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 ❤

World Mental Health Day 2020

World Mental Health Day.

Every day is mental health day, man.

Thinking back, I was an absolute write-off last year. Honestly. Couldn’t perceive the idea of getting through a day, nevermind looking beyond that. I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember and experiences with depression for most of my life. You would think that this would make it easier to cope with a “low spell” but actually, when you’re there, it’s still debilitating and as scary as if you’re facing it afresh.

I talk about mental health super candidly ALL the time. I even brought it up within 5 mins of a job interview last year! Every day is a fight for me and I know it is for so many others, so I take solace in sharing and being open because I’ve seen firsthand the effects of NOT talking. I used to be that proud person who couldn’t say no, or say I wasn’t okay. Fuck that macho bullshit.

Mental health is normal. Stress is normal. Anxiety is normal. Not being okay is normal. Asking for help is normal. Needing help is normal.

Starting and sustaining these conversations is the difference between life and death, in some cases. I’m here and willing to talk, but more importantly, I’m here to listen💜

This year’s pandemic and all the limitations it has enforced have only emphasised how important mental health is. I’ve said this countless times but mental health doesn’t discriminate: EVERYBODY is susceptible to stress and ill health, so it’s about time society implemented changes to acknowledge this and support those most vulnerable, those who rely on invaluable services just to function in a basic capacity.

Resources are stretched and they need funding! Stigmatisations prevail and they need abolishing! Carers and professionals need respite and the recognition they deserve!

I can only hope that when COVID-19 is eventually eliminated as a threat, we take some valuable lessons from this period of time and move forward as a more compassionate collective.

Peace and love. I wouldn’t be here without all the peace and love my family and friends have given me. We’re doing this life thing together so peace and love to whoever is reading this💜✌🏽🙏🏾