This article is part of the Covid & Our Mental Health series.
Part 1 of 5: Accepting our Meltdowns
John von Neumann once said, "in mathematics, you don't understand things. You just get used to them."
He also said, "if you want to grab your readers' attention, never open with a quote about mathematics, Evan, you idiot, you complete imbecile!" But I'm going to pick and choose, here.
The same is true for a lot of changes that happen to our world post-Covid: We don't understand a lot of them, but we desperately need to get used to them. However, getting used to them is not easy: It often involves going through denial, anger, bargaining, and depression before finally arriving at an uneasy acceptance of the fracture that has occurred to modern life. The five stages of grief. You know I love the five stages of grief: They're the best worst thing, ever!
Coping with this plague also involves having meltdowns.
Normally, meltdowns are seen as bad. From an early age we are trained to express our issues without raising our voices and pounding our fists on the ground and sticking our remotes up our butts.
Now, I am not a licensed therapist. I'm just a painfully introspective guy going through all of this with all of you. Still, I can say with confidence that, in this specific situation, meltdowns are good.
This epidemic isn't a bump in the road. This isn't even a generation-defining event: it's much bigger than that. Once-in-a-lifetime is a phrase used to describe an event that happens super rarely. Still it's been an entire lifetime, 80 years, since the last hugely world-altering event (the debut of Captain America). So this is less-than-once-in-a-lifetime. Somewhere in our DNA it is inscribed that we need to react towards bad news by becoming a screaming, crying mess. If now isn't the time to do it then when the hell is?
Becoming a temporary wreck means that you are processing this global crisis, that you are making your way toward the stage of acceptance. If you haven't become a tragic mess at least once during this ordeal, strongly consider working your way out of the denial stage: There are many more stages to work through to get to some semblance of normal. Yes, I just stated that not expressing a mental health issue is itself a mental health issue: Our world has shattered, everyone is going to have mental health issues. Plus it's the perfect time of year: May appears to have a correlation with people losing their minds.
Okay, so now that we're no longer in denial about the value of meltdowns, we can get to my main point: You need to make sure you have your meltdowns safely.
Get ready for the anger stage: Across the world, domestic violence calls have shot up during the lockdown. Not only that, areas with a decrease in domestic violence calls are pretty sure it's because the abused can't get out and make the report.
That's an example of a severely unsafe meltdown. Now, naturally I am not a domestic abuser. If I was I wouldn't be spending time writing this column, I would be seeking help (for the stab wounds my wife would no-doubt inflict upon me). But I do sometimes have unsafe meltdowns. Even I, whose life is always complete chaos (i.e. I have small children) find reality a bit too chaotic for me to calmly take in. Sometimes I yell at my family over nothing. Once in a while, I have brief thoughts of self harm and, instead of telling a loved one for support, I just bury them. While clearly not as severe as domestic violence, those actions are still unsafe.
Now I can't just drop everything when I get overwhelmed: I've got responsibilities like my kids and my job and my overwhelming addiction to Slay the Spire. So, I try to schedule my meltdowns. A few times a week, my wife will watch the kids while I go somewhere safe and lose my mind. If I don't feel like melting down, I just become a frigid emotional brick for a while, which seems to provide some relief. It's contained, it's safe, and it's necessary.
If you have already been having safe meltdowns, congratulate yourself. You're doing better than me and billions of other people. You are doing better than the hundreds of thousands who are throwing tantrums by going out in public without masks and without social distancing.
Take a moment to think back over the past few weeks and check if you've been having safe meltdowns. If you've been directing them at loved ones, reach out to those loved ones about your need for a safe way to fall apart. They will be motivated to help: It'll stop you from being a dick to them.
If you've had thoughts of self-harm, first of all know this: Those feelings are normal, and having them is OK. Modern culture has a stigma about needing to deny that people have thoughts of self-harm to the point that obituaries frequently omit stating suicide was the cause of death. So what's not okay is suppressing or masking these feelings. Reach out to a loved one you trust and discuss how you feel. Failing that, here are suicide hotlines sorted by country.
You may have spotted my pattern: Reach out to a loved one for relief. Isolation has caused a lot of people to forget that we need contact with loved ones every day. They care about you, so they will understand. And, if they don't understand, schedule safe meltdown time, anyway. Because they don't have to understand your need for regular, safe meltdowns...
They just have to get used to them.
Evan "Drunk Nerds" Hoovler has a new book, Teaching with Comedy, published by Kaplan. He and two other goons co-own the fantasy football comedy conglomerate, Football Absurdity. Check back next Thursday for the next installment of this series, "Directing Our Anger"
[Photo credits: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jaredsmith/3360294154, https://pixabay.com/photos/memorial-day-holiday-american-flag-3432665/, https://www.piqsels.com/en/public-domain-photo-odkuw under cc-2.0]
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