During a crisis, it's easy to get swept into hysteria.
With Australia's bush fires and floods and, now, the coronavirus pandemic, the last six months have been particularly difficult to navigate, not least for those already living with mental illness. There's so much information to absorb; conflicting statements from leading health professionals; news headlines predicting incomprehensible global ramifications; info-graphics depicting, with heart-sinking clarity, the importance of staying at home, if at all possible.
Social media is awash with loss, grief and, understandably, anxiety. People are losing their primary sources of income; small family-run businesses are struggling to stay afloat. Entire industries are looking down the barrel towards an uncertain future. Parents are unsure of how to approach the school week.
Everything feels, well, up in the air.
And yet, despite my all-important mental health routine being left in tatters, I'm slowly discovering new safe havens from the madness; new digital nooks and crannies to hide in when everyday social media feels just a little too bleak.
One of these safe havens has been the Facebook group for cat-lovers that I'm a member of. Each morning and throughout the day, the lovely men and women of the Siamese and Oriental Cat Chat Australia Facebook group simply upload and caption photos of their cats. The group's decidedly non-political ever-presence feels like a calm blue ocean that I'm free to return to throughout the day.
While scrolling through Twitter at the moment, my inner-monologue runs something like this: Oh gosh, oh no, oh dear. Shit, look at Italy. I hope my friends in the US are okay. Wait, does mum have enough superannuation? Dad? Maybe I should check my superannuation, too. I wonder if [insert exciting life event] be cancelled? Yep, it is. Oh gosh.
Compare this to my inner-monologue while perusing the blessed timeline of the Siamese and Oriental Cat Chat Australia Facebook group:
Oh, look, Mary's 8-year-old seal-point Siamese is sleeping on her legs again! Goshdarnit, how cute is that?
Aw, it looks like Alan's 15-year-old striped oriental is enjoying all this extra company at home!
Gosh, cats really do go mental for their dental treats, hey? Look at those perfect depraved angels chomp!
Bless these boomers and their third person baby-voiced cat commentary, someone give June a TV show, stat.
The group is not only valuable for its distracting qualities, either. Members make a point of checking in with each other; sharing lengthy posts about their respective mental health struggles and family challenges. The difference is, members seem to understand the need for a safe place beyond the news cycle, beyond political debate, beyond the various labels we operate under in everyday life.
A place where people with one very specific shared interest can unite in the shared pain and pleasure of being human.
This won't be cats for everyone! Some people take refuge in certain podcast groups. Or groups dedicated to a one particular sport or hobby - like gardening or knitting. Then there are those representing the centre of a bizarre Venn Diagram, like those who are really into crocheting weather blankets while also enjoying the dark escapism of true crime podcasts.
There's literally a group for everything - and they're wonderful ways of staying connected, particularly when our normal support networks might seem further removed than usual.
So, if you're struggling to escape the constant deluge of news, if you need to take some time out for your own mental health, maybe try turning to those who share a common love. And let yourself enjoy not only the connection, but the lighter scroll.