You Are Not Defined By Your Mental Health Struggles: Finding Strength During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Trigger warning: Child abuse, sexual assault, suicide

There was a heartbreaking time, many years ago, when I couldn’t sleep without worrying that I’d be woken by a real boogie man in the night.

So I’d lie awake, very late into the night, doing whatever I could, watching TV, listening to music, anything just to avoid falling asleep.

Why was I making such a desperate attempt to stay awake?

Because I feared if I fell asleep, I’d be touched again in ways a child should never be touched.

It took me over 20 years before I was able to admit to the first person that he had touched me, violated me, taken my innocence away, that I’d been bribed into secrecy.

To this day, falling asleep is something that doesn’t come easy to me. But with professional counselling, the loving support of family and friends, and several years of recovery – I no longer fear the boogie man in the night.

With this pandemic that has changed all facets of how we live – how close we should stand to strangers, who we can see, what we can do, whether we can work from home, take the children to school – it’s easy to see why those who already live with mental health struggles are of greater concern.

How will they fare without seeing their counsellor in person?
What if they can’t hug their loved ones and this lack of connectedness leads to loneliness?
What if the crisis exacerbates their condition?

I know, having lived a pretty well-functioning life for 20 years that a mental health condition does not have to define you. That having an anxiety disorder does not mean you are more likely to panic buy at the shops or make you even more concerned that you’re going to get sick or die. It does not mean either that you’re going to express that same fear for those around you.

If anything, I’m finding that my 20 years of living with undiagnosed Complex Post-Traumatic Disorder (C-PTSD) has taught me how resilient and strong I really am.

We, as a society, sometimes forget that a person living with a mental health condition is much more capable than we realise. They have overcome immense adversity in their lives, turning their lives around from ongoing trauma, held on when they might have felt strongly that life wasn’t worth living any more.

What I know through my own experience is that I can’t change the cards I was dealt. That I can’t erase that I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse. But I can certainly embrace the rest of my life. I do not have to be constantly defined by someone else’s decision to hurt me.

I can also be grateful. I can be grateful that I still have a roof over my head, a warm bed to sleep in, lots of family and friends who love me, a beautiful sun to wake up to, a healthy body, and the rest of my life ahead of me.

Life can be unpredictable. Filled with many ups and downs. However, what we are experiencing in this world is far beyond anything we could’ve imagined in this lifetime.

It’s okay to feel scared, to feel uncertain, and to feel overwhelmed with all the different guidelines and stories that we are hearing. It’s also okay to feel confused, to want some clarity, questioned answered, to want to understand what should be the best step forward.

But we must also believe in our abilities and strength to overcome this. We must work with the authorities and government, with each other, with the rest of the community, to minimise the spread of this virus.

We must remember that what we are going through isn’t insurmountable. That the uncertainty does not mean we won’t get through it. It does not mean we are not capable – because we are.

Don’t place so much pressure on yourself to be the perfect home-schooled teacher for your children. Don’t tell yourself that you have to be strong for everyone else’s sake.

Don’t push all your feelings to the side because you think it’s not okay to cry.

Let it out, continue to connect with each other and support each other. Reach out to the appropriate professional supports if necessary. Don’t be afraid to feel sad that your small business has had to close along with your dreams for it. Don’t be afraid to reach out for financial help.

You are stronger than you think. This time in history is hard for everyone – just in different ways.

But you can get through it. We can get through it.

If my experience of childhood trauma and having to constantly live in fight-or-flight responses has taught me anything, it’s this – you can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.

National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service – 1800 RESPECT

Australian Government’s National Coronavirus Helpline – 1800 020 080

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636

Lifeline – 13 11 14

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Thuy Yau is a freelance writer and Youth Work graduate living in Perth, Australia. She loves to share her own personal experiences about overcoming adversity, as she believes that human beings are more capable than they realise. She writes to make a positive difference in the world and to inspire others to learn from themselves and their own experiences. Her writing has been discussed on radio, won writing contests, appeared on The Huffington Post UK and major Australian sites such as news.com.au, SMH, Kidspot and Essential Kids. She is currently writing her first book.

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