Supportal co-founder Marisa Renee Lee says it’s okay to not be okay

The entrepreneur is dishing on maintaining your mental health and happiness amid the coronavirus pandemic, in an exclusive interview with theGrio.

Image provide courtesy of Marisa Lee Bolssen

Life can introduce a whirlwind of emotions to anyone dealing with life-altering situations, whether a sudden tragedy or unforeseen loss. Managing the ups-and-downs can be difficult alone, but family and friends close to people affected may have a tougher time finding comforting words and actions.

Thankfully, the website Supportal is here to provide some needed support.

Created by social impact entrepreneur and strategist Marisa Renee Lee, and her co-founder Jaquelyn (Jackie) M. Scharnick, Supportal provides support for people facing life-changing obstacles and complicated emotions. The two women built the company with tools provided from their own life journeys dealing with grief and loss. Using their insight, the two created the platform, which shares personal stories as examples.

READ MORE: 7 ways to protect your energy and mental health while ‘social distancing’

Through the official Supportal website and supplemental social media platforms, Lee highlights the side of mental health that is not always pretty, encouraging more than the facade of positivity. The company uses personal narratives to center real thoughts, actions, and feelings to help audiences cope with their own grief, or be the supportive anchor for someone else. 

“The two of us over the years, you know, given our personal experiences, and particularly how close she was to me when I was losing my mom, we’ve just always felt like, ‘You know, there are a million things that people could do to make these very difficult life moments easier,'” says Lee.

The entrepreneur explains in a conversation with theGrio that the duo decided to create a platform online that mirrored their commitment to helping others in their personal lives.

“When something bad happens to my college roommate, childhood friend or coworker, or whatever, they call me and say, ‘What should I do,’  ‘How can I help,’ and I would give them that advice,” she says. “Jackie has been doing the same thing in her circle of friends, so we said, all right, let’s see if this is something that we can take online.”

As we continue to brave COVID-19 as a society, the emotional toll is not lost. David Gessler, author and grief expert shares the multiple levels of grief the world is experiencing simultaneously with The Harvard Business Review. 

“The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.” says Gessler.

Lee recognizes that and hopes through Supportal and other resources, people drop the illusion of positivity. Lee spreads the message, it’s okay to not be okay, encouraging healthy grief and loss reactions through and beyond the coronavirus pandemic. 

“While we want to be positive, we don’t want to be unrealistic or tell people they should only have positive feelings or, ‘it’s all going to be okay’, ‘someday, you’re going to get better,’ or ‘you’re going to get through this,'” Lee says. “Sure, you might, but you also have a hard time like there might be a long road to getting through whatever it is you’re experiencing right now. I think especially in the midst of this pandemic. Give people permission to feel like sh*t sometimes.”

READ MORE: 5 fierce female celebs we love for speaking out about mental health

Another important tip to manage the stress and anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Lee says, is to use digital spaces to find comfort, and to continue as many hobbies as possible. Beyond staying healthy through physical activity and hydration, Lee recommends maintaining a sense of normalcy.

“For me, I love food, and I love cooking,” she dishes. “It’s something that I grew up doing [and it] brings that connection with my mom because we used to cook and bake a lot together.” 

She went on to reveal that she has been “baking entirely too much during this pandemic” and will be “paying for it on the other side in terms of my clothes and my weight, but that’s okay.”

She continues, ” think we should be identifying those things that we hold dear, and still trying to find a way to do them. I think it’s important for people to do whatever they need to do to stay healthy right now.”

Lee recommends that people who have not been infected with the virus maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes “hydrate, exercise, and get plenty of sleep.”

“Do whatever you need to do to stay sane and healthy right now because that’s like all we can do to get through this,” she says. 

For Lee, she and her family celebrated a socially distant Easter, where she dressed in her Sunday best and delivered goodie bags to the mailboxes of children who would typically gather in her dining room on the Christian holiday. This activity is an example of the Supportal hashtag, #TurnEmpathyIntoAction, in real life. The phrase means not just feeling sorrow for someone, but taking action to ensure they eventually feel better.

“It’s one thing to feel badly for someone, but it is really important that you use those feelings to take some kind of action,” Lee encourages.  This can be in the form of a simple text message or card, or as big as financial gifts and other tangible items. 

While supporting and empathizing with the feelings of others is important in managing the pandemic as a society, self-care is a priority. Lee says finding the balance is key and stresses the “put on your oxygen mask before assisting others” mentality. 

“If I am grieving or anxious or dealing with something that’s really hard. I need to take care of myself in order to effectively provide any kind of support to anyone else,” Lee says. “I don’t think people are being selfish if they’re focused more on themselves or their families.”

The narratives offered on Supportal to assist were sourced by Lee and Scharnick personally. Categories include ‘loss and grief,’ ‘illness and injury,’ and ‘divorce and separation.’ Supportal offers a newsletter and recommends products to show support amidst life-changing challenges. Beyond Supportal, Lee encourages people to find the good in social media as quarantined has caused an increase in scrolling.

“Just because we are all confined to our homes, I think that people are doing even more to build community on social media. A lot of chefs that I follow are doing little cooking demonstrations and promoting recipes and doing Instagram Live with baking class, and stuff like that,” she says. 

The entrepreneur also recommends DJ D-Nice’s Instagram Live set, Club Quarantine, which has attracted the likes of former First Lady Michelle Obama.

“He’s creating these house party experiences for people in partnership with folks like Michelle Obama,” Bolssen adds. “I think right now, in some respects, it is easier to get at folks because we’re all in our houses looking for things to do. I think it is good to have as many places as possible where people are encouraged to feel whatever they’re feeling at the moment.”