On not fitting into one column, or: mental health is tricky!

A color bar from green to red, titled "intensity"

Scrolling through Facebook, I just saw this graphic, designed to help us figure out how we’re doing at any point during the pandemic.

4-column graphic, from “thriving” to “surviving” to “struggling” to “in crisis”.

A FB friend who both teaches and has been a healthcare worker posted it; it’s from this useful website for healthcare workers, to help them identify signs of stress, burnout and need. Man oh man, do they deserve all the help, support, sympathy, admiration and eternal gratitude we can muster.

I think we can all relate to the areas and symptoms listed above. And of course, as the symptoms pile up, so do our feelings of stress, burnout, exhaustion and loss of control.

But as I looked over the columns, I found I didn’t fit neatly into one. That’s okay– mental health is tricky and complicated!

This graph showed me a way to do a kind of self-inventory of important and different stress markers. I gave some thought to how they are doing now, and how they have changed over the past 6–8 months. Here’s what I noticed.

Sleeping: in the past month, my sleeping has really improved. For 6+ months of the pandemic, I was awake until 3am, but have rolled it back to 12:30–1:30am. For me, this is a big win, as I now have more alert, happy and productive morning time. I attribute this partly to increased mediTation (morning and evening) and also to increased mediCation: I’m taking 100mg/evening of Gabapentin, often prescribed off-label for menopausal temperature fluctuations and insomnia. So sleep has moved into the sort-of-thriving category.

Work: it’s a logistical and emotional rollercoaster. I love rollercoasters, but end up screaming a lot. The same is true for teaching right now. My students are having so much trouble focusing, remembering, following through, maintaining, responding– you name it. And completing? Ha. Not happening.

But they are good at emailing me: apologizing for not managing or coping or being stoic or soldiering on or gutting it out. I appreciate their courage and am touched by their trust in reaching out. Responding, reassuring them that it’s okay to turn in whatever whenever, however they can manage it, is what I spend a bunch of time on. And it’s exhausting. So which column should I put that in? How about Orange– struggling? Ok, done.

Social connections: I live alone, but see friends safely outside, and will see a couple of folks (one at a time) inside occasionally this winter, which I blogged about here. I’ve made a plan on risk reduction as it works for me, and will adjust as local conditions/rules do. So that feels Green: Thriving!

Physical health, aches and pains: well, I’m 58, teaching from home and not nearly as active as before the pandemic. But: I’m also doing daily yoga, stretching, and am getting outside more than I was. Hmm… Greenish-yellow, with the occasional orange day?

And then there’s General Anxiety Level. Honestly, is anyone not in the Fire EngineRed category some of each week/day/hour? Enough said.

Oh, I forgot Food: do I self-medicate with food? Yeah, sometimes. Delivery pizza or Chinese dim sum–Mmmmm… I’m cooking more now– I love fall/winter cooking, and those dishes feel very self-care-ish, soothing and comfy, with yummy vegetables that feel good to my system. So I’d say that fluctuates between Green and Orange.

In sum, I think my life looks more like this graph:

Pretty and complicated graph: I’m titling it Splotches of Many Colors.

Looking at these columns, I was also grateful that I’m not having feelings of hopelessness, total loss of control, inability to focus, inability to sleep, the need to numb out or self-medicate in the ways we do. Just seeing what’s in the Red column increased my gratitude for my life as it is.

What about you, dear readers? Do these columns help you pinpoint where you’re fine and where you’re not fine? Do you fit comfortably in one column, or does your state of being spread out over the whole color spectrum? Does knowing this help you, make you more worried? I’d really like to hear from you.

We always say “we’d really like to hear from you”, but in this case, it’s extra-true (if that’s a thing). We’re blogging about issues that come up in our own real and internet lives, but we would love to know what you’d like to read about. Let us know how we can help.

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