Did you know May is Mental Health Awareness month? Did you also know studies show 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime? I can tell you from my personal life the statistic rings true. Over the last couple of months, my own mental well being and that of one of my family members has not fared so well. In the spirit of creating mental health awareness, I am compelled to tell the story. Although, it’s not the most comfortable or easy thing to do.
The words didn’t immediately register in my head when the song played.
“I believe I can see the future
‘Cause I repeat the same routine”
I always listen to music while working and at the time I was laser-focused on a task.
“I think I used to have a purpose
But then again, that might have been a dream”
It wasn’t until later the lyrics hit me. But we’ll come back to me in a minute.
The picture at this top of this article is from just before the Covid-19 restrictions kicked into high gear. Back in March my family and I took a spring break to Hawaii for a week. We planned and looked forward to the trip for the last year. It was everything we hoped it would be and then a little more.
The girl in the white hat is our middle child, and over the last two years, we have been helping her deal with the complications of living with high levels of anxiety. During our trip to Hawaii and over the first couple of weeks after our return she seemed perfectly normal. Sure, she had her off moments, but all in all, she was as happy as a 13-year-old girl can be at any given time. If you’ve spent enough time around a teenager you appreciate what that means!
Then the Covid-19 restrictions ratcheted up. School got suspended for a few weeks and she spent more and more time in her room, alone. Next school got canceled for the year and we saw her around the house even less.
I should note she has been seeing a therapist for the last year and that has been beneficial. She has learned how to better manage her anxiety and thankfully without the need for medication. Additionally, my wife and I know better what to look out for in her behavior and are equipped with methods to help her deal with an onset of anxiety.
Yet, somehow, we didn’t see her mental health deteriorating right in front of us.
To be fully transparent I think we were so wrapped up in everything else going in the world we were blind to it. So it came as a big surprise when, one night, she came downstairs shuddering and crying uncontrollably.
Turned out she spent most nights laying in bed unable to sleep. Her mind working overtime fixated on all the bad news in the world. She became emotionally strung out and unable to cope with anything. She was having a nervous breakdown. It’s a tough thing to watch your 13-year-old daughter experience. There was little we could say to calm her down. We were helpless.
We got through the night and after talking about it we realized she hadn’t been to see her therapist in over a month since the visits were taking place at school (which had been canceled). I’m happy to say we have her on the path to feeling well again. We got her back into therapy and have focused more on talking about her mental health. The happy go lucky girl we know and love is around more and more every day.
“Sometimes I think I’m happy here”
Thanks to Covid-19 we are all dealing with disruptions in our lives and adjusting to new routines. There is no doubt it’s affecting each one of us in some way. For some people, dealing with it all makes every day a hard day. I’d also be willing to bet, unfortunately, most employers have encouraged everyone to ‘press through’ and ‘keep up the hard work’ so as not to let the pandemic affect business results. Though not pressured to do so externally I know I have been personally determined to not let outside influences negatively affect me or the quality of work I produce.
As if this once in a lifetime event can just be set to the side during the workday and we all just pretend this situation is totally normal.
“Sometimes, yet I still pretend”
For the last 15 years, I have spent my professional life working remotely while logging hundreds of thousands of miles as a hardcore business traveler. A couple of days at home here, a week on the road there, back home for a day, and then back on the road for two weeks. You name it I’ve done it and I love every bit of it. I don’t know where the desire to travel originates. Perhaps it comes from growing up as a military brat. Being constantly forced into new environments (let the record show I went to three different high schools) followed by then joining the military myself and deploying all over the world. Whatever the case I find myself adept at handling the variety of travel and welcome the changing environments.
Working as a business traveler just fits my personality and demeanor like a glove. With that backstory and knowing the level of travel restrictions we are living under you can probably guess where this story goes next.
One day last week, my daughter’s mental health back on the mend, I was sitting at my desk when the lyrics of the song rang out clearly in my head.
“Every day is exactly the same”
That’s when I had a realization. I’m not doing OK with the sudden changes. I was feeling very down. I’m normally a carefree person with an optimistic outlook on life, so I think that’s why the realization came late. Or maybe I just didn’t want to accept it. “I’m always OK,” or so I thought.
I’m here to tell you I’m struggling with some things. I’m struggling with being home every day. I’m struggling with not waking up in a hotel room in a different city every so often. I’m struggling with, “what’s for dinner tonight?” I’m struggling with not sitting on a plane for two hours at a time unplugged from everything and reading a book. I’m struggling with being around my family full time.
I’m sure the last paragraph sounds bizarre to most people. How could I have a hard time being at home with my family? That doesn’t compute. I get it. I felt sheepish even typing it out. Of course, I love my family dearly and I treasure the time I’m able to spend with them. At the same time, it’s been clear being home all the time was negatively affecting my mental well being. I would feel good enough ‘at work’ but at the end of the day sometimes I was completely shutting down and not engaging the world around me.
I was having a hard time reconciling my state of mind but I knew one thing. It was time to make a change.
I came up with an approach to confront my feelings and practice some self-care. First, any time I feel down or frustrated with being “stuck at home” I stop myself. I take the time to recognize what it is I am feeling and why. Then I remind myself why I’m in this situation (no travel due to Covid-19) and the fact it’s completely out of my control. I can’t do anything to change or influence the problem but I can control my reaction to it. The reaction is where I focus my energy. To gain control of my feelings I run through a mental list of things for which I am grateful. I particularly focus on the things I wouldn’t get to experience if I was on the road and away from my family.
So far it’s working well. I’ve found gratitude to be a powerful weapon. I’m feeling better but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t constantly itching to pack a bag and hit the road. It’s a process.
How about you? How are you handling the “new normal”? Are you like me and unable to do business travel? Maybe you’re adjusting to working from home every day. How’s that going? How do you feel? What do you miss about going to the office? Maybe you went from consistent face to face interaction to only Zoom. How has that affected your day to day mental health?
We are all in this together. No matter how you are feeling you should not be ashamed to talk about it. Maybe a LinkedIn article isn’t your forum, but I urge you to tell someone, anyone, if you are struggling with your own mental health. You wouldn’t think twice about discussing and seeking advice for your physical health. Your mental health should be no different!
Ultimately the more we talk about our own mental health the more the topic will lose the stigma around it. The dream is for the conversation to become normalized. We will all be living happier, healthier lives because of it.
What tips do you have for handling change and practicing self-care? Please comment to share your knowledge and experience!
*Lyrics from “Every Day is Exactly the Same” written by Trent Reznor
About Brad Slater
Beginning his pharmacy automation career path in 2003, Brad is now a Program Manager for Parata Systems and proves to be a team leader who helps to deliver pharmacy automation solutions to customers. With a background in the U.S. Air Force, he has troubleshooting skills and experience maintaining advanced electronic systems that earned him the Professional Maintainer of the Year award in 2000. The collection of roles Brad has served over the years has allowed him to develop a passion for connecting with others.