Like many others, this pandemic has taken a toll on my mental health. The isolation and the solitary confinement forced me to ride the COVID Rollercoaster. I did not jump on this ride by choice, and against my best efforts, I could not avoid this unpredictable ride. One day everything's just dandy; I'm travelling in an upbound car only to plummet powerlessly for the next three days on the downward side of the tracks without any control of the brakes! And the price to ride is too high as it is measured in months of recovery.
A quick personal historical update: over the last ten years, I have battled depression and anxiety. I did seek professional help, for which I am very grateful. I will admit, I did not go willingly to that first appointment because, if you know anyone who is strong-willed (some people also call this stubborn), I could handle this myself just as I have done with every other barrier and adversity that has crossed my path. However, having a professional to guide me, listen and encourage me to emerge from 'My Hole' (that was how I identified my depression) gave me the tools I needed and still use to this day.
While I struggled out of My Hole, the thing I missed most was my creativity. I have been blessed with a creative mind, and I see it as part of my identity. However, when my depression was the greatest, I found myself with a mind that was an empty, blank canvas. It was both scary and frustrating. Would I ever get that piece of me back? How can I do the work I love if I cannot problem solve, create a game on the spot or change a game around during a workshop because something or somebody changed what had been planned? Yet, those were things that made my heart sing.
Why am I sharing this very personal part of me now? I crossed paths with a neighbour I haven't seen in well over a year. I honestly thought she and her family had moved. She was walking her dog, and I was on my way back from the park with my grandson. I could immediately see something was off. This usually upbeat, vibrant woman was a shell of herself. She said she's been hibernating; she couldn't handle the COVID isolation and the lockdown situation. We chatted for a few minutes, I let her know I could thoroughly understand what she was going through, and I told her to stay strong.
As we went our separate ways, I thought, do I really know what she was going through? I knew that I had not handled this terrible time well, but could I compare my experience to hers? Should I? Did I have the right to?
Children can't play unless certain conditions are met
Children are also suffering from this isolated and solitary existence and undergo a whole gamut of emotions and experiences. Yet understanding what is happening and articulating how they feel has been most challenging. Most adults can't find the words to express the breadth and depth of these new feelings, so doesn't it make sense to encourage children to work through these emotions instead of stifling them? As I see it, the bridge to recovery is obvious: children need to play. Not should, not could or may - CHILDREN NEED TO PLAY.
Certain conditions need to be met for authentic play to occur. Play requires children to have their basic needs met – they need to be fed, rested, and free from stress. Play also requires time and opportunity. But most importantly, Play is a child's right.
Let's make sense of Play Fact:
- COVID has been both the cause of play deprivation and it is also the pause that allows us to make necessary changes to create improved and more frequent play occasions.
- Authentic Play can only happen when bellies are full, bodies and brains are rested, and stress is under control.
- Children must be given the time and opportunity to play: Authentic Play takes time to unfold. When children are allowed to unravel play in their own way, learning blossoms.
- Play can allow children to:
- Work through adversity;
- Create a sense of belonging, connectedness and trust;
- Re-engage in the physical literacy they may have been missing; and
- Find joy in friendships
In our last couple of blogs, we shared why and how play is a natural bridge to recovery. Outdoor play is optimal in reducing stress, increasing creativity and physical literacy, and it fosters social interactions.
Last year, we posted an article in The Hamilton Spectator: The first day of school is ... a play day. We are not suggesting an all-out-pre-COVID Play Day, but a day (or part of the day) that allows children and teachers to engage and start to build or rebuild relationships is an exemplary way to start off the new school year!
We each need to find our play bridge to recovery. Mine is not a solid concrete bridge, but instead, a wooden slatted footbridge, the kind you see in tree-top trekking. It is unsteady; it moves up and down and wobbles as I walk across. This will not be an easy recovery, and unique adjustments will need to be made for each person who crosses this bridge with me. But as we travel together, we earn and give trust and respect. As well, we learn things about our fellow bridge-crossers we may have never discovered in a pre-COVID setting.
Once we all reach the other side (and we will), the reward will be worth the effort: resiliency, self-confidence, and improved social/emotional skills are just a few.
Strengthening my mental health journey through play
That meeting with my neighbour stayed on my mind for a couple of days. It led me to think about how I would put into action my bridge to recovery message as I start back working in schools in September. Instead of reinventing the wheel and making life more complicated than it needs to be, I thought of the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do to you":
- Let's express compassion with our eyes and words until we all feel comfortable with real hugs.
- Let's practice patience and show with our body language that this person is worth the wait.
- Let's show empathy beyond the scope of what we have experienced.
- Let's show humility by putting others first in mind and action.
- Let's not compare experiences. What prize are we trying to win?
- Let's all be optimistic. Period.
- Let's not armchair quarterback someone else's life; instead, let's ask how we can help.
- Let's not assume because . . . well, we know that old saying on that one. If you don't, ask me. I have experience!
Let's keep this recovery simple, be kind to ourselves and others. We will get to the other side of the bridge when we support each other's tree-top trek. Let me know what your bridge to recovery looks like