a marathon, not a race. These are extraordinary times in which many of us are experiencing all kinds of loss; whether it’s social connections, jobs, lifestyle. All are valid things to mourn for.
If you’ve had a shit day, please feel free to talk about it.
The “other people are worse off” argument is a given. We know this. But we are also entitled to feelings about a scary situation that many people have never experienced in their lifetime.
We’ve listened and shared on social media those beautiful, heart warming good deeds and happy days. Let’s start listening to those bad days too.
Tips for mental health during COVID
- Try to establish a routine for our ‘new normal’ with a focus on healthy eating, a good sleep pattern, and regular exercise (being mindful of the new guidelines in place to keep all of our community safe).
- Stay informed about COVID-19 and what you can do to stay safe. It also helps to talk with family and friends and to think about ways you can support each other.
- For parents and carers, talk clearly and calmly with your children about what is happening.
- Limit how much time you are spending accessing news and other media about COVID-19. Keeping informed about what is happening is important but constantly reading, listening or watching the news can make you feel more distressed and less able to cope.
- Some members of our community will struggle more than others. You can help by checking in with those who may be more vulnerable, such as grandparents, elderly neighbours, or family or friends who live alone. Technology can really help in this—phone calls, emails, social media are different ways of connecting.
- These are difficult times, so try to be kind to yourself and others. We don’t have all the answers, and we have to live with uncertainty, which can be very difficult at times.
- Remember this is a temporary situation. As a community and a nation, we can all help keep our communities safe.
Tips thanks to ACT Health.
If you are having very strong feelings of worry, unease or fear and you are struggling to cope it is important to seek support. You can call or visit:
- Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
- Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
If you are worried about your safety or the safety of your family due to violence, seek support
- Domestic Violence Crisis Service: (02) 6280 0900
- 1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732