Struggling With Anxiety and Finding Purpose During COVID-19

-Mirabel Ngong, Cameroon

“…asking for help is strength, courage, and stoic determination to rise above our fears and weaknesses and bounce back better and tougher.”

The Nightmare

It is a few months into the raging global pandemic and we all seem to be more accepting of this new situation we find ourselves in and the impact it has had on our mental health. From this acceptance has come speaking out. This is a good thing as it demystifies the mental health stigma that has crippled many, keeping them from seeking help. The spread of Covid-19 around Cameroon (and the world over) has introduced new, complex dynamics to already harmful realities, for example, the armed conflict in the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon, which has already claimed a minimum of 3000 human lives.

It is ironic that while the Covid-19 pandemic is taking over the focus of our entire health system, the state of our mental health is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Like many, a few weeks into the lock down, I was in a state of shock and denial. My mental turmoil and inner chaos would sometimes render me numb with a desire to lie in bed all day. Like the proverbial ostrich, burying its head in the sand, I tried to avoid the reality which media channels never let me forget even for a second. My only desire in these moments was to silence my racing thoughts and persistent self-accusatory voices at my seeming ineptitude.

With all these triggers, the fear of the unknown loomed, haunting me with anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia. The ghosts of should-haves, would-haves, could-haves spared me no respite. The urge to be in control, to have some stake in my own destiny, rapidly heightened as I became obsessed with news updates. The downside to this? Well, talking about body triggers, I had to battle a flu that left me asking, ‘Could this be corona?!’

There were times I would comfort and support a hurting friend while suppressing my own screaming thoughts.

‘Some people feel they can control their anxiety, some feel it’s something they should be able to manage, some feel shame, some fear they might be ‘crazy’ and others downplay how much their anxiety is impacting them.’’ Monique Reynolds

Rising from Mental Chaos

As I discovered when I finally fought myself and sought assistance and support from a Clinical Psychologist, asking for help is strength, courage, and stoic determination to rise above our fears and weaknesses and bounce back better and tougher. With the acceptance of my powerlessness in controlling the pandemic’s trajectory, I found I could control the little things: cutting down on toxic media time, washing hands, exercising outdoors, readjusting my workspace, dressing up, building skills, learning new things, taking one step at a time and above all bonding with family and connecting deeper with God. In the process of embracing this new normal, I ask myself daily; ‘’ If this never goes away, how will I still live my best life?”

I have read seven books in the last three months and I planned to read ten this year. Knowing this feels wonderful and empowering. I have noticed that I am good at writing children’s stories, encouraging teenage girls, and being there for others in their healing process. These are helping me move ahead and thrive through this crisis into becoming a better person than I was last year. I am staying focused on what I will be able to do once Covid-19 goes away, for it will, as that is the path of all things on earth.

In this journey of transformation I didn’t see coming, I have come to understand the power of perspective. I know that when it comes to the things we cannot change, surrender is strength and personal development is magic.

 

The author is a communicator and advocate for Women’s leadership and girls’ education in Cameroon. She is the founder of Community Empowerment Program; an organization that focuses on equipping women and girls with leadership skills for sustainable development. Mirabel is an alumna of the 2020 West African cohort of the African Women Leadership institute.