I've been hesitant to write about what I've been dealing with these past couple weeks. Mostly because it's not exactly positive or uplifting. As the founder of the project, I know that people are looking to me to offer something, anything, during this time. I believe we've done a lot as an organization by sharing resources and hosting giveaways and virtual meetups, and I'm proud of that. But I also started this project with the intention of being bold in our conversations about mental health and that starts with me. That starts with honesty and vulnerability.
When I was 28, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). I've talked a lot about how that diagnosis, and subsequent treatment, has changed my life and brought me to where I am today. What I want, or rather need to talk about now is how incredibly triggering this pandemic has been for my GAD and MDD symptoms.
For the past three or so years, I've kept these issues in check. I've taken on a lot of what would be considered stressors and prevailed because of the tools I've learned along the way.
Let me tell you, those tools got nothin' on the coronavirus.
I have this pressure in my chest constantly that no breathing exercise seems to touch. My anxiety is affecting my ability to do my job and succeed in my master's program, in mental health counseling of all things. I'm starting to feel like some sort of poser. How can I help people as a counselor if I can't even help myself? When I got help all those years ago, I did it because I couldn't eat and I couldn't leave my house due to my depression. I've been having flashbacks of that time of extreme isolation and am finding myself being drawn to the safety of shutting out the world. A friend shared an article that could not have explained my fears any better--“On the one hand, I am concerned that this will not only exacerbate things for those who are already isolated and lonely, but also might be a triggering point for others to now get into habits of connecting less...(read more).”
I have been exploring ways to deal. One thing that seems to help me is looking at time differently. When I feel anxious about anything--work, this nonprofit, my classes, getting sick--I remind myself that time is relative right now. I actually have the full 24 hours to spread things out in a way that works best for my mental wellness. Right now, my mental health has to be more important than being hyper available from 8-5:30 Mon-Fri and basically anytime in between. I take a break when my anxiety gets bad and do something mindless, like watch a quick episode of a sitcom, and then I get back to whatever I'm working on. On the flipside, I seem to have more energy around 8 pm or so, so I use that time and energy to wrap up anything that my anxiety kept me from getting to during the day. I also spend time outside, drink tea, paint and call or facetime friends and family. Sometimes, I just wish I could disconnect from it all, but I also have to remind myself that the responsibilities are still there, and I can't hide from them because of my anxiety.
I know other people have it so much worse and I feel guilty for "complaining." I know "our grandparents went to war and all we have to do is stay home." I know that SO many people are sacrificing SO much for me and it physically hurts me that I will never be able to do anything to repay them. I hurt for people who have lost someone to this virus or who can't say their last goodbye to a dying loved one for fear of spreading the virus and who can't be at the funeral because that would be more than 10 people in a room. I just lost someone very close to me. I can't imagine not being with them when they were suffering and not having the chance to say goodbye. I know my issues are minuscule compared to other people. What I also know is that my anxiety and depression have never been rational. Facts and figures aren't going to ease the pressure in my chest or keep the tears from streaming down my face.
I do think I'll be okay though. Maybe not today. Maybe not for a couple of months. And that's okay.
Because I'm alive, and I may be isolated, but I AM NOT ALONE. You aren't alone. We're all in this together. Let's talk about it and just be there for each other.
This week, Betty Mujica-Milano, president of our board of directors, and I, stood in front of a gymnasium full of hundreds of high school students, slightly terrified I must admit, and poured our hearts out about the project. We walked into that gym having flashbacks to high school and wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into, but let me tell you, we walked out with, well, hope.
You see, a couple of weeks ago, I got an email from an English teacher at Dutchtown High who sponsors a new club the students there put together called "Be the Change" with the goal of creating a more positive school environment and enriching the well-being of the students. This club planned an incredible (and completely voluntary) event called Commitment to Change where students and volunteers, like myself and Betty, could openly talk about mental health and wellness.
And that we did. Ya'll, that fear we had going in immediately dissipated the moment these students started opening up about what they're going through. We talked through some coping mechanisms; we talked at length about the power of having a trusted adult to talk through your problems with; we talked about the importance of having at least one friend you could pour your heart out to and, in turn, be there for. We talked about self-care and vulnerability and support. We talked about real pain. And then we watched a group of teens, from freshmen to seniors, sit in a circle on the floor surrounding one of their fellow classmates, but ultimately a stranger among a sea of 2400 students, to comfort her as she expressed her pain and anger. We saw them cry together, we witnessed them be vulnerable about what they've gone through, and we heard them make an oath to meet up the next morning. And then we watched as they took the first steps in the planning process with one of their teachers to start a peer support group. And ya'll THIS, this is what the project is all about.
When we arrived, we were given a sheet of paper with questions the students had submitted that we could use to guide the discussion. As I left, I realized that we didn't touch on some of these so I'd like to do that now. As I told the students honestly, I am not a mental health professional. I'm just a girl who's been through some shit (ok, I didn't use the word shit) but I made it out the other side and I didn't do it alone. And you don't have to either. So these are strictly my opinions based on my own experience. Please, if you have anything to add, do so in the comments. The goal of this blog is to serve as a discussion board for support and hope. To crowd-source that help and that hope and provide resources to our community.
What's the best way to manage or prevent stress?
I think we can all relate to this and it's no different for high school students. If anything, I think students today have even more pressure on them to be something they may never be able to live up to. (And yes, social media has a lot to do with that.) So, here's my advice, set boundaries for yourself. Don't be afraid to say no to helping plan another school event or going to that party. It's ok to take some time for yourself, actually it's not just ok, its necessary for our survival. And be honest about why you're saying no. "I'm feeling overwhelmed and I would rather take the time to recharge so I can come back stronger than to commit to something I can't give 100% to right now." "I do want to hang out but I'm feeling anxiety and stress and I think I need a day to myself." Preventing stress is impossible. We're wired for it. And sometimes we can strive in stressful situations. We just have to keep our well-being top of mind, be honest about what we need, and reach out for help when we can't do it alone anymore.
Some of my friends have told me that the relationship I'm in isn't healthy. How do I know if I'm in a toxic relationship? What should I do if I am? Where can I go for help or who should I talk to?
This is something I unfortunately can relate to all too well. I don't talk about the details because I've chosen not to hurt the people who hurt me and truthfully, I still care deeply about them. But, I was in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship in high school which led me down a dangerous path of emotionally abusive boyfriends until I was 28 years old.
First, if your friends think your relationship isn't healthy, they are probably right. And you will likely hate them for it, at first.
Secondly, if you have to ask, you are likely in a toxic relationship. You should never feel afraid or less than the person you are dating. You should never let another person make you question your own self-worth. Mental abuse can lead you to think the worst about yourself and, the longer to stay, the more you will believe it. Which will just lead you down a dangerous cycle of more abuse, trust me.
If there is any violence AT ALL, whether thats "just when they're drunk" or because "they had a bad day," that's NOT OK. If you're having to make excuses for them, you're not in a healthy relationship. If you are experiencing any sort of violence, get out immediately and tell someone, right NOW. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL ITS TOO LATE.
That doesn't mean that the person you care about, and probably even love, is a bad person. That doesn't even mean that you don't love them. Like I mentioned, I still care deeply about the people I dated that hurt me. But it does mean that they need the kind of help that you are not capable of giving. Talking to a trusted adult about both your situation and theirs can help you both. It's not an easy thing to admit. And confronting the person you're with is not the answer. They will likely be combative and again, you are not capable of providing them the help they need. YOU HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF BEFORE YOU CAN BE THERE FOR ANYONE ELSE.
There are a host of counselors and therapists in the area that are trained to handle abusive or toxic relationships, especially in teens. So, ask for help and I promise you, you (and they) will be better for it.
Wow, ok. I still have 12 more questions to go but I will end this post here and pick up where I left off another day. I hope this helps. I hope you know you're not alone. And I hope you know that there are people you can turn to for help.
-Chelsea Borruano, Founder | Executive Director