We are well used to thinking about our physical health – annual physicals, trips to the doctor and dental visits every six months are de rigueur. We ensure that we are eating right, getting enough exercise, drinking plenty of water and all of that good stuff. If you, like me, wear glasses, add regular optometrist appointments to that list. But how many of us consider regular mental health check-ups? I don’t necessarily mean making regular appointments to see a psychologist or counsellor, although, hey, why not? I mean really making sure that our mental health is a protected as our physical health, and that we are as mindful of one as the other.
Over the past year, we have seen an increased emphasis placed on our mental health. With all that has been going on in the world – I will not list any particular issue, but let’s just acknowledge that 2020/2021 was a rough year (Time.com describes 2020 as “a series of rolling disasters”). The pandemic threw the world into such a tailspin and resulted in our #1 coping mechanism – time spent with our support systems – being largely unavailable. If ever there was a time when a hug was needed, it was 2020.
We hear about businesses having to pivot in order to stay afloat. This same reality was occurring for each one of us on a very personal level – we had to pivot (and fast!) in order to deal with all that life was throwing at us. Wave after wave of stuff, one thing after another. The one main thing that I learned over the past year, was how to listen to myself and focus on my needs. I actually had time to reflect, after all, I couldn’t go anywhere … What do I want after all this is over? What do I want my life to look like? What do I want my practice to look like? What are my goals? Remember in law school when you had a plan? Something like associate in three years, partner in five, judge in 15? Or LL.M, then Ph.D., then tenure track professor? I think we all had a plan. And then we got to work … when was the last time you looked at the plan and considered where you were on your path? Have you achieved your goals? Set new ones? COVID gave me the time to think about that – and to determine if I was actually happy on my current path. And if I wasn’t, consider what I wanted to change. So off I went on a journey to find my joy – live my best life despite the challenges.
What I discovered was that, the things that bring me true joy were still available, even in isolation. I could still laugh (and, let’s be honest, cry) and have a glass of wine with friends over Zoom or MS Teams. I went roller-skating (no, not blading) in the summer sun, and when it got too hot, I put on shorts and jumped through my sprinklers and laughed. All of this I did with my wonderful son who was home schooled via GoogleMeets and socially distanced from friends. This was a great opportunity to reconnect, chat and be silly, watch movies and bake cookies. He played his music for me and I shared some of my favorite movies with him.
What I now know, as the pandemic – hopefully, blessedly – winds down, is that working 80 hour weeks is not my bliss, but roller-skating, sprinkler jumping and being silly with my kid requires more of my time and attention then I have been giving it. And my mental health and well-being requires it too.
Visit the OBA's Wellness Hub for resources and strategies to care for your mental health and well-being.
About the author
When not roller skating and sprinkler jumping, Jacqueline Beckles is General Counsel with the Department of Justice Canada, part-time professor at Algonquin College, executive member of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, member of the OBA Equality Committee and co-vice-chair of the LSO’s Equity Advisory Group.