Mental health in a new era

 The one thing that has consistently been on my mind amidst this pandemic is my mental health. 

Sure, my physical health has been important to me as well. Taking care of that has proven to be beneficial to my mental health, but it is not the sole cure. 

While in lockdown in the spring, the inability to see my girlfriend and my friends in any serious way for an extended period of time was a new reality. Spending so much time with my family didn’t feel right after transitioning to college and being on my own for the past six months of my life. 

It was nice in some ways to be back in that stable environment where it was easy to make good, healthy choices.  However, I kept feeling like my mental health was declining. 

Even on days where I was doing all of the right things for myself and making an effort to feel my best, I felt as though there was no way I could control my own happiness. Those around me echoed a similar sentiment, but that didn’t make me feel any better. I was so frustrated with myself and my inability to be happy that it was actually making my situation worse. 

When things began to open up more in the summer, my mental health only continued to get worse. I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, I struggled to have the motivation to do the things that would make myself feel better, I struggled with every part of my day. 

I found myself wanting to sleep as much as possible because it was the only time of day I was “happy.” Really, it was the only time of day where I wasn’t consciously thinking about anything, so to me that equated to happiness. 

The key takeaway was that I felt alone and unable. As a man, I have learned that men struggle with mental health just as much as the next person, even when we don’t show it. Instead of showing the rest of the world how we feel, our gut instinct is to hide those feelings from anyone we can, especially our loved ones. We want to be strong and tough, even when nobody expects us to be. 

After some time, I realized that I expected so much of myself in a time where those expectations could not be met. There just was not any way I could be at my peak of happiness when the whole world was suffering. 

I did not believe it was OK to not be OK. I wanted to be strong and tough even though it was a time to be candid about my emotions and embrace them. Accepting that it was not the time to be my best would have taken a lot of the pressure off of my life, and it would have left me feeling confident that there would come a time where feeling happy was easier. 

This is not to say that everybody should be unhappy forever. Rather, I’m trying to say that it is OK to not always be happy. 

Life has lots of highs and lows, especially in a pandemic. Embrace the lows when they come and embrace the highs when they come. In doing so, life will be a lot more consistent, and you will be happier as a result. 

To me, the number one key to understanding mental health for yourself is to understand when is the right time to put pressure on yourself to do better and when is the right time to cut yourself some slack and breathe.