Mental health in the time of COVID: Tired, lonely and unmotivated….oh my! 

I’ll be the first to admit that I felt like my life hit the emergency brake when COVID-19 happened. 

I missed my first trip abroad through the Gilman program, multiple research opportunities, volunteering, shadowing at a hospital and two jobs that I had lined up. Having to watch them disappear slowly in just a matter of weeks was not good for me. In fact, I dived into a deep funk that I just couldn’t seem to shake. 

That “funk” ended up being depression. 

Mix that with the anxiety and panic I am feeling about what life could look like after the pandemic and everything changing around me, and you can imagine how my mental health is doing. 

Mental health struggles in the time of COVID-19 are something that is hard to explain, but it’s something many, if not all of us, have felt. The desperation for a return to normalcy, the feeling of being exhausted even when we’ve done nothing and the isolation from so many people takes a toll. 

The key part of this mental health conversation, however, is the realization that none of us, including myself, are alone in this, even if it feels that way sometimes. 

The truth is that we’re all human. We all struggle at times. Realizing that you need a change, whether that change is big or small, is a huge step in the right direction. 

For me, one change that made a difference was forcing myself to get up and get dressed, even if it felt like there was no point. 

Having a sense of normalcy among the turmoil made me feel more like myself despite the world being a complete conundrum around me. It didn’t “fix” all of my mental health struggles, but it did help me become more motivated. 

Sometimes, the biggest thing we do in a day is getting out of bed, and that truly is okay. It took this pandemic for me to realize that.

I will be the first to admit that I often push myself to the limits. Staying busy means less overthinking which means less anxiety. To me, it makes sense. To others, it reveals that I don’t know how to relax. The others might be right. 

COVID-19 forced me to stop; forced me to take a break despite how busy I like to be. When I was finally able to start working again in early June, I jumped at the chance because I missed doing something. I missed having a goal, an urge to complete a task. I missed being me. 

Between forcing myself to get up and get dressed and actively being able to complete goals and work hard again, I was able to find motivation that I was beginning to wonder if I had lost altogether. 

Another effect of this quarantine for me has been loneliness. 

I think when people hear loneliness, they automatically assume romantic relationships, but for me, it is so much more than that. Loneliness is caused by wanting to be understood. Whether that manifests itself in a relationship, a friendship or a mentorship depends on the person. 

I’ve always considered loneliness to be brought on by the need for connection and understanding. COVID-19 caused me to realize that I am still searching for those facets in my everyday life, yet it also helped me realize I need to hold on to those who do make me feel understood. 

With the school year starting again, I am apprehensive about what the future could hold. Seeing stories on the news, reading research and statistics about the pandemic and trying to formulate an overall understanding of something so far beyond my control has led to an increase in my anxiety but also an increase in my hope that maybe the end will come sometime. 

I will be the first to say that I don’t know what to expect this year. 

If we all follow CDC guidelines, it may be one of the best semesters I ever have. On the other hand, it may be the absolute worst. 

When it comes to my mental health, I know I need to take some time to focus on me. The exhaustion I sometimes feel isn’t so much physical exhaustion, but emotional exhaustion from my own mind creating intrusive thoughts. In truth, perhaps having a pandemic to focus on will help me realize what and also who I truly want in my life. 

While I’m bitter my summer was taken—upset that I missed so many opportunities and admittedly anxious about the future as I feel overwhelmingly behind due to it all—I also have this slight feeling of peace, almost as if this has led me to create an image of who I want to be. 

It’s hard to say I’m grateful for a pandemic, but in a way, I am. While my mental health has been absolutely demolished due to COVID-19, I can only go up from here. In truth, there is a little hope in that, and to me, hope is a beautiful thing.

While I wasn’t in a good place at first, I’m slowly but surely working back towards being myself, leaving depression and anxiety behind me. I’m still not in the best place mentally, but it is better than when this pandemic started. That in itself is a win.

For the first time since March, I don’t feel so alone. Being able to put my feelings into words has led me to the realization that I am imperfectly me. I don’t feel so ashamed. Instead, I feel like this makes me human. Apparently, I just needed a catastrophe to help me realize it.