Learning To Listen
It was while she was on a hike last fall that Vicky experienced a panic attack. It had been so long since she’d had one, that she almost did not recognize it for what it was. The next day, under different circumstances, she nearly had another one.
“I was grateful that a friend was with me who was able to talk me through it,” she remembers.
As the pandemic continues to impact our lives, health experts are warning that the “4th wave” is here, saying that the pandemic will cast a long shadow on the mental health of Canadians. Vicky knows this all too well. What might surprise you to know, is that Vicky is a mental health worker, managing the Supported Independent Living service at Communitas Supportive Care Society, helping others work towards mental wellness. Her recent experience reminded her that no one is immune to the impacts of stress.
“When the pandemic hit last spring, I was preoccupied by the dramatic changes in how we would deliver our services,” she says. “But by the fall, the cracks were starting to show and by winter the culmination of stress and isolation from family and friends took its toll.”
Her panic attacks triggered months of deep personal struggle. She began seeing a counsellor again, which helped, but she continued to struggle daily. Friends encouraged her to talk to her doctor about medication but she resisted.
“For some reason, even I, who ‘should’ know better, saw going back on medications as a step backwards of sorts,” she says. “But finally, I got to a point where it was a matter of safety and I spoke to my doctor.”
It took some time for the medication to take effect but when it did, she knew immediately that this was what she had needed. So did her colleagues.
“I’ve had several people approach me and say some variation of ‘it’s good to see you again,’” she says.
It was a humbling reality check. Vicky realized that stress and chaos had become her norm and she wasn’t listening to her body’s warning signs.
Today, Vicky is wiser for her experience. She is learning to listen carefully to her body. When she is physically and emotionally tired, she has learned that it is okay to say ‘no.’ She’s realized that restorative rest is crucial. She has also accepted that sometimes medication is necessary and there is no shame in that. But one of the biggest lessons she’s learned is the importance of a trusted community.
“There is a time to reach out for help and allow others to step in,” she says. “There is also a time to trust yourself to be able to tend to your needs. I’m learning to find joy in being by myself when I need it and doing something lifegiving.”
Those life-giving things include “Jesus, hiking, and community.” She begins every day with a cup of coffee and her Bible. Being outside and active has become a huge part of her life. Her trusted community has become essential.
‘I’ve learned to be okay with reaching out to my core group of trusted friends, the people I can text or call or ask for prayer or encouragement,” she says. “They’ve helped me learn to ride the waves as they come, and know that I am never alone.”
For anyone struggling with their mental health, it is this message of community that is important. Vicky’s experience was a reminder that many people are struggling and that the feelings of isolation are just feelings. Reaching out is key.
“Life is too short to try and just get by or get better on your own,” she says. “Those voices that tell us there’s shame in the struggle or that we ‘should’ be able to handle it are lying. The more open an honest I’ve been about my struggles, the more connections I’ve made. It has led to a mutual sharing, good conversations, and freedom to be open. You really are not alone.”