Even a professional coach and counsellor gets overwhelmed sometimes – and has to dig deep to get a grip

Mom of four, and a self-employed South African, Victorine Mbong Shu has always relied on her incredible energy and stamina, and was back at her desk less than a week after giving birth. But Covid-19 has given rise to a new kind of anxiety. Strong women need to take care of themselves too – or risk burnout and a place where they can’t be a support to anyone else in the family.

She’s a counsellor to many mothers, but has found herself suffering from ailments, thoughts and feelings that are totally unexpected and unpredictable. This is her story – and how she’s fighting to regain her mental stability. It is written as a coping method, both for herself and for you if you are battling too.

“I’m so tired I can’t sleep. My eyes are sore. My head is heavy. I want to cry, but I have no tears nor energy #MeThinking, What a life?”

That was the post that took me off social media on this blessed night. After posting this, I dropped my phone, cuddled into my blankets and tried to sleep. Before I knew it, I burst out crying. It was the usual time: 2:22 am. I had self-medicated with pain killers, but this night was different; my nervous system seemed to be falling apart. That excruciating pain from my neck needed me to press in on the spot for soothing as I lay awake.

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I have failed to fall sleep before 2am for two weeks since the announcement of advanced Stage 3 of this lockdown

I have developed fever blisters on both corners of my lips. My younger sister, my younger daughter, my younger son and I all got fever blisters in the same week. As such, I took it lightly and went on my social media pages for consolation. It was really good to get the various solutions to my suspected problem or illness. Among the many suggestions was that I was stressed and needed rest.

Stressed? Rest? Not possible because from the day lockdown was announced, I have not had to worry about many things. I put off worries, based on the fact that the world over, business owners in my sector are home with no work, no pay. I consoled myself that it shall be well again.

Many people around my spouse and I who know that we lost our sources of income since the coronavirus showed up in February, have been very supportive. We have received money from far and near, and friends and family in Johannesburg have dropped off food for us. I have had one or two editing tasks to do and I write articles to keep me sane.

We have not gone to bed without food and all our bills have had a holiday because of loss of income. My spouse has been cooking like a professional chef, and the children have mastered both online lessons and chores. I have had a good life in the bedroom too No child has been sick nor have we, their parents. We have not been exposed to anything major.

However, when the President announced that the country would be moving to level 3, I had consistent sporadic headaches for five days. I couldn’t sleep and I developed light fever blisters. These blisters prompted me to notice my recent pattern, that resurfaced as level 3 advanced. This time, accompanied by nose bleeding.

Am I stressed, anxious, depressed, sick or is it just a season?

I started searching. I noticed that most people who are depressed report irritable moods, sleeping too little or too much (but mainly during the day), are often no longer interested in what they used to enjoy, have little energy, have little or no self-care, lose concentration easily, are low in motivation, show low self-esteem or guilt, eat too much or too little, experience panic attacks or anxiety, self-harm with suicidal thoughts.

But none of my symptoms feature in the above list, and if they do, they are neither severe nor persistent

However, it was evident. I am mentally frail. Or should I say that the times have made me mentally frail? What I mean is that not even childbirth kept me home for a week. But now, the coronavirus held me hostage for over 17 weeks and counting.

Night after night, I managed to fall asleep at last, consumed by thoughts of what is possibly happening to me. I woke up this morning with motivation to write this article as a coping skill: for myself and many corporate parents who are on antidepressant medications.

My intention is to say that no amount of medication can help us if we do not pay attention to our bodies; the carrier of the medication. The best way to live mentally full is to practise the following:

  • Accept your feelings. Do not live in denial.
  • Accept that times are different and you cannot change what you cannot
  • Focus on the things you can fix, like your mental health.
  • Pay attention to yourself and how you react to circumstances. You can only control what you know.
  • Ask for help, even for pleasant activities or hobbies.
  • Do something you like every day and that you are good at. This may motivate you and re-engineer your attitude. Do them with your partner or children.
  • Give your life some meaning by doing things that will make others happy. See, I am writing this article for you.
  • Set yourself some reasonable and reachable goals that you can control and manage. Make sure they are real and can be measured.
  • Talk about both your goals and your plans with people who are close to you and are supportive.
  • Talk about your feelings to help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled.
  • Take breaks to distract yourself. I am getting into crocheting next week. What great timing.
  • If you consume alcohol and smoke, do so sensibly. Taking in excess does not solve any mental problem. Only a clear head can.
  • Practise gratitude – to yourself, your life, your creator and your immediate family.
  • Keep the focus on both your problems and what distracts you.
  • Enjoy the present by being fully indulged in what you do.
  • Eat right and try to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day for 3 to 5 times a week; whatever that means to you.
  • Re-look at your relationships and spend time and energy on people who lift you up.
  • Be teachable. Focus to learn the tricks of happy healthy minds.
  • Sleep on routine or on schedule.
  • Do not expose yourself to both anger and worries.
  • If you go to work, be mindful that many people are mentally insecure right now. Watch out and reach out.
  • Live in the moment.

Mental health destabilisation is terrible. And it has been at a deeper and more unmanageable level this year

What are you doing about it? Look after yourself, because only a sane person can look after a family.

Do not wait until you cannot get out of bed, out of the house or out of your subconscious mind. Do not wait to grieve.

Remember that as you practise these coping skills, you can easily go astray because stress, anxiety and depression loiter when we make up a reason or tell ourselves why we can’t do things, or why we cannot be happy.

As your own personal psychologist and best communicator, you have to keep your human spirit, determination and individual dynamics alive. You CAN.