May 6th, 2020

I can stay at home in quarantine, but I can also stay connected.

Actor & Mo Bro Jason O’Mara discusses mental health and the challenges men are facing during quarantine.
Mental Health | Staying Connected
2 MIN READ
 

Quarantine isn’t easy. It can feel endless. As fathers, sons, brothers and partners, it’s our responsibility to take care of our mental health during this time. 
 
It’s funny, I always recoiled at the concept of routine growing up. Repetition represented everything I hated; predictability, discipline, monotony and the banal. I wanted a life of spontaneity and danger where no two days looked the same. For me, I realized in my early twenties (soon after my best thinking got me into all kinds of trouble) that routine actually suited me. It gave me a sense of well-being and helped me to feel grounded in my body and present in my life. Over the years I have developed a routine that I practice every day. Or most days anyway. That’s the other thing, our days don’t have to fall apart if we don’t complete our check list, although personally, I always feel more positive when I do. My morning routine involves coffee, making my bed, stretching, meditation, reading (and some writing) and walking my dog. I will also make time in the day for an at home workout (there are tons of at home fitness programs you can follow along to - they really work!). 
 
The making my bed part is key, everything else stems from that. For me, making my bed is about self-care. The value I put on my future self. I make my bed to remind me that I have this day and this day alone and don’t need to worry too much about yesterday or tomorrow. When it’s time to get back into my made bed later that night, I can reflect on the day that was. Making my bed inspires me to do other small things that have a cumulative positive effect on my life. And even if I have a bad day, at least I will have a made bed to get into that night. By the way, Admiral McRaven has a lot to say about all this in his famous commencement speech - find it on YouTube.

There is quarantine and then there is isolation. Isolation is a choice. I can stay at home ‘in quarantine’ but I can also stay connected. The first thing that happens when I’m off my game? I isolate. I withdraw. I stop texting I stop calling. I start to feel shame for feeling down, depressed or vulnerable. And I put all that on myself. It’s my knee jerk, lizard brain reaction. But that’s dangerous for me. Left alone with my head, which can feed me any amount of negative thoughts and feelings throughout the day, things can spin out very quickly. On the other hand, if I can call a friend and tell them how I’m really feeling, not just say ‘I’m fine’ or ‘not too bad’, but spend a little time trying to explain how I feel and why? Often, I feel better just by virtue of saying it out loud. Sometimes a friend might say ‘I’m having a shitty day too!’ or maybe say something encouraging, or they might just listen which works great too. Also, the more I check in on my friends, the more inclined they will be to check in on me. I have even called people I haven’t called in a while and I have let them know that I don’t feel all that great. Even they have been receptive and open and helpful more often than not and I find myself doing the same for them.

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I’m a big believer in therapy. Both group therapy and one on one. There are some people who think it’s about talking about what happened when you were a child and being self-indulgent and it’s not really about that, not in my experience. My therapist helps me through the week and offers real life solutions to specific problems and relationships which if I had to face alone could be overwhelming. Also, sharing how I’m really feeling and listening to others in a support group is cathartic. ‘Identification’ can be mind blowing. So if you think you might have some kind of compulsive behavior that has become unmanageable, there might well be a Twelve Step program for that, especially if you live in a city. A simple google search will steer you in the right direction. And whether you are part of one or not, everybody needs their inner circle. Their support teams. A lucky trusted few who get to see the real you, behind the curtain. So whether it’s a therapist or a friend, a partner or family member, or fellow group therapy members, it’s really important we have people in our lives we can reach out to, and who can always reach out to us. 
 
One phrase I keep hearing in Twelve Step work is ‘you only get to keep it, if you give it away.’ I feel the same way about my mental health. The more we share with others, the more they share with us, the better we feel about everything in our lives. Many States are offering free therapy during the Coronavirus crisis, so if this is an option for you, I would encourage anyone to try it. And if you are reading this and feel you need some immediate help, skip down to the bottom where there is a list of useful numbers. 

 
“I want people to know that the more we support each other and talk about how we’re really feeling, the stronger we can become. There is nothing strong about doing it all ourselves."
 

The slogan one day at a time has become a cliché. But there is so much power in it. We cannot change the past and we cannot see the future. Nobody likes uncertainty, which is kind of unfortunate because all of life is uncertain. It can make us feel anxious and fearful. Living life in bite size chunks and not worrying too much about tomorrow or yesterday while staying focused on today is the goal. And it’s a challenge but it can be done. It’s more of a mind shift more than anything else. Over the years I have acquired and adopted the practice of meditation, gratitude lists, journaling and plenty of other tools that help me to live in the moment and ‘keep it in the day.’ Whatever success I’ve had in my life and career I put down to clarity, community and communication. 
 
It’s not lost on me that when we’re feeling down, the last thing we want to do is reach out. Or call someone. Or eat healthy. Or make your bed. Or whatever. I get it. But the more support and routine we build into our lives, even when we’re feeling good, the more we’re able to flag shit before it starts to slide. For example, if I start getting up later, or stop making my bed, or letting small things annoy me, or start to socially withdraw, these are signs that I might need to reach out to others and step up my self-care.  It’s also important that I don’t beat myself up too much if I have a day when I don’t achieve all the things. I’m only human, after all. 
 
I want people to know that the more we support each other and talk about how we’re really feeling, the stronger we can become. There is nothing strong about doing it all ourselves then hiding how awful we feel from the rest of the world. I also want people to know that building a morning routine, regularly reaching out to others, treating compulsive behaviors and finding your inner circle support team really works. I am living proof of that. There was a time, a long time ago now, when I couldn’t face life and didn’t want to go on. These days I love my life and for the most part (let’s keep it real) I enjoy each day as it comes, one day at a time.
 
I hope that by sharing my story it might help you if you are currently feeling crap or overwhelmed. This is a really difficult time for most people. Sure, we’ll get through it. But my hope is that we’ll get through it together, reaching out to one another and feeling less alone. And who knows, we might even find creative ways to knock a bit of joy out of this whole weird quarantine experience. Imagine that. 
 
If you're feeling low or overwhelmed, don't hesitate to reach out for support using these local support resources.