New Year… New… Me?

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 1-2-2021

“I need to learn calmness in chaos, because chaos never ends.” -EaE

          Our traditions are dying, or perhaps changing, or perhaps they do not have the appeal they used to. Slowly, but surely, we see and feel the discomfort of change, and 2020 amplified it to a point no one could have foreseen. Crisis situations, breaks in communication patterns, increased polarization.  Family, social, spiritual, political values being warped before our very eyes. In some cases, people lost the lifestyle that they had built and known, in the blink of an eye. I have worked in crisis mental health as well, especially when in the combat zone. The term ‘crisis work’ is broad however, and it encompasses many things to include giving therapy to clients during a rapidly changing year such as this one.

     I believe that by Dec 31st, 2020, many were checked out to the point that the whole “New years resolution” thing felt like a joke. There was a mixture of those engaging in what has been coined as ‘toxic positivity’ in that they only wanted to talk positive, post positive, and pressure others to only be ‘positive’ in a year that many were traumatized and grieving. All the way to those that were engaging in risky behaviors and doing things that could cause harm to themselves and others. Every piece of news that had any type of dramatic impact going viral, whether it was based on actual evidence or a complete fabrication, it did not seem to matter anymore. I saw the usual and expected cycle of change play out due to crisis that happens at both macro levels as well as micro (the individual):  Confusion, Immediate criticism, denial, malicious compliance, sabotage, easy agreement, deflection, silence as well as in your face criticism (Dr. Andy Hines,

     Regardless of who we are, what we ascribe to and what defense mechanisms played out during 2020, this year impacted everyone. It was a shared crisis. In some ways we were ‘together’ and in other ways completely and utterly alone. Regardless of what anyone tried to convince themselves of, changes happened. Even the most solitude individual will experience changes if the society around them is changing drastically. From minor changes such as boredom, grocery and insurance prices going up all the way to the major grievance of losing jobs, homes, loved ones and more.

     2020 Changes in Mental Health

     More people reached out to me than usual this past year. I did have to explain to some that I cannot serve as their therapist since I was in a friendship and/ or social media acquaintanceship with them. However, I am never opposed to being a friend and talking some hardships out when time allows. A common theme I found amongst conversations as well as an endless series of comment sections through mental health forums on social media: Many people are experiencing exacerbated mental health symptoms this year, in some cases for the first time in their lives. It sounded as though many that had exhibited ‘traits’ of mental health themes in the past were now suffering from full blown ‘diagnostic conditions.’ Overall, this contributed to a theme of helplessness throughout our country. Experiencing mental health symptoms daily for the first time in your life is terrifying. Anyone that has been suffering from a disorder already, can attest to that terrifying time when the symptoms were new and fresh, and they had no idea what to do about it. This has been the year of teleworking, the mental health world as well: Teletherapy. My main piece of advice is to open your mind to getting help, and the second piece of advice would be to NEVER put a timestamp on it. Meaning, do not use a line such as ‘by this timeframe I must get better or be back to normal’, this pressure will only serve to increase shame. We cannot ‘will’ ourselves out of a mental condition, if that were the case, no one would suffer from mental health issues, ever.

     2020 Changes in Expectations

     Due to increased mental health symptoms, helplessness, crisis situations and more, our expectations also adjusted accordingly. Unfortunately, when people are in a crisis, logical thoughts such as ‘things take time’, ‘one day it will be better’, do not compute or process. A crisis, again, exacerbates our mental health and sends us down a terrifyingly twisted roller coaster of emotions that do not allow us to think properly about the next crucial step. In turn, when people feel helpless and emotional, they turn to others to do their work/ thinking for them. The consequence will likely be anger and disappointment, especially in the case of this pandemic. With countless people becoming unemployed, many more quitting due to burnout, all that was left was a significantly smaller number of people working with less resources to serve a surplus of people in need. This was brutal to anyone that was pushed into a crisis as well as the few workers left to try and pick up the pieces for the less fortunate. I had to talk to every client, friend, family member and acquaintance about adjusting our expectations to match this ‘new normal’. Things are slower, less people care, more people are checked out mentally. People have also been forced to get crafty to make up for what is missing. I remind everyone that we all learned about this pandemic at the SAME TIME. Meaning for everyone, these changes are so brand new that we are all still adjusting to them. Online learning is still complicated to many, telehealth is still frustrating to many, looking for a job with no end in sight is brutally stressful, receiving an eviction notice is horrific.  Resistance is common, but eventually, we all must adjust our expectations and find a new path.

     2020 Changes in Priorities

     There has been quarantine shaming, political affiliation blaming, parental shaming, violence and much more. I hope that we keep the crisis, changes in mental health and expectation management advice in mind. Every individual must make the right choices for themselves and their families. And guess what? That looks different from everybody! People’s priorities changed this year, primarily based on the way the pandemic uniquely impacted them and their household. We cannot be surprised if our friends/ family members no longer have the means or desire to visit us or celebrate holidays if finding a job and paying their rent is still at stake. One common theme is that many people relate to the fact that ‘nothing seems as stable and concrete’ as we had once imagined. A stable job is not necessarily a stable job. A savings is ALWAYS worth it, even if it means not having certain luxuries that give us superficial bragging rights. Being forced to spend more time with people can make or break relationships and remind us of what is important. Relationships that felt so healthy and concrete in foundation shattered a part. All priorities may have been thrown out the window for those that were hospitalized with covid-19 and forced to put their health at the top of the list and allow everything else to get tossed to the backburner. Changing priorities is not only likely during a crisis, but also encouraged to take care of what truly matters: the physical and emotional wellbeing of the individual and those that they love.

     The New Year New Me of 2021 may likely compose of continued changes in our external worlds impacting individual mental health. Changes in how we discuss and address our mental health. Learning to manage our expectations to not further exacerbate our mental health. Hopefully, also not exerting our energies toward things that are destructive, that may worsen an already awful situation. Then, changes in priority due to a crisis and what is identified as important… which is always up to the individual and their rights to self-determination.  I will not necessarily call it a ‘Happy New Year’, I will instead say welcome to 2021, and I encourage everyone to put self-care and reflection as a top priority. My Uncle asked me what three words I want to take into 2021, I chose: Companionship, mindfulness, and gratitude.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

One thought on “New Year… New… Me?

  1. I LOVE the title “New year…New..Me. This year has definitely showed us many changes as you described, I at this time can’t even think about the future as I have done in the past. Instead I am setting mini goals to help support my mental health.
    Much of my family are still quarantining and visits are short if we do get together in a masked safe way. If 2020 showed me anything, it’s that in a blink of an eye everything can change. That the words Humble and Kind, Take on new meaning and We found out what is really important to us (me). Thank you for all of your words of advice. And my three word to carry into 2020 are: FORGIVE, GRATITUDE and SELF AWARENESS.

    Liked by 1 person

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