Advice from a psychiatrist during these unprecedented times

Unprecedented. How many times have we heard that word? Yet, here we balance between the life we knew and the life we long for with the deep, frightening chasm of the unknown strikingly in between. 2020 has not only been one for the history books; it has upended lives. The world economy crawls along, jobless numbers reach all-time highs, and families are finding themselves in a position where making ends meet may begin to look and feel impossible.

As a resident psychiatrist, I have seen many patients who have been sober for 20 years or more fall off the wagon. Those who quit smoking years ago finding themselves on the porch, cigarette in hand once again. Depression, anxiety, psychotic disorders, really any mental health disorder you can imagine amplified to a deafening level as coping mechanisms become more and more difficult to come by. Family, friends, physicians removed from face-to-face contact; we are all struggling to get by. Now, add to this simmering pot an election, highly fraught with emotions, and yes, so much to lose, and we find ourselves catapulting straight into the future with little to hold on to for assurances. Though all of this may sound more dystopian than any of us would want, all is not lost.

While those diagnosed with mental health disorders, or even those who have not, have found themselves with unprecedented concern over the state of our world, there has also been much growth. We, as a society, have grown to know what we cherish most. We have learned that the company of others, those we care for, our friends, our family, and those we work with, are truly gifts. Time, though it may abound for some now as we collectively have been quarantined and shut down from the outside world, is truly precious. You are more resilient than you may give yourself credit for. And even if you have picked up that glass of wine for the first time in years, have fallen deeper into the paralyzing fog of depression, or feel so very alone, you are still here. We are all still here together, and together, as 2020 has taught us, is a treasure worth fighting for.

Resiliency. Grit. Determination. All things that are required for success in this world, now perhaps more than ever. To have made it to this point in 2020, you have more of these qualities than you may have ever realized. What I can offer to you is this: Find the good. Find your silver lining in this wild ride of a year we have all taken. Take a few minutes to write down how you’ve grown, challenges you have overcome challenges you still need to overcome, and then draw two columns. List things in your control in one column and list those out of your control in another. Rip the paper in half and throw away the part that is outside of your control.

With that other precious half, re-start your own journey. Exert the real control you have over yourself. If you need to make a call to a loved one, reach out. If you need more help than your friends or family can provide right now, reach out to a hotline or your physician. Make that call. If you find yourself in a place where sorrow is more than you can endure, reach out. There are still ways you can find help, peace, and love, even in these dark times. Hope for the future and reaching for a brighter tomorrow is a lesson from this year, this unprecedented, difficult, tumultuous year. And that is something worth fighting for.

K. Maravet Baig-Ward is a psychiatry resident and can be reached on Twitter @drmaravet.

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