How the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Affecting These 5 Symptoms of My Depression
As the world goes into lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19 — the new viral strain in the coronavirus family — everyone is urged to stay inside. And as someone who understands the severity of the situation, I am one of those people who is constantly urging others to stay home; self isolate; limit outside time, even if it’s for fresh air; maximize social distance. But even though I’m an introvert, my depression is an unwanted house guest that comes out more often than usual in these times of uncertainty. And being home, alone, unable to see my support system, my depression is coming out in ways I did not expect.
I am tired. All the time. And as anyone who has experienced (or is currently experiencing) depression will know, this isn’t abnormal. But what is surprising is that fatigue has come back into my life. It has taken me years of therapy, self-work and going on then off and then on and eventually off (again) medications for me to get this under control. And I honestly never thought I would feel this kind of fatigue ever again.
It’s the kind of fatigue that means I can’t open my eyes in the morning. My eyelids are so heavy it feels as though they have been glued shut.
The kind of fatigue where my whole body fails me. It feels as though my life force has been drained from me. Like walking through mud. It takes a tremendous amount of willpower for me to lift my arms to get out from underneath the covers, let alone leave the bed.
The kind of fatigue where I’m so tired I do not even have the energy to speak. I can’t pick up the phone when my mom calls. I can barely communicate through text because I am so tired, I can’t even think coherent thoughts to send through.
But on the odd day when it’s not so bad, I think maybe this will pass. I open a window. I try to make cupcakes. I think maybe it’s over, but all of a sudden, it comes again. Without warning and with no other symptoms. In the middle of walking down a deserted street. As I’m doing the dishes after finally eating for the first time that day. As I’m currently typing this. In the first five minutes of a movie at home. Despite the eight to 10 hours I’m sleeping every night, I get tired. My energy runs out without warning. I’m just an empty shell, running on fumes.
2. Difficulty Falling Asleep
After reading all my words about being tired, you’d think that drifting off to sleep would be a breeze. And while it is something I look forward to, it doesn’t quite happen like that. Because in complete contrast to the fatigue I feel during the day, I’m wide awake at night.
But I’m not awake in a way that is enjoyable or productive. It’s not that kind of awake where I can clean the kitchen or write a new poem.
I’m just… awake.
My thoughts run. My anxiety courses through my veins. I can’t sleep even though I’m exhausted and that feeling of helplessness is a whole other kind of tiring. I can’t sleep when I’m awake; when I’m awake, all I want to do is to go to sleep. It’s a never-ending cycle.
3. Irritability and Restlessness
And that leads us to irritability. I’m too awake and too tired at all the wrong times and for far too long. I feel the pent up frustrations swirling around in my chest and I almost feel manic. I’m snippy. I’m short-tempered. I have no patience and I am angry that I no longer have access to the tools that I normally use. Before COVID-19, I would go for a walk. Breathe fresh air. See a friend. Bake something.
But with social isolation, I have to stay inside. I can’t see my family. My limited pantry doesn’t accommodate the fancy things I want to make — the fancy things that force me to pay attention to the exact recipe and measurements; the fancy things that help me snap out of my irritability because who could be irritated with fresh cheesecake and macarons?
I’m irritable. I’m restless. I pace around my apartment.
I wish I had a solution for this, but I don’t. Please just know you are not alone.
4. Aches and Pains That Won’t Go Away
I’m sure you can imagine the stress and anxiety that comes with this. Because more than the physical discomfort, there is the fear and panic that this is a positive symptom for COVID-19. For me, it’s not. it is a physical manifestation of the stress and depression that lives within my depression. And the more I think about it, the more it doesn’t go away.
I am stressed and stress does not help with depression. Last week I got myself so worked up about this, about the virus, about being cooped up inside, about the fear that I may be positive that all of a sudden, my brain flipped the switch and I felt nothing at all.
At first it felt like relief, but the cold and empty started settling in, along with the all-too-familiar sense of hopelessness. I feel it spread across my body, seep into my bones, weighing me down both physically and mentally.
It’s amazing how even when depression causes us to feel nothing, we can still feel guilt. I limit my outings to a grocery shop once a week because food delivery services in my area have a two plus week waiting list and also because this gives me something to look forward to. I make a list beforehand, I keep distance and I go to a familiar store so I know where everything is. I don’t touch what I don’t need and I am in and out in a half hour.
But because I only get food once a week, I need to get a week’s worth of food. For me, an individual, that is 21 meals (give or take some snacks). In addition to my frustrations and sadness at increased food prices, I feel guilty. I am not panic buying. But I am buying two packs of spinach. Do I need both bananas and apples? I don’t have any pasta left, but do I need get two boxes of pasta instead of one?
I panic every time I walk into a grocery store because I know what I’m going to see: bare shelves. No produce, no frozen or canned vegetables. Definitely no bread. Despite the fact that everything is now more expensive than normal. But even though I’m not panic buying, I feel guilty. If I take this second portion of spinach, does that mean that someone might not have any produce at all this week? But if I don’t get what I need now, I will have to come back out later this week to get more food because I’ve run out — which increases the chances of contact with others who may or may not be carriers.
I feel guilt that I am able to afford rent this month, because many millions can not. I feel guilty I have the option to buy fresh food, because I know many do not. I feel guilty for complaining about only being able to go for a walk once in a while, because I know there are those who are elderly and immunocompromised who can’t go out at all.
I feel guilty and I’m trying hard not to because this isn’t my fault and I am doing my best.
I feel guilty and I am learning that it’s OK and valid to feel it. But that I also need to learn to move on.
How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your depression? Let us know in the comments below.
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Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash