How I’m Dealing With My Mental Health During COVID-19 Lockdown in the UK
Staying indoors has become the norm in the United Kingdom, with the country adapting to life in lockdown due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The government imposed the lockdown on the evening of Monday, March 23, meaning that we couldn’t leave our houses, except for permitted times such as one outing for daily exercise and essential travel, like going to work if you’re a key worker and going to medical appointments. The way of life in the U.K. changed very quickly; we couldn’t (and still can’t, at the time of writing this) visit the houses of friends or family, use leisure facilities, visit attractions, gather in large groups or spend time outdoors unless it was for exercise.
Whilst lockdown in the U.K. hasn’t been as strict as in other countries, it has been completely different to life as we usually know it. As someone who thrives on routine and structure, suddenly not being able to work despite being a key worker, see my friends and extended family or use a leisure center was incredibly difficult and I know that I’m not alone in feeling like that. I started isolating before it was enforced due to underlying health conditions. I am now on week 10 of isolation/lockdown and whilst it was hard towards the beginning, I am getting used to this being my “normal.” Sometimes, it feels like a bit of a slap in the face; after spending over two years out of work and effectively very isolated because of my health, to now being forced into isolation again when my physical health is pretty good and I was back in a working environment. We are now at a point where lockdown restrictions are easing but it is going to take a long time before we are back to “normal.” Social distancing is set to last months and restrictions could be put back in place if cases start to peak again.
So, how am I staying sane?
I didn’t cause COVID-19 and I can’t take it away. As much as I joke about my frustration, there is so much more to it being a global pandemic than that and it’s can’t be simplified. I like to be able to control every single aspect of my life and going through lockdown has taught me that sometimes, I can’t be in control and that I need to just go with the flow. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to work, I don’t know when medical appointments will resume and return to normality, I don’t know when I will next be able to hug my friends, but everyone is in the same position. I could make myself unwell by stressing over things that I can’t change, or I can accept it and deal with things as they come along. No one can easily fix the situation we are in. Sure, people can stay home, wash their hands, social distance, use common sense and not go round licking lampposts, but that isn’t going to change things overnight. Life will be very different for everyone as a result of COVID-19 and we will need to adjust to that “new normal.”
My support system changed rapidly as infection rates spiked. I still have therapy but it’s over Skype and I still speak to my GP but it’s on the phone. As lonely as isolation can be, I know that the support is still there, just in a different format. I’m not having any physiotherapy, which is hard, and I’m not seeing my support worker, as the service she is attached to has temporarily closed. I’m not going to lie, some days are hell: I get angry and I’m probably not a very nice person to be around. Sometimes, I am an anxious mess. Other times, I plod along, doing what I can to make the days easier and taking little steps to keep my brain occupied. Asking for help is not selfish; it is normal to be finding life hard to deal with right now, so we need to show ourselves a little kindness and compassion. And if someone is in a bad mood and is more snappy than usual, or cries over something small, don’t take it personally. Give them a virtual hug and remind them that they’re not alone.
One of the biggest things I’ve come to realize is that I need to be realistic. Like I said above, some days I feel like I can take on the world; other days, I would happily stay in bed and tell everyone to eff off. Reading has been the one thing I’ve been able to fall back on during lockdown; I can happily spend day after day reading, but I accept that shutting myself away in a fictional world isn’t always what is best for me. Or my eyes. That said, I do have days when I’m not in the mood to read and I’ll be honest, initially, I would beat myself up for that, as though reading a book in a day was a marker of success. Trying to stick to some form of routine has been hard, but as much as possible, I make sure I’m up at the same time every day, I do some exercise, read, talk to friends, do some of the endless adult or medical admin and go to bed at a sensible time. I keep my room as just somewhere to sleep and make sure I spend daytimes in other rooms of the house, or the garden, to try and vary my environment as much as possible.
I’m not saying for one moment that I have completely got this whole lockdown thing sorted. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll probably be fed up because I want to go swimming and because I can’t see my friends, but actually, I’m doing OK. This isn’t forever.
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash