Man to Man: Mental Health During COVID

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© Simon Pauly

I’ve had my share of emotional adjustments to life in the wake of the COVID pandemic. The beauty of this situation is that I’m not alone, and I’m betting there are others out there who are also experiencing what I’m going through.

Scrolling through social media, I don’t see the mental state of individual artists touched upon as much as I think necessary (admittedly, many other salient issues have taken precedence) and I didn’t want mental health to be glossed over during this difficult time.

The other caveat is that my masculine tendencies prevent me from truly opening up and feeling safe. So, with this post I’m pushing myself to new boundaries and sharing some of my personal hardships (be gentle with me!), so that others will hopefully not feel so alone when they face theirs. Also, I’ll give some tips and resources at the end for those who are interested.

We’re In This Together

Norman Fischer writes:

“What makes suffering painful is that we identify it as ‘mine’. In fact, the suffering I experience isn’t mine; it’s common human suffering. Understanding that loss and pain connect me to others, and to life, and thus I transform suffering. Embracing it fully, I see it as an expression of the radical identity of all things. Experiencing suffering like this, suffering ends. It transforms into love. Loving without limit, I dedicate myself to others and the world.”

This little ditty was given to me by my therapist. Yes, I see a therapist. Not only do I get great nuggets of wisdom, but the benefits of opening up and learning to communicate about my emotions are profound.

If you put dirt on the problem, you’re gonna have a bigger pile of dirt. That’s why I believe in preventative measures and have been seeing a therapist for years. I’m proud to admit the fact that I seek help, especially when the pay-off is obvious to me. That’s why I see a voice teacher when I want to improve my voice, a trainer when I want to improve my body, a teacher when I want to improve my mind, and a therapist to improve myself. Therapy has given me the tools to realize what I’ve been experiencing, and how to deal with it in a healthy way.

As a man, it’s difficult to open up. I hear in my head, “suck it up” and “don’t be so weak”. I know that other men face this too and it is a reality for many. That mentality is not what I want to pass down to my son. By being honest and vulnerable, the opportunity for deeper and whole-hearted relationships opens up.

If you can’t be honest with yourself, you can’t be honest with anyone else in your life. If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else??? Can I get an Amen up in here.

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Demonstrating to my son that vulnerability and openness is a priority

Has Anyone Else Been Feeling This?

Personally, the hardest thing for me is to admit something is tough in my life and the second hardest thing to do is to accept it, dissect it and try to fix it.

These past few months at home, I’ve felt a mix of emotions. Although I’ve enjoyed the luxuries of living at home and stowing my suitcase away instead of endlessly packing and repacking, it’s also been quite trying. I miss collaborating on music and being part of an ensemble. I miss the sound of an orchestra underneath me, a chorus surrounding me, and the silence in a crowded theatre during a cadenza. Those things ignite a fire inside me and that light has been dim for so long.

Then I think of the many people who have died and are dying from this virus and I begin to feel guilt. I see their struggles and it makes me want to cancel out my emotions. They have it so hard so I need to shut up and be thankful. What I’ve learned is that it’s not healthy to hold back such emotions and it’s not fair to dismiss yourself like that. I’ve begun to acknowledge my own personal suffering and allow myself that moment of emotion.

Sometimes the losses we’ve all been facing (opportunities, performances, plans, goals, dreams, finances, etc.) are just too hard to face and I find myself trying to distracting myself, whether or not it’s beneficial. At times I even feel depressed.

The longer this pandemic goes on, the harder it is for me to stay motivated. That feeling of “no end in sight” and that lack of a deadline can be a pitfall. There were about 3 weeks where I didn’t sing a note and I had no passion for music. Luckily, I have a pianist wife who won’t let me mope around on the couch for too long and we’ve gotten back to it. I realized that my lack of hope clouded my vision into thinking this new life is permanent, when it’s not. This is temporary and knowing that eases my mind.

A Singer’s Unique Plight

Another thing unique to the singer’s experience is our need for validation. Whether it’s from friends, colleagues, directors, teachers, audiences, or fans, we need that cheerleader to say “bravo!” or applaud at the end of a performance. Don’t judge us, it’s just who we are!

Since COVID, we’ve all been doing a lot of self-validating through blurry screens and sub-par audio systems and honestly, it’s not the same thing. Comments from appreciative onlookers are extremely gratifying, but the experience of ending a performance to the sound of crickets instead of applause is deflating. The importance of the audience can’t be understated—being together, making art in a community and experiencing a performance together is incomparable to anything else.

In turn, the emptiness of sitting at home and not sharing your instrument, not having an outlet for artistic expression is draining on the artistic soul. That “pause button” that’s been hit has made me feel stuck at times.

Lately, I’ve been feeling anger towards individuals who neglect the greater good and resist CDC guidelines. Their negligence is delaying my art form even more. They are taking opportunities from us, money out of my family’s mouths, and delaying our lives each day.

Our New World

These are just some of the thoughts that have been on my mind and in my heart. I’m doing well overall so hopefully anyone reading this will feel some hope knowing that there are good and bad days for everyone.

There is never a wrong time to seek help. Whether you think you need it or not, it’s always good to talk about these things. Many times I go into therapy thinking I won’t having anything to say, and yet I always feel better than when I arrived. There’s no better time to work on yourself than now.

Before you go, please check out my suggested Resources and 7 Tips for Turning Your Mood Around:

Tips for Turning Your Mood Around

  1. Focus on the future. The present day may suck and that’s ok. When you put yourself in another time-frame, such as the day you will walk out on stage and perform again, that can motivate you to preserve through the present moment and remind you what you’re fighting for.
  2. Don’t rely on social media for your social outlet. Connect with your friends and talk to them—over the phone or FaceTime, not just texting. If you do find yourself on social media often, insert some positivity into your feed and follow pages or profiles that spread a productive message (see a few suggestions under Resources below)
  3. Consult with a therapist online. Studies show that interactive sessions are just as effective as in-person ones and there are so many apps available now with therapists as a resource for your mental health.
  4. Do a hobby just for the pure joy of it. Or try something new! I recently played pickle ball for the first time with my friends (socially-distanced) and I felt like my old self again. While we played those games, COVID didn’t exist. It was so fun being active, I forgot about all of my worries and just let loose. Activities for the pure hell of it help more than you realize.
  5. Happiness begins with gratitude. Look at what you have instead of what you don’t have. I have my health, a roof over my head, a loving family, and so much more. I put my son to bed every night and wake him up every morning. That’s where my happiness begins and in turn I celebrate those things rather than overlook them.
  6. Spreading positivity and putting out good in the world goes much further than we realize. Be good to each other, especially on social media. Be patient with each other, we are all dealing with something at the moment.
  7. Allow yourself to feel down. It is ok to have those moments. I find that setting a time limit for those moments helps me to get over them. I’ll say to myself, “you can mope for 5 minutes”.
  8. Channel any frustration or anxiety into productivity. When you feel at a loss, dust off that music book, pull up to a piano, and sing. By simply showing up, you will more likely put yourself to good use.

Resources

Social Media Sites: @mentalhealthcoalition, @howareyoureally, @howmental, @advocating.mentalhealth, @myselflovesupply, @mentalhealthtip, @peacefulmindpeacefullife, @letstalk.mentalhealth

Apps for Therapy: Talkspace, Betterhelp, Dr. On Demand, MD Live, Health Sapiens, online-therapy.com

Documentaries: “The Mask You Live In” and “Happiness Is”


What do you think? Did you find this article interesting, entertaining, or helpful? Feel free to chime in with a comment below.


2 thoughts on “Man to Man: Mental Health During COVID

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