Over the past several months, words and terms which were hardly ever used by the common person have all of a sudden made their way to the tips of our tongues. Quarantine, masks, and social distancing seem to have their place in just about every conversation. One newly popular word which has particularly caught my eye is “antibodies”. While it has previously pretty much only been used in an academic or clinical setting, the term has basically risen to the level of a get out of jail free card for anyone who has recovered from the virus as a defense against future infections (granted for how long can vary). As someone who has been in the trenches of mental illness and, thank God, come out stronger than ever, I have noticed some striking similarities between the now well-understood benefits of antibodies and my personal journey.
Much research has been done on a psychological phenomenon known as immune neglect. This concept has been used to define the unawareness of our own ability to cope and recover from mental hardships. For example, while dealing with breakups can be excruciatingly difficult, we tend to move on much faster than we would have thought. We often forget how fast our psychological immune system works with regard to our mental health. This is in contrast to the awareness we have towards the abilities of our physical immune system. By drawing this parallel between our physical and mental/emotional immune systems, we can understand some valuable and inspirational lessons within the realm of mental health.
Similar to the antibodies and future immunity that recovered COVID-19 patients often have, people who work through the dungeons of mental health struggles will develop what I like to call “mental health antibodies”. I would know.
I’ve unfortunately suffered through some struggles of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). When describing my symptoms of OCD, I often call it the doubting disease. It’s like whenever I would feel confident in an idea, a part of my brain would decide that it is the perfect time to tear that confidence down, often through harmful doubting thoughts which would then lead to painful emotions. I would often call these thoughts “What if thoughts”. While “What if thoughts” are common amongst the average human being, one dealing with OCD has them rolling through his/her head almost constantly. The “What if thoughts” would put me in this constant feeling of unease and uncertainty. It was almost like every time I was comfortable, the OCD part of my brain would say “Not so fast,” trying to tear me down.
However, facing these excruciatingly painful thoughts and feelings allowed me to mature in very unique ways. Enduring these feelings of unease and uncertainty enabled me to be ready to face future cases of real life uncertainty. Now, when it comes to things such as my future and the future of the world, I’m a lot more adjusted to maneuvering through the common anxiety which will come. In a way, I’m able to say that I’ve built up some of the psychological antibodies which helps me deal with uncertainty even better than I would have before.
This is not to say that dealing with a mental illness will prevent any further struggles, but enduring mental hardships will allow for one to truly gain a deeper appreciation on life and be able to endure and see past the pain which often comes with it.
Another COVID-19 Lesson
The landscape of COVID-19 can also reinforce that mental health struggles can very often be well beyond our control. Rarely, would one ever consider him/herself weak for having a bad reaction with COVID-19? While some trends do apply, we’ve seen that reactions can be quite random. This shouldn’t be any different with mental health struggles. It is important to realize how our mental health immune system is working hard to ensure it does what is supposed to for us, and if it sometimes falls a little short, it is not our fault.
You’ve Got This
While in the depths of mental health struggles, it can feel like there is no way out and things will never get better. It is more than understandable to feel this way; yet, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Just like with COVID-19 antibodies, your mental health immune system will come out stronger, with a much deeper appreciation of life than you started with.
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