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Column: During these trying times, remember to check in on yourself

The pandemic has caused misery and complicated preexisting mental health struggles.
(Sara Butler)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, July 26. I’m Justin Ray, writing from Palm Springs.

I remember being at Bar Lubitsch in West Hollywood sometime in 2019. A friend was having a get-together with people I had never met. I remember joining a conversation with two or three others, and someone making small talk brought up a woman who had switched careers and entered and mastered a field very different from the one she was in. Let’s say, she was an attorney who became a genius-level guitarist.

I remember saying, “I can’t imagine loving life enough to want to be good at something.”

When I think about my mental health journey, I think about that moment because I finally said what I had always thought: that I am not very happy. The truth is, living can be painful.

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This might be linked to the fact that I’ve never felt like I fit in. My race and sexuality have created situations that left me feeling alienated. On dating apps and in bars, sometimes my race is fetishized. Other times people have told me it makes me unattractive to them. I have faced criticism for the way I dress and how I speak. I’ve also received negative comments for being gay my entire life. These experiences have left me with the idea that I am not well-suited for this world.

The pandemic certainly hasn’t helped. Stories of tragedy and preventable deaths are hard to hear. Then, the isolation has been so brutal that even I, as a person who abhors social situations, yearn for companionship. But I don’t talk about my mental health problems because I feel that it is inappropriate. I have a job, a home, and I haven’t lost any loved ones to COVID-19, so what right do I have to complain?

Why am I sharing this, you might be asking. Well, I am seriously considering therapy for the first time in a long time. And I suspect that I’m not alone in feeling more down than usual. In October 2020, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “41.2% of adults in California reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder, compared to 37.7% of adults in the U.S.” Meanwhile, some employed people told The Times that maintaining their mental health and their jobs has been difficult.

A recent story about mental illness by columnist Frank Shyong inspired me to use my platform to say to you all, I’m not OK. And that’s OK.

Sometimes we’re so busy living life that we don’t check in on ourselves and take stock of how it’s going. Sometimes we have distractions that prevent us from seeing some aspects of our living experience. I invite you to think about your life: Are things OK? Are there aspects of your life not going as planned? Are there ways you can get help?

I’m not a mental health professional. But thankfully, there are many resources available: If you’ve never done therapy before, the concept can seem a little daunting. But, as The Times says in a beginner’s guide to therapy, it is an opportunity to discuss what you are experiencing and how you’re feeling in a place that’s free of judgment. Hotlines are another resource available for those going through a mental health crisis. There are also more specified resources for Black people, LGBTQ folks, our Native American friends and so many other groups.

And even if you don’t end up getting help, I hope in sharing my struggles you might feel less alone.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. For the Disaster Distress Helpline, call 800-985-5990.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California.

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

Vaccinated people can get ‘breakthrough’ infections: How worried should we be? While coronavirus cases are increasing through the state and the nation, reports of infections among those who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 are increasingly drawing attention. But how common are “breakthrough” cases? The reality is that vaccinations remain as consistently effective as ever where it counts: protecting people against severe illness. Reporters Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money break it all down. Los Angeles Times

L.A. STORIES

Austin Beutner’s tenure as L.A. schools chief was marked more by crisis than academic gains. Staff writer Howard Blume explains how the former Wall Street exec with no experience in education management handled leading the nation’s second-largest school district during tough times. Beutner stepped down when his contract was up on June 30. Blume looks at two flash points during Beutner’s tenure (the pandemic and the six-day teacher’s strike in January 2019) to explain his legacy: “The pandemic really disrupted any long-term vision he may have had.” Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

New California ballot measure would ban Styrofoam food packaging statewide. A coalition of environmental groups has qualified a statewide ballot measure that would require plastic packaging sold in the state to be recyclable or reusable. It would also require companies that make plastic packaging to reduce the amount they sell in California 25% by 2030. The measure will appear on California’s November 2022 ballot. Monterey Herald

CRIME AND COURTS

A man who was seen in West Hollywood carrying an unconscious woman into a white van and driving away has been arrested and charged with kidnapping, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said Saturday. A man with gray hair was seen carrying the woman, who had recently left a bar. As the van started to pull away, a witness flagged down a passing Sheriff’s Department patrol car. Fernando Diaz, 50, was booked at 3:15 a.m. Friday and has been charged with felony kidnapping. His attorney information was not known. Los Angeles Times

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Last week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) effectively accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of sending U.S. tax dollars to China and lying to Congress about the project. Paul’s claims rest on some very specific assumptions, not all of which have been demonstrated to be true. Reporter Melissa Healy looked into the claims and separates fact from fiction. She also identifies one crucial “leap of logic.” Los Angeles Times

He couldn’t get over his fiancée’s death. So he brought her back as an A.I. chatbot. Eight years after his fiancée died of a rare liver disease at 23, Joshua Borbeau, still grieving, began texting with an artificial intelligence simulation of her. “Intellectually, I know it’s not really Jessica,” he said later, “but your emotions are not an intellectual thing.” San Francisco Chronicle

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

SoCal Olympians share insider views on their sports and the training that got them to the Tokyo Games. KCRW spoke to more than 10 Olympians from Southern California about their journey and passion for their sports. One athlete included is Sarah Robles, a weightlifter from Desert Hot Springs: “The women have consistently outplaced and outperformed the men. And it’s not any diss on the men, but it just goes to show how strong our women’s team is right now and how well we’re doing internationally.” KCRW

Restaurant workers in the Bay Area say customers have been misbehaving. “I’ve been seeing a huge rise in people just forgetting to be human,” said Mina Makram, founder of Palo Alto bakery Misfits Bakehouse. “People have been staying at home for a year and a half, but everyone in the service industry has been busting our butts ... and this is what we’re getting now.” SFGATE

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Cloudy, 79. San Diego: Overcast, 77. San Francisco: Cloudy, 67. San Jose: Sunny, 80. Great red wine weather. Fresno: Once again blazing hot, 99. Sacramento: Burning up, 90.

AND FINALLY

Birthdays: Sandra Bullock was born July 26, 1964. In 2019, she put up a home in Hollywood Hills up for lease at $22,000 a month. Lori Loughlin was born July 28, 1964. In late December 2020, she was released from prison after the college admissions scandal.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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