It’s weird, it’s new and it’s not a particularly conducive environment for bettering our mental health. Lockdown is proving to be one of the ultimate tests, not only societally, but individually too.
With dramatic change comes the inevitable wave of people offering their opinions, solutions and advice, and hating the unknown as human nature does, we are thirsty for anything to point us in the right direction.
It leads me to question what the most valuable piece of advice may be for keeping your mind as healthy as possible. A lot of common suggestions have been to get creative, to make something, to bake or learn a new skill, as well as those who have been quick to realise the power minimising expectations, of mindfulness and rejecting mainstream ideas of “coping”. With this in mind, in the following piece I don’t actually want to undermine or overwrite any of this existing advice. I want to try to emphasise that advice isn’t exclusive, it’s malleable, adaptable and broad. I want more to calm the mind where it is now, today, reading this. And hopefully tomorrow, and the day after, and encourage anyone reading to take a breath, feel validated and to hang on in there. In the famous words of the High School Musical cast, we are all in this together.
Acceptance, in every form of the word, is what I want to touch on. The power of acceptance mixed with the infuriating passivity of acceptance. Accepting the frustratingly fluid nature of coping skills that work one day and fail miserably the next. Accepting yourself, your ability, your limits. Accepting this validation and the powerlessness we often feel. Accepting the situation, accepting others and how they are managing, and accepting the future we face. Accepting acceptance.
Because ultimately, if we don’t know (which we don’t) how this situation goes, as in we have quite literally had no practice run, how can we be expected, and expect of ourselves, to meet any standard of knowing how to respond. Each new minute, hour, day and week in lockdown (and life) unearths a whole new set of discoveries and experiences, highs and lows. The only thing we truly have the power to do is accept ourselves for the version of us we are being during a global pandemic (a sentence I never thought I’d write).
And it’s worth pointing out, if that philosophy rings true, then it is the same of life. We don’t get a practice run with that either. We are making it up as we go along, dealing with adversities and clutching onto resilience that is broken almost as often as it is built. It is time to start believing that however we are doing is all we can do, and that we still have a whole world of change ahead of us. You never know what is around the corner, and fomo* is a bitch.
Acceptance is hard because it feels weak and passive. Almost like you’re saying – ‘You just expect me to accept how bad things are? How bad I feel?’ Acceptance presents as intangible, and therefore seemingly doesn’t render a great sense of satisfaction or accomplishment when we look at the ways in which we are dealing with our mental health. But we must remember how to be a human being, not a human doing. Simply sitting with our feelings, not waging desperate battles to change them, feels entirely alien to most of us. We’ve lost, or more rather never quite had, the ability or urge to stop, reflect and accept: we’re indoctrinated into believing that if we go out there, start looking, put in all the effort, fight as hard as we can, we will invariably find a solution and resolve any problem. The most common cultural interpretation of acceptance is laziness: if you accept the difficulties of your situation, that means you’ve given up hope, that you’ve resigned yourself to the ability to change them and that your mental health issues have ‘won’.
This attitude is doubtless, crucial from the evolutionary standpoint: constant striving towards betterment is key for survival. But we’ve become such sophisticated cavemen that this fixation on activity has become counter-productive: we’re so obsessed with doing more, and so petrified of feeling powerless, that we tear ourselves apart trying to influence even that which is completely independent from us, that which we are completely unable to change or that requires of us an enduring fight.
Accepting the volatility of how you will manage, feel, cope – however you frame it – is fundamental to preserving the energy to keep going. It won’t be a smooth ride. Having the tools around you, letting people know what to look out for, and allowing bad days to come can unearth the internal pain, mindfully welcoming it and accepting that this is how I feel right now. You are not broken for feeling broken.
Changing your outlook can be a really difficult thing to do. Your perceptions of life and the self are heavily entrenched. Acceptance may seem passive, but is in fact an active choice, if you approach it the right way. Knowing for a fact that this is our reality, a reality which we cannot change, opens up the opportunity to make the right decisions – to choose our battles, and choose them wisely. We can choose to let go of the need to change everything. We can choose instead to do the small things that we still can, to focus on the aspects of our lives that remain unchanged. Acceptance is not failure: it is a route, which, if taken, can lead us to a more hopeful world. And hope is everything.
Your mental health doesn’t define you. It does not decide whether you are succeeding at life – the idea of success is subjective in and of itself. Your mental health defines what you have been through, what you are dealing with, and it’s looking for outlets to release that. You may not be able to control how you feel, but you can control what you do about it. Try not to seek out that feeling of necessarily noticing something positive, strive to be the in charge of the negative.
Thank you for reading. For those who need to hear it, keep fighting, even if you are exhausted. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think – A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin.
- fomo – fear of missing out