Learning to Recognize and Talk About Mental Health Challenges | The COVID-19 Experience from the NOD Team
Blog by Margaret Ling, Project Assistant, Employer Services & Office Manager, NOD
As days morph into a continuous stream of time, I feel the control I once enjoyed over my life has drifted away.
COVID-19, and its uncertainty, hurts my ability to find balance and causes confusion as we all try and adapt to a ‘new normal.’ For people like me who deal with mental health issues, it is particularly hard.
It seems a fitting time to talk about the depression and anxiety many people are feeling right now as May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It is a good opportunity to focus on how to help ourselves and those we love.
I am grateful for my family, my friends, and my mission-driven job. I feel fortunate to be working as unemployment skyrockets to new daily highs. But things are hard right now.
My life is all NYC. This is home and everything I know. Many of the people I love live here. And sadly, a new habit formed in the last few months is to constantly check Facebook. It has become the obituary section for me to learn about friends’ deaths from coronavirus.
Texts are coming in alerting me that someone close is gone. Staring at these device screens, my heart sinks and I shudder to think who in my life will be next? Living through post 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy was brutal. This is truly horrific.
Hearing daily reminders of the pandemic, layered with mortality data and personal losses, induces fear, stress and anxiety. I know I am not a lone sufferer.
I have had a two-decade-long courtship with anxiety and panic attacks. I feel fortunate that I can recognize and have learned to verbalize what I feel internally. Rapid pounding in my chest, shallow breaths, inability to maintain a clear thought or focus, stabbing chest pains, cat naps in place of extended hours of sleep, racing thoughts, weakness, headaches, mind and body numbness and other physical symptoms can be variations within a single day.
I understand the stress, anxiety and panic that overtake my mind and body. It happens even when I try to rationalize with myself that all of this chaos might pass and become a memory in some months. Still, getting through each day means finding ways to cope with the constant unknowns and uncertainties.
What grounds me are my weekly sessions with my therapist, now done over the phone. With each conversation, I’m working to radically accept my thoughts and feelings instead of trying to fight and suppress them. I know they have legitimacy now during a global pandemic.
My struggles with mental health issues have helped me work on NOD’s Campus to Careers program, which helps students with disabilities find internships and jobs. I have seen how prominent mental health issues are for our traditional college-aged students. It forces me to think about what can be done so that generation, and all of us, can heal. Our lifestyle must embody our mental well being to address pain, grief and distress.
We need to start helping ourselves by practicing mindfulness, introspection. We must find ways to be kind to ourselves and those around us. We should push forth, challenge the stigma attached to mental health issues and open a dialogue about it. If we work together, be patient and understand how to label symptoms and feelings, we can come out of this pandemic with a new way to look at mental health challenges.
Margaret Ling serves as NOD’s Project Assistant for Employer Services and Office Manager. She received her B.B.A from Baruch College, City University of New York in Management. During this time, she was active in advocating for people with disabilities on campus by founding the Difference Makers Club and serving as Vice Chair, for the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities.