Is Anyone Else’s Mental Health Still a Wreck?

Is Anyone Else's Mental Health Still a Wreck?

What a year! And I figured that if my mental health is still a mess right now, then I’m sure some of you might be in the same boat.

Before you get too concerned about me though and start telling me that I need to talk to someone… I’m fine. I’m just a lot more off-balance than usual.

I feel like I’m exhausted all the time and just plain anxious. Anxiety is something new to me. I’m used to being in control or just riding the wave without much worry. But the ride we’ve been on lately seems to be knocking my mental health into a whole different direction.

What’s the anxiety about? I don’t know for sure, but I have a pretty good guess that it’s just the uncertainty of things. Not only does the pandemic affect us like so many others in one way or another, but we have that unique facet of being ex-pats who were living in Panama.

Even though the status of my mental health isn’t something high on my list to share with the world, I kind of like you guys and thought it would be helpful to share. Maybe my anxiety might be reassuring to others struggling as well right now.

What’s the mental health wrench in the works?

Some of you might remember that I tend to have some pretty good highs and lows. I’m probably bipolar though I’ve never been formally diagnosed. My dad suffered similar problems and killed himself when I was only 6, right before my brother’s 4th birthday.

I’m far from that fate – I made the decision never to end things that way decades ago… but I do still have my periodic share of swings.

Anyway, right now, I think I’m in one of those pretty good slumps. I’m not depressed, but just out of whack. I’m just anxious like something’s not right and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Trying to break things down a little more, I think the uneasiness I’m having can be attributed to a number of factors including:

  • Not having the freedom we’re used to, particularly in spending time together with others
  • The ridiculousness of the small percentage of self-entitled loud-mouths in the U.S. throwing whiny tantrums
  • The uncertainty of where we’re going to be living a few months from now
  • The political state of the U.S.
  • My own struggle of trying to figure out my next path in life

Again, I’m not really depressed… I’m just off. A little wrinkle in the mental health cloud, if you will.

Let’s break some of these issues down a little further, shall we?

The pandemic is smothering

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but this pandemic is smothering the @#$% out of everyone.

Look, this thing is what it is. No one wanted it but it’s here now so we have to deal with it.

I’ll flat out tell you that I strongly agree with social distancing and wearing masks. And honestly, I think that’s probably the majority of people.

However, if I see another one of these goofballs yelling at a store employee or a receptionist at a dentist office bitching about how wearing a mask is taking away their freedom, I’m gonna freak. Stop being an @#$hole. Wear your mask or stay away from the private businesses requiring you to do so. It might be your right to not wear a mask (even though that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard), but it’s also their right to refuse to serve you.

I’m sure (or at least hoping) that there aren’t that many idiots like this in the country, but they’re the stories that the media, of course, loves to focus on.

Anyway, I’m not one of these yahoos and we’ll continue to do our best to keep our distance until this all subsides. And I’m ok with that – it’s not a lot to ask of anyone right now. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not getting old.

We made the hard decision to come back to the U.S. a couple of weeks ago. And we’ve served our time staying in quarantine waiting for any symptoms to appear from our travels. None did, thank God.

Is Anyone Else’s Mental Health Still a Wreck? - Faith and Ralf
Strangely, I think Faith’s good to go just by seeing her grandparents’ dog again!

But I’ll tell you what – being back isn’t that exciting. I keep thinking of all the people, both friends and family, who I want to reach out to so we can make plans. But then I remember that it’s not like we can just get a big group together to meet at a bar somewhere… and that sucks.

We’re probably going to be here for months (unless Panama decides to open their borders sometime soon) and we still likely won’t be able to see too many people. Sure, we’ll have some nights spread out around fire pits and we’re even planning some camping with close friends and those days will be fantastic.

However, there’s still that looming limit of the freedom we’re used to having. Again, that’s ok with me – we’re doing what’s necessary right now and we’re lucky to be as healthy and safe as we are. It’s still tough on the old mental health though.

This virus sucks. Eventually, it’ll be something we all look back on and wonder why we were such wusses about just hunkering down for a while. But that time ain’t now and it’s just lousy.

We’re going to live where?

No seriously – where are we going to live?

Right now, we’re living in Lisa’s parents’ basement and I couldn’t be more grateful. It’s like we have our own little apartment here. But that’s for the month we planned on being here.

Unfortunately, though, Panama’s borders are closed. We have no idea when the government there will re-open the airports again. And when they do open things back up, will they let U.S. citizens back in? Probably pretty unlikely for the time being.

Imagine the uncertainty of having a home in another country and not knowing if you’ll ever be able to get to it… that’s the kind of #$% messing with my mental health!

Luckily, it’s a condo we’re renting in Panama and it’s a furnished place so we don’t have a lot of stuff there. We do have some stuff though. We tried to be picky about what we packed when we came back to the U.S. knowing we might not get back there anytime soon, but we do have at least a few suitcases worth of stuff there.

Our lease ends in mid-September and we paid up our rent through that time. But if we’re not able to get back into Panama by then, do we renew our lease? Do we continue to pay for a place we don’t live in? Or do we let it go and see if our neighbor can ship us a few of our possessions before the landlord rents it out to someone else? Do we ever go back there?

I don’t know the answer. And I’m sure we’ll figure it out with time. Thank God we have the flexibility in life to kind of go with the flow, but these are the needle pricks poking at my mental health.

Just so you know, the tentative game plan for now is to stay at my in-laws for the time being. If we can get back to Panama in the next month or two, perfect.

If we find out that it’s going to be a handful of months before we can get back, we’ll renew our lease in Panama and figure out something to do in the meantime. Lisa and I talked about the idea of getting a car and taking a road trip across the country for fun. We could visit people we rarely get a chance to see, too. Maybe that’ll happen or maybe not.

If we find out that it’s going to be a long time (like 2021) before we can get back, we might just say “forget it” and get an apartment here. Then we’d have to figure out if we’d go back eventually or just start a new life here.

Life’s a dance, right?!

Time to make the donuts…

Now, before I continue on, it’s important to understand that we’re extremely blessed to be in the position we’re in. The unemployment rate for the U.S. for the month of June was 11.1%. Some folks have to worry about finding a job to feed themselves and their families and it’s horrible to see that.

So nothing I have on my plate can come close to comparing to that and I’m more than thankful for how we’re doing. But it doesn’t mean that my anxiety isn’t still there.

And right now, I have a slight feeling of claustrophobia. It’s not from living in a basement – there’s no lack of love over here!

But between not having a place of our own and the pandemic restricting us from really doing much, I have my moments of feeling like time is slipping away. Does that sound weird or does that make sense at all?

Every day it’s like I’m just going through the motions:

  • Wake up
  • Practice my Spanish
  • Work out using the Fitbod app
  • Maybe write a little for Route to Retire
  • Hang out with the family / Play a board game or some cards
  • Have a beer… sometimes two or three
  • Maybe watch a movie or some TV with Lisa and Faith
  • Read a little
  • Go to sleep

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? It’s not, but it seems like I’m in a rut and not moving forward with anything. I have this curse where I feel like I need to be accomplishing something or I’m not doing things right.

I probably need to just relax like Justin from Root of Good has encouraged me to do but so far, it just feels unnatural to me.

Mental health break

Even though I’m sitting here whining about my anxiety, life is good.

We’ve wrapped up our time in quarantine and we’re planning on a little bit of fun. We’ll be meeting my cousin and his family at his cottage at Kelleys Island this weekend. His family will stay in his cottage and we’ll stay in the bunkhouse to give us a little distance. That’ll be great to hang out, play in the lake with the kids, and possibly do some fishing.

Is Anyone Else’s Mental Health Still a Wreck?
Folks, that there is a Fish Ohio walleye I reeled in while at Kelleys Island last summer!

We’re also hoping to go camping with some friends next week. They actually coordinated their vacation from work around the time they knew we’d be back in Ohio… how great are those friends?!

One worry we don’t have is how schooling is going to work, which is weighing on a lot of parents’ minds right now. We had already planned on homeschooling Faith again for this coming school year. Lisa spent time homeschooling Faith during our first year in Panama and we decided to do one more year of it. That’s another stress factor off the table for us.

Other than that, it’s all about going on more walks, continuing to work out, and trying to keep the drinking from becoming a habit.

I have more to be grateful than you could ever imagine. Being healthy around loving friends and family is obviously huge. And having the flexibility of being financially independent and early retired make life more than wonderful.

Right now, my state of mind is just a little wrinkle in the space-time continuum – nothing to get excited about. No need to send sympathy – this isn’t a cry out for help. I’ll be just fine but I think it’s important to share what’s going on in my head. If you’re in a similar position with your mental health, I hope it’s comforting to know that it’s not just you.

How’s your mental health lately?

Thanks for reading – just writing about this is making feel better already! Stay safe, everyone!

— Jim

30 thoughts on “Is Anyone Else’s Mental Health Still a Wreck?”

  1. thanks for not being one of those unmasked yahoos. Your daily activities don’t seem too different from what you did in Panama. Perhaps what’s missing is a purpose or at least a sense of purpose – everyone needs that, retired or not (although many working folks derive their purpose from their work and/or parenting). Time is ALWAYS slipping away – how are you best deploying it to fill your needs and others’ needs?

    1. I think the lack of purpose is definitely affecting my state of mind, Jessica. The question is will I be able to define what that purpose is before too long? Unfortunately, I don’t know what my destiny holds but I’m hoping to figure it out sooner than later. 🙂

  2. As someone who also deals with anxiety, I totally get it. Uncertainty is the worst for anxiety! Under the circumstances you’re in, it’s completely normal and understandable that you’d feel the way you do.

    I hope things work out for you, but in any case, this is yet another amazing adventure. You’ll look back years from now and mostly remember the good stuff… and as you’ve pointed out, there are lots of good moments, even in the midst of this awfulness.

    Hang in there! We’re all in this together.

    1. Thanks, Chrissy! And very true – we’re transitioning onto our next adventure. I wish there was a little more definition to our new adventure though! But, we’ll figure it out – it’ll just take some time.

      Hope you’re doing well!

  3. Thanks for sharing, no doubt this are uncertain times and that generates anxiety, In my case dealing with a virus that is killing people and making others really sick is just freaking me out, is like the movie Groundhog Day, living each day exactly as the one before. Here in Mexico things are terrible, and the virus is spreading quickly. Hope they find a vaccine soon.

    1. I just heard someone else say that this felt like Groundhog Day as well – too bad, because I really like that movie! I’m sorry to hear about how things are going in Mexico. It sounds like this is going to be a long while until we have a new normal. In the meantime, please hang in there and stay safe!

  4. Yes! I think just like you said – the uncertainty and lack of control is what has so many folks on edge. Totally waiting for normalcy to return, but in the back of your mind you have to wonder – will THIS be normal forever? Ugh, certainly hope not.

    P.S. – On a related note, since you guys took a humanitarian flight out of Panama, does that go one-way only (exit)? Or can you return that way?

    1. I think there’s a good possibility that some of this will become the new normal for a long time. That’s a rough thought to consider, but I guess it is what it is.

      Unfortunately, the humanitarian flight is a one-way ticket out. There are humanitarian flights going back into Panama, but just like the one we were on, they’re only able to bring residents back to their own country. Because we’re not residents of Panama, we’re not able to get back there until they officially open things back up.

  5. I have dealt with anxiety for years but being FIRE’d has eased the stress and my family has noticed how much happier I have been. The pandemic really hasn’t changed my anxiety level. People want to get back to living but this is consuming many of them. I equate it to a personal health scare. When you find out that something is wrong you put all your energy into fixing it so you can get back to “normal”. We are all used to doing whatever we want and now we have been restricted for months. I don’t worry about the virus as much as the unintended consequences of all the action by government, people, mental health etc.

    PS. I’m one of the non mask yahoos. For many they are a false sense of security. People stop social distancing and get in your grill. I’m respectful and keep my distance. I also keep my mouth shut and nasal breath which is much healthier for you. My more rural county in OH has a .5% infection rate and .05% death rate.

    1. I think that’s great that you’ve been able to keep your worry down about this, Scott. I wish I could do the same. And I do agree that we need to be concerned about some of the actions of the government and others for sure.

      For me, I’m personally not too worried about the virus for me in particular, but I am worried about others that we see in our lives. This could all be overblown (and it probably is), but I don’t want to take any chances. I’d rather be one of the latter ones to get infected than the earlier ones as more is learned about it.

      Haha, I appreciate you admitting you’re a non-masker. I agree that they can add a false sense of security, but I do think that when combined with social distancing, it’s one of the few and best options we have right now. I also think we might need to move to your county here in Ohio! 🙂

  6. Interesting that US can choose whether to wear masks.. We have to in South Africa. Also alcohol is banned as is smoking, hotels, flights and travel are banned too unless for business.
    Our unemployment rate now hit 55%, up from 30%. And our emergency income grant provided is $20 per month, which may help the destitute but not anyone that actually had a job before this.

    I understand the anxiety. FIRE is great when your comparison is between a high pay corporate job or living a better balanced life. It’s a whole different thing when you’re able to not work because you have a million dollars saved and the other person has no job and is losing their house. Then you just feel a bit entitled saying you dont need to work. Ive gone into full stealth mode now, rather just say that Covid has affected you as well. They dont need to know in what way.
    I think helping out others in this time will give you some relief from the anxiety if you up for it.

    1. Everything you’ve said just blows me away, Joe – from the restrictions in place to the unemployment levels. I also agree that it can come off as entitled by stating that you don’t need to work. That always puts FIRE bloggers in a weird position as that’s the premise of their blog. In real life, I don’t talk much about our situation and I’m very particular with who I do. We have done a little to help families in need in Panama while we were there, but we probably need to be doing some more for others now that we’re back here.

  7. “My own struggle of trying to figure out my next path in life.” << THIS! I quit my full-time job in December 2018. Although we are financially independent, I have to be doing something as well. I'm super interested in nutrition so I enrolled in our local university and started taking classes. I've taken a chemistry class, then I went sideways and took an Intro to vet nursing class, then an accounting class and now I'm back where I started taking nutrition classes. But I still don't know if this is the right path! I just know that I need to be doing something to keep my mind occupied and learning. When you figure it out, let me know! 🙂

    1. Haha, I was hoping you’d give me a good answer, Chris! But I do like to hear that you’re trying different things right now. It took me a while to realize that I need to wait until my daughter is a little older before I can really start trying some new things. In the meantime, I’m spending as much quality time with Faith as I can until she starts to loathe her parents for a while. Then I can start heading down the path you’re going. So by then, maybe you’ll have all the answers for me! 😉

  8. I’m sorry to hear about what you’re going through…this pandemic has upended so many lives in so many different ways. This whole experience has given us time to think – and this is my 2 cents for what it’s worth. For those in the fire community I’d say the pandemic presents a special challenge. Looking through the lens of the five factor model of personality, most in the fire community would score high in conscientiousness – which relates to the ability to plan and see a long term project through from beginning to end. One needs to have this trait to get to FI. It assumes an internal locus of control. The pandemic I think runs counter to this – instead of us acting on the world – it acts upon us. It’s internal vs external locus of control. This requires much flexibility and patience/wisdom. Flexibility tends to come easier in children while patience/wisdom is developed over time as we mature. Back to the five factor model – flexibility could be correlated with openness to new experience. Perhaps the universe is asking us to return this sense of openness….and to temporarily let go of our sense of control…at least for a little while until we all figure out the path forward.

    1. Very insightful, Elizabeth – the good news is that I already feel like I’ve lost my sense of control! 😉 You’re right that the pandemic does seem to yield some problems that are counter-intuitive to how we usually think. That’s a tough problem for me as you can tell by this post and I’m sure many others too. Hopefully, we get back on track sooner than later. In the meantime, stay safe!

  9. Hi Jim:
    I can sympathize and empathize completely! This indeed has been a rough period. We’re finding not so much depression but anxiety and dealing with the “unknown”. On top of this, we have just been granted our long-term residency visas for Spain and we will be moving there on September 8. (Just as an aside because several folks may ask, if you have a Type D Residency Visa for Spain, you are exempt from the “no US citizens are allowed in” rule). We’ve been waiting these last several months for the visa application process to begin again and now we are faced with the (gulp) reality of moving to Valencia, Spain. Talk about scary! We’ve planned the trip with 4 plane rides – we plan on wearing 37 masks at one time and keeping our heads down…and fingers crossed. The good news is Valencia wasn’t hit as hard as the media has shown for Madrid or Barcelona. People there are following “the rules” and wearing masks, etc. But still, I know we are taking a risk. Hopefully not a huge risk. And that’s on top of the added anxiety and stress of moving “across the pond” to another country, setting up house there, continuing our Spanish lessons, and trying to meet people while not frequenting cafe’s and bars.
    Oy…
    Fingers crossed that we don’t hit any snags!!
    Jim

    1. Haha, I like the part about 37 masks at a time, Jim! With as careful as you’re planning on being, I have a feeling you’ll be fine getting there. But I do get why you’re mind’s a wreck right now – I wish you all the best. Have a safe trip and I hope you enjoy your new home in Spain!

  10. Welcome to my world, Jim! We feel guilty admitting anxiety as we know there are millions of people far worse off than us. But it’s still hard to plan anything with the virus & being homeless. Since selling our home 5+ months ago, we’ve lived with relatives a few weeks & various AirBNB’s & some of them have been nightmares! A shooting in the room next to ours (we saved her life) & a host describing their rat hole as “cozy & comfortable”, the list goes on & on…I can only tell you from experience…no more AirBNB for us! Hotels are pricey but you know exactly what you’re getting & you can leave anytime & not worry about being refused a refund. Some now predict Panama won’t reopen till 2021. It’s so hard living in limbo month after month. I know it’s even harder for you as you have a family so you can’t just get in the car & go & with children it’s best to have a stable environment. Constant moving/upheaval isn’t healthy for kids. I think what you’re experiencing is normal given your unique circumstances. Enjoy some vacation time to clear your head (that long strict quarantine was not easy) & then tackle important decisions. Hang in there. I’m sure it’ll all come together soon enough.

    1. Sheez, Debbie – what a nightmare! A shooting, too?! Holy crap! You win on the anxiety right now over me for sure!

      I’m sorry you’re probably not going to be able to get to Panama soon – I know how excited you’ve been about the move. Fingers crossed things turn around quickly. Hang in there!

  11. I think now more than ever writing about a nomadic lifestyle And International Living is important. What you’re doing definitely has purpose and direction. I would really keep at it and build from there. I’ve had some trouble writing during the pandemic but I know I’ll be getting back on my horse soon. Keep up the great writing and thank you.

    1. Thanks, Brad – I’ll definitely keep writing about Panama and our plans along the way. Good luck getting back to the writing yourself. I was struggling with that a lot throughout the pandemic (and still am somewhat). I decided to just focus more on what was on my mind (like this post) instead of specific topics related to personal finance and that’s made it easier to keep writing. Best of luck!

  12. I’m actually feeling a lot better now than in March/April. I was stressed out and very anxious back then. Now, I’m just focusing on what I can control and read less news.
    Also, we changed our summer plan to short local road trips. Once that finalized, I didn’t have to worry about it anymore. Uncertainties make life difficult.
    Just do your best. Maybe decide on a few things so you don’t have to stress about them. Good luck!

    1. That’s great that your stress level has gone down, Joe. The news really does throw off your handle on things since it’s really all about the headlines.

      Your trip to central Oregon sounded fun. We’re looking at doing something a little similar soon that I’ll be talking about more next week. When life gives you lemons, right? 🙂

  13. Yeah, things are tough for sure. Every day feels like a marathon. I’m exhausted, and literally out of breath more often as my asthma seems to be acting up more. Or maybe it’s simply more anxiety? Who knows.

    We just have to practice mindfulness and be appreciative of what we got.

    Good luck and welcome home!

    Sam

    1. Sorry to hear about your exhaustion – it really is draining right now. Dead on about appreciating what we have – there are so many people who are struggling to survive and this pandemic has made it even worse for them. Most of us are so blessed with where we’re at in life and I’m grateful for that without a doubt. Stay safe, Sam!

  14. I’m a little late getting to this post Jim, but better late than never, right? 🙂

    I think you’re going to be just fine. Everyone is going through the same thing right now — anxiety about what the future may (or may not) bring.

    Usually we live in a very predictable world, but now everything has been turned on-end. Nothing is very predictable these days, and it’s driving a lot of folks batty.

    Some days the state of the world gets me down too, but I just take a deep breath and focus on the problems I can solve… usually tiny little home improvement projects. It’s enough to keep me occupied and not worrying about the state of the world.

    1. Crazy world right now for sure. I love reading your posts about how you’re making the most of things. We try to do the same – having something to do helps take your mind off of things. We’re starting to come up with some contingency plans for our home in Panama so that’s helping quite a bit as well.

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