The COVID-19 pandemic encouraged me to grow in my mental health and learn from it. 

It was a sunny September morning last fall when I was in my film review and analysis class over Zoom. I remember it all so clearly; my professor was introducing the format for writing film reviews and I couldn’t help but notice the way the sun shined through my window. It highlighted the yellow tint of the sun-damaged blinds and reminded me I need to clean them, something I never considered before. 

My brain then spiraled into a collection of different thoughts: what do you even clean blinds with? What if a neighbor notices? Is that embarrassing — do people even clean blinds? My hectic questioning went on long enough until my professor called on me, having been trying to get my attention for a whole minute. Class had ended and I was the only one left. From this moment forward, I realized I may have an issue with attention.

Given my impulsivity to clean the blinds and my inability to pay attention in class, I was not surprised when I became diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The Mayo Clinic coins ADHD as a chronic condition that affects impulsiveness and hyperactivity, and causes difficulties pertaining to paying attention. It can appear in different ways depending on the person. Personally, I give into my impulses and have difficulty focusing due to hyperactivity. 

Looking back, I now understand why I behaved this way. My experiences indicate that I have had problems paying attention for the majority of my entire life, causing me to procrastinate, completely forget about things or have difficulty understanding certain concepts. I can recall instances from back in high school where motivating myself to write a one page response paper took me hours to do because it was on a chapter I had failed to read.

The idea of myself being diagnosed with ADHD never occurred to me — I would always mostly chalk it up to a general disinterest in what I was doing. Unfortunately, this happened quite often. It was not until the circumstances of the pandemic encouraged me to try to understand it that I began breaking things down. From that moment forward, it was all I could think about. 

The chances of me coming to terms with my ADHD would have been slim had the world not gone on lockdown and classes not pushed to an online platform. Although I have also struggled with depression and anxiety before and have openly talked about it, I did not begin to consider the state of my mental health until I was alone for the majority of the past year. 

The pandemic forced humanity to isolate themselves for an extended period of time. As this isolation carried on through the course of last year, the number of people reporting to have experienced depression or anxiety grew. The time in quarantine resulted in an acute awareness of our mental state, whether it was caused by the pandemic or existed beforehand. 

A CDC study found that in September of this year, 28% of adults in the United States indicated to be dealing with depression and anxiety, and that almost 44% of those indicated ranged from 18-29 years old. Recognizing that I was struggling for so long was hard to grasp, but was necessary for me to move forward. 

One of the biggest facets I grasped when coming to terms with embracing and treating my mental health was admitting I was not okay. It was not normal for me to take hours to write a paper, or eat at Taco Bell for the fourth time in one week. I needed to understand my actions. 

Though I wasn’t connecting with many people one-on-one, seeing what others were posting on social media made it clear I wasn’t the only one dissecting my feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in this time of isolation. The New York Times Journalist Steven Petrow talked about a person who admitted they weren’t doing well on their Facebook timeline which opened up a whole deluge of posts admitting others were in the same place. Sometimes it just takes one person to open up about their mental health to encourage others to look more in depth at themselves. 

I knew for quite some time that I was not just disinterested — I was dealing with something greater. Speaking out, connecting with others and building a support system were important, but in a time where confusion and isolation tremendously grew, it became more important now than ever before to take action for myself. 

Since my diagnosis, nothing has drastically changed. It took me several days to write this story  — I found a video of Paris Hilton cooking a frittata to be more important. But I am now more aware when I am not paying attention or am giving into my impulses. I realized I did not need my whole life to change. Spending time with myself during the pandemic taught me to understand who I am and how I can further grow in a way I likely never would have found if it weren’t for spending so much time alone. 

I now know I have an attention deficit and hyperactivity condition in the brain, but embracing my mental health didn’t mean finding an instant solution. It was about discovering the right place to start. If you haven’t yet been able to find that starting point in your own life, I promise you now could be a better time than ever to nurture your mental health and become the best version of yourself.