Commentary, Opinion

Campus conversations: Recovery

Making peace with grey

Ella Fitzhugh, News Editor 

**Content warning: Mentions of mental illness, eating disorders**

I’ve never been secretive about my love for psychotherapy. Admittedly, I have weeks where I dread the session—fears about my perceived lack of progress in treatment flood my mind. Other times, however, I desperately await my hour-long, uninhibited ramble. Even after several years in therapy, I am still unlearning the fallacy that progress with mental health is linear.

Clearly, the pandemic has exacerbated mental illnesses, especially among university students. Indeed, the remote landscape hit me hard. A sneaky eating disorder crept up, devoured me, and kept me suffering in isolated silence. Those who have endured the painstaking, yet beautiful wonders of eating disorder treatment, will know that the word “recovery” is tossed around so much that you start to forget it can be used in other contexts too. Throughout my outpatient treatment, I longed for a perfect recovery from mental illness, which I envisioned as beautiful rolling hills where no struggle could ever reach me again. But therapists are not just supportive, they are also there to feed you life’s truths: Recovery is nonlinear. A healthy mind does not entirely evade every semblance of sadness nor eating disordered-thinking; instead, a healthy mind learns which internal voices to amplify. Through treatment, I have learned to distinguish my “healthy” voice, which knows the truths about recovery, from my “eating disordered” voice, which sees recovery as a far away utopia, the one I think I can reach by simply checking the boxes in a methodical step-by-step process. 

I think we can all benefit from knowing that a healthy, recovered mind is not a perfect one. To me, recovery means accepting ambiguity. There will always be a negative internal narrative dwelling in a corner of your mind, I realized I was capable of turning down the volume to make space for my louder, and more honest, voice. Therapists are always telling me to simply observe the world around me, and I urge you to do so as well. Know that things are not black-and-white, and see that, although the thoughts of hopelessness appear loud now, recovery has been a voice within you all along. It just starts with listening. 

COVID-19 recovery requires proper institutional support 

Kennedy McKee-Braide, Managing Editor 

As early as a few weeks into the pandemic back in 2020, commentators began to talk about how this universally traumatic experience may bring positive change and progress to the post-COVID-19 world. Some pointed to the natural world, noticing that nature seemed to be healing with fewer people out and about to damage the planet. Others hoped the pandemic would lead to lasting political changes, from a permanent universal basic income (UBI) to better support for unhoused people. 

Of course, the pandemic is not yet over––new variants, ongoing vaccine inequity, and vaccine hesitancy suggest it may be quite some time before the world makes it out the other side. But nearly two years and several waves later, it is worth asking ourselves—and our governments—whether we have really learned anything from this seemingly never-ending nightmare. 

One thing the pandemic has made clear is the power of mutual aid and solidarity. Across North America, activists and community members have come together to support those experiencing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. One Montreal-based Facebook group, Montréal – Tio’tia:ke – Entraide – Mutual Aid, was first launched in March 2020. With over 16,500 members still going strong today, the group is just one example of the fact that mutual aid will remain a major part of many’s lives. 

Where communities have grown stronger and even more supportive than before, most governments have failed to show meaningful political will to account for the many cracks in the system that the pandemic both revealed and exacerbated. For example, despite moving quickly to roll out the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), a needed financial support program offering lump sum payment for those living in Canada experiencing financial hardship, the Canadian Revenue Agency clawed back money from ordinary working-class people who made mistakes on their applications due to vague instructions. Additionally, despite the fact that the Liberal Party of Canada adopted UBI as a policy objective in their platform, the federal government has shown little intention to pursue the plan in the near future. The pandemic plunged unhoused people into further precarity—now subject to increased police hostility and inadequate shelter in this time of crisis—and Valerie Plante’s administration did not learn from the experience. Take, for example, their decision to cease funding for the Raphaël André memorial tent after December. 

The burden of post-COVID recovery must not be placed squarely on the shoulders of average citizens. Going forward, governments have a responsibility to respond to citizen pressure and calls for more comprehensive social support, for the good of us all. 

COVID-19 state of mind

Madison Edward-Wright, News Editor

Mental health was something I struggled with before the COVID-19 pandemic. My depression and anxiety would play tricks on my mind, convincing me that social isolation would spare me from the judgement of others and that obsessive exercising would rid me of all my pent-up stress. I was lucky, however, to be surrounded by friends and family who supported me. The daily routine of waking up and going to school was an escape that gave me a reason to get out of bed and made me feel like the work I did throughout the day had purpose. 

After putting in the work with my therapist and leaning on the people around me, I was able to pull myself out of my funk and live like the young, dumb, goofy adult that I learned I am. While the hangovers hurt my head, the time spent with friends did wonders for my mental well-being. When the pandemic hit, however, I was sent right back to the place I was in three years ago. I know I was not the only one to experience this. Many of my friends, work colleagues, and fellow students I met on Zoom told me they were struggling to stay motivated to accomplish simple, daily tasks that we used to do without a second thought. 

Many of us struggled with the long stretches of isolation last year––what was once self-induced became forced. I retreated into my room where I let my loneliness engulf me. I will not lie, it was a tough time. What helped me through the past 20 months of the pandemic, though, was knowing that while I might have been alone physically, mentally, I knew so many people were going through the same thing. 

The return to in-person life has been a much needed reprieve from the dreariness of COVID-19. Walking alongside the hundreds of students on campus, running into old friends, meeting new ones, and participating in student life has helped me get back to a healthy mental space. I laugh and smile a lot more in class than I did when attending online school, because interacting with other students, face to face, who are my age, reminds me how much fun life can be. While my mental health has not fully recovered from COVID-19, I feel like I am on the right path; reconnecting with the world has made all the difference.

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