For the last six years, I’ve struggled with various debilitating mental illnesses. Over this time, I’ve learnt and fine-tuned my own coping strategies, and despite various relapses and struggles along the way, have managed to somehow muddle along as best I can. However, all the therapy, crisis planning, and mindfulness exercises in the world could not have prepared me (or probably anyone!) for coping with a global pandemic. And if truth be told, I have struggled. But I know I’m not the only one, so I want to share my experiences in the hope that some of you can relate, and others can also understand.
When social distancing started to become a thing around the beginning of March, I certainly began experiencing an increased level of anxiety. This was just as much related to the virus itself as it was to the potential loss of many things in life that benefit my mental health. I’m very much someone who likes having plans and routine, and needs something to get up for in the morning, whether that’s a university lecture, a gym class, or meeting a friend in a coffee shop. To say that life changed completely in a matter of days seems a bit extreme, but it honestly does feel like that’s what happened! On 22rd March, I would have told you that sitting at home all day, unable to go out and do anything or see anyone, with only my head for company, was asking for disaster when it came to my mental health. But one day later, that was what we were all faced with, and it was scary.
One thing that has been particularly challenging, and that I don’t think has been talked about enough, is the effect that lockdown has had on the mental health support available. I am under my local Community Mental Health Team, and back in March, after waiting over a year, was just about to start a 12-18 month course of therapy. However, just as I was about to start the group, it was completely stopped, with no indication of when it might return.
Since lockdown, I have not seen a single health professional in person. I’ve had telephone appointments, but they are just not the same. For example, normally when I would fill out some sheets as ‘homework’, I would then be able to show them to my CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) and we could discuss them together. But when he’s at the end of the phone, we can’t both see the same thing and it makes it much harder to have a meaningful, productive conversation. Sometimes it feels like it’s coming at you from all angles – not only has the lockdown taken away many of my preferred activities that boost my mood and mental health, when my mental health inevitably declines, I also can’t access the usual support. I’d like to say that this has proved to me how I can manage by myself, but actually it’s been more frustrating than anything.
I know that there sadly are many others out there who are in my position. But it’s also been hard to see people, such as my immediate family, who are normally so upbeat and don’t struggle with their mental health at all, have their own hard days as a result of the lockdown. So I’d like to share a few of the things that I’ve done in the last few months to try and keep myself as occupied and positive as possible.
Jigsaws have been a literal lifesaver for me in the last few weeks and I’m currently on jigsaw number 6! They don’t require too much brain power yet you still get a sense of achievement when you find that tricky piece you’ve been hunting for. I’ve also found these really good for practicing being mindful and fully in the moment. I’ve also really enjoyed having a bit more time to embrace my more creative side, which a history degree doesn’t normally allow much room for! A couple of my friends and I have been sending each other little positive parcels and post, with uplifting quotes and messages, which is not only fun to put together, but always puts a smile on my face when I receive something too.
Finally and above all, and again this applies to anyone regardless of your mental state, remember to be kind to yourself! It can be easy to dismiss our own problems at a time like this, and tell ourselves that others are having it worse. However, seeking the support you need right now, in whatever form that may be, has probably never been more important. If that means that you need to attend your GP or hospital for your health and safety then please do so (from someone who has been in hospital since lockdown – it’s very clean, separated, and there are plenty of precautionary measures in place). If that means cancelling a Zoom call because you’re having a bit of a sad day and would rather hide in bed, then go ahead. If you are disappointed that your upcoming holiday plan has been cancelled, it’s totally okay and valid to be upset. None of these make you a bad person. Hold onto the fact that things will get better.