If you’re living with mental illness, the end of the year is a wonderful time to reflect on your successes and celebrate that you’ve survived another year. But 2020 brought with it a unique type of mental health struggle — the challenge of living through the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. So if you’ve battled with your mental health due to the effect that COVID-19 has had on the world, I’m proud of you for overcoming your darkest days and choosing to stay.
If the effects of quarantine isolation have forced you to face depression, I’m proud of you for finding connection. I’m proud of you for devising creative ways to see your loved ones — Netflix parties, Zoom hangouts, socially-distanced picnics. I’m proud of you for learning to enjoy your own company — for meditating, soaking up knowledge, and trying new hobbies on your easier days. And I’m proud of you for surviving when the feelings of loneliness seem too painful to bear, for taking time to rest, for living one second at a time, for remembering that this devastating state of the world is not forever.
If losing a loved one to COVID-19 has left you grieving, I’m proud of you for working through your emotions. I’m proud of you for slowly opening up, sharing your feelings with those you trust when you feel able. I’m proud of you for moving through each stage of grief on your own timeline, recognizing that your grieving process is incomparable to anyone else’s, and that’s okay. And I’m proud of you for prioritizing your needs in this unfathomably difficult time, letting yourself process your loss without apology.
If you’ve recovered from COVID-19, I’m proud of you for fighting every step of the way. I’m proud of you for moving past the questioning and fear to the resolve to fight this deadly disease with every fiber of your being. I’m proud of you for allowing yourself to lose control, putting your care into others’ hands and trusting that you’ll make it out alive no matter how anxious or numb you may have felt. And I’m proud of you for coping with the judgments you may have faced, the lasting strife that may have resulted from your battle, the echoes of anxiety and depression that may race through your mind.
If you’ve faced domestic violence or emotional abuse during quarantine, I’m proud of you for staying safe. I’m proud of you for choosing to stay alive when others have pushed you to your breaking point, fighting the urges to end your life, recalling your reasons to stay. I’m proud of you for finding small escapes when you can — mentally manifesting easier times, using mindfulness skills or getting some fresh air. And I’m proud of you for not allowing their words and actions to break you, for choosing life in hopes that someday you will be free.
If you’ve lost your job during COVID-19, I’m proud of you for persevering. I’m proud of you for coping with the unexpected — the anxiety over an uncertain future, the numbness as you wonder how you’ll survive and when you’ll find gainful employment. I’m proud of you for working diligently, sending out applications even though you fear the worst, researching every possible opportunity when you are able, keeping the faith that you will make it through this challenging time. And I’m proud of you for caring for yourself on the days when you may feel numb or without purpose, taking the time to give yourself the love that your body and mind need and deserve.
If your role as a parent has forced you to uproot your routine during the pandemic, I’m proud of you for working your hardest. I’m proud of you for adjusting your life to suit your children’s needs — balancing work, schooling and family time even when it seems impossible. I’m proud of you for inadvertently taking on so many additional roles — teacher, coach, paraprofessional, guidance counselor — when you may already have felt overwhelmed from the stresses of your day. And I’m proud of you for being gentle with yourself on the days when you may worry that you could be doing more for your children even though you’re already doing everything in your power to facilitate their growth and development.
If you’re in mental health recovery during COVID-19, I’m proud of you for doing the hard work at the hardest time. I’m proud of you for coping with the unexpected triggers this year may have brought, learning how to adjust to an ever-changing world. I’m proud of you for pushing through the dark days, the relapses and the stresses of this global crisis, seeking out support when you feel you may need it. And I’m proud of you for committing to using this time to learn to build a life apart from your mental illnesses, pushing forward every time you slide back, remembering that the additional stress on your shoulders will eventually slide away as COVID-19 becomes less of a threat and you grow stronger in your recovery.
2020 has tested each and every one of us, forcing us to confront startling new realities and profoundly affecting our health. But if COVID-19 has affected your mental health this year, celebrate the moments of victory when you chose to stay instead of slipping away. Your mental health may have been a struggle, but you’re still here, living and breathing — so take as much pride in surviving this year as I have.