It’s 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday, and so far today, I have reorganized my office, burst into tears when I saw a picture of a lamb, started six emails and finished one, danced to a good song, ate Egg-in-a-Hole for the first time in about five years (in response to a wave of nostalgic cravings), wrapped a present for someone I probably won’t get to see at Christmas, stared at a picture of my great-niece for about ten minutes straight, went on a deranged search for tissue paper, cleaned the toilet, had an argument with myself and lost, balanced my cheque book and then ranted (to a picture of a dog) about the fact that banks don’t supply cheque book registers anymore.
Today’s topic is mental health.
Generally, I consider myself a fairly well-adjusted adult. Apart from menopause, I have never had to seek treatment for anything in the realm of mental health—and I know how lucky I am. Perimenopause, with its hormone surges, created mood swings that made me think my cheese was sliding off my cracker until I realized what was happening. That was the first time in my life that I really thought about my mental health.
And this is the second. Living with a global pandemic is a whole new thang for all of us. We are in uncharted waters, and none of us can predict how we will react within this new set of variables.
My life has been relatively unaffected by the pandemic, yet I am aware of the ambient stress in the air, the fear that hangs over our world like a global weather warning. We need to pay more attention to our overall well-being. Perhaps this is one of the benefits of this difficult time – it is pushing us to think and talk about our own mental health.
Few of us are shy about discussing physical health: exercise, diet, sleep. We love to talk about our aches and pains and ailments. Why do we lower our voices when we say, mental health?
I am not lowering my voice. As I told my students last week, sometimes I am the last to know when I am feeling dysregulated. We talked together about a situation last week, where I bawled them out about leaving their basketballs outside in the rain. I had been mid-rant when I heard myself, and realized I was discombobulated. I also shared with them how I got myself regulated again.
At home, I clue in to my dysregulation when I notice certain “red flag” behaviours in myself: like getting up in the middle of a conversation to straighten a picture on the wall, or cleaning the kitchen counter for the 80th time in a row.
One of the things I am most grateful for in my life is a partner who will talk me down when I ask her to. I know I can count on her to gently suggest that I do something to self-regulate when she finds me cleaning the bottom of the sliding door with a Q-tip, or flipping out about the lack of space in the refrigerator.
Lately, there’s been a lot more of these “unexpected reactions.” They are both a sign and a symptom to let me know it’s time to pay attention to my mental well-being.
The other red flag is what I call glitch capacity.
Now, under normal circumstances, I have a typical glitch capacity. Not as high as some, not as low as others. I think I can safely say that most parents have a higher glitch capacity than I have. All the practice, I imagine.
But I can handle glitches as well as the next seasoned teacher. They are, after all, part of the job. But, like most of us, when I am feeling worn out or ill, my glitch capacity falls. In these circumstances, I might have a more difficult time dealing with some little snafu that comes up.
In spite of NOT feeling ill or worn out, I have noticed my glitch capacity dropping steadily since the pandemic began. Once upon a time, being stranded overnight with a bus full of teenage volleyball players during a blizzard in northern Manitoba registered as slightly inconvenient. In my present emotional state, the afore-mentioned wet basketballs almost caused a meltdown of epic proportions.
A few months ago, the little hiccups of life barely registered as glitches. Now, they can cause tears, immobilization, indecision, panic . . . all manner of unexpected reactions. And being someone who is not used to these reactions, they can be upsetting, embarrassing, even a little scary sometimes. What to do?
As always, I ask myself, what I would say to a student who was experiencing this? I would tell them not to worry, assure them that it was temporary, explain that it is probably just a sign of heightened anxiety and perfectly understandable. I would soothe them, cajole them, and distract them.
So, Mon, don’t worry. Your cheese is fine and your cracker’s never been all that steady anyhow. But you’re okay. Feelings are feelings, not facts.
Why don’t we go for a nice, long walk?