Lockdown #3: The End of the Tunnel?

I haven’t written anything in a while. My mental health hasn’t been great.

I’ve definitely felt a significant shift in mood and anxiety levels over the last lockdown and I don’t think I’m alone on that front. The novelty of lockdown has finally worn out for the majority of people, who have paused their lives and had to make-do with the omnishambles of less-than-ideal backdrops for meetings, exercising with Joe Wicks instead of the usual PT at the gym and straddling a newfound role as the novice teacher-parent alongside employment. This last hurdle has seen us muck our way through the festive season without the usual cheer and the longer, colder days have been brutal on the collective wellbeing. It’s no surprise that the British public have welcomed Boris Johnson’s announcement of the roadmap, outlining the forecasted milestone relaxation measures in the months ahead. It has become a glimmer of hope that indicates we’re on the road back to “normality” with a provisional end-date in sight and this seems to have lifted the gloom for some. Restaurants and pubs are already booked and busy, with online reservations flying out as people try to look ahead and plan for a summer of relative freedom.

When the roadmap was announced, I didn’t feel cautious optimism (and neither have others, to my reassurance). I saw the flurry of memes about June 21st and felt a bit sick, to be honest. After a whole year of working at home, trying to cope with fluctuating mental health, and barely seeing family and friends, the idea of a real, normal life is almost dreamlike these days. I try to remember details of that 9-5 existence like commuting, crossing paths with strangers and talking to random people while the kettle boils in the staff kitchen. Then outside of work, actually using the weekend to see family and social occasions like eating out with friends, going to gigs and getting rounds in at the pub etc. There’s a sense of disbelief: did I really used to do those things, without a care in the world, a few years ago? When I reflect, It almost feels like I’m just watching a film of someone else’s life.

I understand this all probably sounds ultra dramatic, but you have to understand, dear reader, that I’ve effectively been out of action now for 2 years. The first year was due to stress-related burnout and agoraphobia, while the second year was more the global response to a raging, unforeseen pandemic. Yet somehow, they’ve blended together into 1 block, with the 3 months of “real life” that I experienced (sandwiched somewhere in the middle) effectively lost in the ether, those massive personal accomplishments of getting a job, graduating, commuting every day and travelling to Mexico just erased entirely. This is a significant wedge of time that I’ve spent curled up like a dead spider on a shelf, and it makes me feel all the more apprehensive about finding a daily rhythm again.

The very idea of all these micro-events are overwhelming now. I’ve had to stop thinking about the future, a.k.a anything beyond the 24-hour stretch ahead of me, because it fills me with dread. I find myself catastrophising the transition back to “normality”, worrying about whether I am even capable of living that life again without days riddled by panic attacks and blister packs of mood-stabilising pills. I try to smile when loved ones talk about all the exciting things we’ll finally be able to do this summer, but my guts are twisted inside and a voice in my head tells me that regardless of lockdown being relaxed, I won’t be able to do these things. I worry I will not be able to cope again and I will be left behind as everybody else seamlessly rejoins the rat race and busy, bustling routine. I worry that I’m too sensitive and broken to be able to masquerade as “normal”, to interact with others as naturally as I once was able to.

Realistically, I know this unhelpful thought process to be completely a product of my anxiety, which has only festered without the opportunity to directly face my fears head-on. Despite a recent blog post celebrating my antidepressants-free lifestyle, I’ve actually had to go back onto medication as I hit an extraordinary slump of fatigue, low mood and fraught nerves. As soon as I saw changes in my sleep, appetite and drinking habits, I knew I had reached a point of serious reflection: is pride worth staying medication-free or is it time to listen to my guts and take action, before I’m too far gone? Needless to say, it was the latter option. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last week evaluating what I can do to be kinder to myself as we near the end of COVID-19’s grip on our lives: I’m back to daily hypnotherapy, soundbaths, reading books and regimenting food/shower habits. I’m back to taking things a task at a time, instead of putting pressure on myself to carve out an aspirational career path, find my way onto the property ladder and generally discover my purpose in life all at the same time (and especially whilst mentally unwell during a pandemic).

Writing about my feelings puts them into perspective. Times are hard, indeed, but they’re hard for everyone and there’s no way of knowing how things are going to work out over the months to come (my Mystic Meg powers are non-existent). I am doing my best to counteract every negative “what if” with a positive counterpart and also trying to take my mental state with a pinch of salt, as so much of what I am feeling now is entirely situational and will be inevitably changed as our general circumstances change in the UK. I am also trying to imagine how I would support somebody if they told me they were feeling the way I am right now, and realising that it is totally valid to feel that sense of apprehension. It is okay to feel nervous and scared about how things will be, just as it is okay to feel excited about the prospect of liberation. There is still time to come and thoughts/feelings are fleeting, so there is solace to be taken from that ❤

Learning from The Body Coach

Yesterday The Body Coach (Joe Wicks) posted a touching video to his followers on Instagram following the blow of yet another national lockdown announced in Boris Johnson’s public address.

Drawing upon his own anxieties during this very weird time, Wicks reiterated that despite keeping himself occupied with work throughout the duration of the pandemic, the reality of the COVID-19 situation is really affecting him, particularly recently. Wicks is known for his fitness regimes and cookbooks, and has served as a strong advocate for keeping fit, for both physical and mental health benefits, throughout the pandemic. He founded a weekly, fancy-dress virtual PE class during the first lockdown, which was imperative for the sanity of many people, not just the core demographic of children exiled into studying from home. He’s provided consistent online content, spreading his positive/proactive take on muddling through the pandemic, and has been a crucial uplifting and inspiring figure for the general public when times have been dismal.

The nicest thing about this video was his complete transparency as a public figure, his very ‘human’ response to the trials of a troubling time. It helps to break the facade of ‘the grass is greener’ and shows that even those who appear to be doing well can be struggling.

Wicks’ main points of discussion were conversational, the kind you’d have with a stranger in a pub or a neighbour on your street. He talked about his role as a father and husband, as well as the inherent need to appear strong in order to support his family. He also became quite emotional as he reflected upon his current privileges, a consequence of years and years grafting away at his career, and the contrast between his current status and his childhood roots, which briefly consisted of living in a council house with his family who struggled financially. Wicks noted that the main cause of his upset, among all the disarray at the moment, was his concern for those living alone, unemployed and/or attempting to support families whilst financially strained and under the pressure of social restrictions.

He’s definitely not the only ‘celebrity’ drawing attention to the inequities of socioeconomic backgrounds in the UK. Recently, we’ve all heard of the fantastic work Marcus Rashford has done, but also figures like Ellie Goulding have used their positions to raise awareness for charitable causes that help to support an end to homelessness. It says a lot when our celebrities and TV personalities are capable of more compassion and action for those who are struggling in the UK than those who are in actual political power, with the capacity to introduce legislations and major changes that could really help on a larger scale.

But we don’t need to get into that.

This post is just your daily reminder to normalise talking about mental health, especially at a time of crisis like a global pandemic. Joe Wicks is an absolute hero for being real candid about his experiences with this whole situation, and I think his strong emotional response to the struggle of others right now is a testament to his strength as a powerful yet vulnerable man.

One positive of 2021, so far, is that amazing people like him are using their platform to start meaningful conversations like this. I believed him when he said we’re going to get through this and now I’m ready to smash my day: let’s abolish the shame culture around talking mental health. It ain’t helping anybody!