I will compensate you for the years that the locusts have eaten — the swarming locusts, The creeping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts. My great army that I unleashed against you.
~Joel 2:25 The VOICE
Like a swarm of locusts, the coronavirus is voraciously chomping its way around the globe, decimating economies, ripping lives apart, leaving wide swathes of death and gut-wrenching grief in its wake. As with other serious illnesses, the novel coronavirus has a particular penchant for African Americans. It has stolen the lives of friends and loved ones alike. To date, more than 118,000 Americans have succumbed to the novel coronavirus. As the pandemic rages on, I am increasingly concerned about how the coronavirus will impact our mental health. I do not believe that we are prepared for the scale of mental health crises simmering across the United States due to the coronavirus and its lingering after-effects.
As a person living with major depressive disorder, the isolation necessitated by the coronavirus is the proverbial two-edged sword. Isolation reduces my exposure to and chances of contracting the coronavirus. But, my depression craves that same isolation. Staying at home allowed me to burrow deep inside isolation and curl up in it. Because home is my safe space, I did not believe that isolation could push my mental health to its breaking point. So I removed my boxing gloves.
I was quickly blindsided by isolation.
A few short days after the stay-at-home order was issued, I stopped taking showers, did not brush my teeth, and did not comb or wash my hair. I lived in my pajamas and consumed bags of Pirate’s Booty. I stopped going to bed on time and stayed up long past midnight.
It has been my personal experience that one day of self-neglect can quickly become one month. Even the specter of a depressive episode did not motivate me to take a shower. During this period, I was not fully present. I focused on the forest instead of the individual trees. Without warning, I slipped back into the familiar routine of self-neglect that I escaped several years earlier. At the time I was still reeling from a particularly cruel February.
Throughout February 2020, I suffered debilitating anxiety attacks. My psychiatrist later determined that the dosage of an antidepressant that I had taken for over three years without incident was now too high. During these attacks, my anxiety was so severe that I would pinch my skin really hard, rock side to side, or dig my nails into my forearm to take the edge off. I had to stop engaging in behavior that undermines my ability to properly manage my depression. This meant doubling down on the fundamentals.
What are the fundamentals? Fundamentals are the basic building blocks that I use to guard against depressive episodes. The fundamentals begin and end with my faith. God is my rock, deliverer, guide, provider, healer, refuge, and peace. His grace and mercy covered me through the fourteen years that I was deeply depressed without knowing it. Grace and mercy are present whenever I want to die. Both are strongest when I am weakest.
God’s grace has always been sufficient for me to persist through depression and suicidal thoughts. My faith helps me fight the demons that prowl back and forth always ready to disrupt my mental health. I strengthen my faith through daily devotions that include quiet reflection and worship music that speaks life in me instead of death. Singing the worship songs always calms my spirit and mind.
Sandwiched between my faith are other fundamentals that include following my treatment regimen and managing life one day, moment, or step at a time. Maintaining a regular Bikram Yoga practice is fundamental to my mental and physical health. Bikram Yoga is a ninety-minute silent moving meditation through twenty-six poses led by a certified yoga instructor. The temperature in a Bikram Yoga classroom ranges from 105 to 115 degrees with forty percent humidity. This demanding yoga practice brings out demons that I am normally able to suppress or ignore. Bikram Yoga teaches me to be still and present with these demons dancing directly in front of me.
I have lived with depression for more than four decades. To survive I had to become a student of my mental illness. During forty plus years, my depression has evolved and become far more complicated. I do not manage my depression perfectly. Sometimes I choose not to follow my treatment regimen.
Each day I have the opportunity to begin again. Mental health professionals treat and counsel me. However, I alone am responsible for managing my depression and suicidal ideation in the midst of any circumstance including the novel coronavirus. To manage my mental illness effectively I must master the fundamentals.
My motto for living with depression is: #noapology #nofear #noretreat #noshame #nosurrender.
Stephanie Mitchell Hughes
If you are suicidal or in crisis:
Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800–273–8255.
Text “START” to the Crisis Text Line at 741–741.
If you don’t like the phone, connect to the Lifeline Crisis Chat at crisischat.org.
American Society for Suicide Prevention https://www.afsp.org
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Text NAMI to 741741.
Call the NAMI Helpline at (800) 950–6264 Monday through Friday 10 am to 6 pm EST
Lawyers with Depression Project
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: 800–826–3632
Previously Published on Medium