Lockdown was not an especially difficult time for me. Despite worrying – like the rest of the planet – about catching the wretched virus there was at least no question of how to spend the days. Stay home. Leave the house only once for exercise. Buy food. Wash your hands – a lot. Don’t travel.
Wherever you lived on the globe it was pretty much the same story. We human beings who are so varied and unique in every way were suddenly doing the same things. And when you think about it that itself is a remarkable thing? How many times in history has everyone on the planet been thinking and behaving the same? If only we could put our global mind towards achieving peace.
So although yes there were new anxieties, at least some of the old boring anxieties, like having to achieve and go places were alleviated. The birds revelled in their new visibility and importance, the aviation industry sulked. I almost look back on that time with nostalgia!
Predictably, it has been harder to cope since we have gained more freedom. Back to making decisions not only about whether it is preferable to do this or that, but also whether it is safe to do this or that – so double decision making. Trying to strike a balance between being brave enough to help but not reckless, between supporting business and the economy by going out, but not taking unnecessary risks.
This has been hard for me. Unfortunately my poor tormented brain had got so used to a relatively unchallenging daily routine, that it went into hyperdrive as soon as lockdown eased and it was forced to make decisions again. No, it screamed. No decisions. Lets go back to bed quick!
Now the simplest shopping expedition makes my brain race with panicky reaction, followed by a slump into exhaustion and depression. I no longer trust myself even when feeling well – I think in the midst of my paranoia that my brain is tricking me into thinking I’m well so I’ll go and do something silly!
Enough of this my brain says. Where can I find some peace and quiet? Oh for a life of ease! But my heart knows it is not to be.
The eminent philosopher and historian Simon Schama recently wrote in the FT that “this time of sickness and scoundrels will pass”. He was referring of course to Covid-19 and… well, we know who he was referring to. But those of us who live with mental health issues know that it is a daily battle – not only coping with the news and all the stuff daily life throws at us, not only with whatever our brains are currently doing … in my case careening about like some out of control fairground ride … but all this overlaid with a sense of inadequacy that comes of not being ‘normal’, dealing with that dialogue, internal and external, that bureaucrat, that boss, that job, the kids, that constant fear of failure, of impending doom, of being judged, and then getting up the next day and doing it all again.
This is exhausting. I know because I have been doing it all for years.
As a friend of mine recently said to me, I can only deal with one disaster at a time.
But I’m still here. So here is my tip for surviving it all.
Are you ready for this?
Keep going. No matter how tired you get, no matter what sort of day you’ve had, even if you have to crawl from one room to another to get the day’s chores done, or wait for hours in a surgery somewhere to get help, celebrate the fact that you successfully made it. Make yourself an “I’ve done” list rather than a to-do list. If you achieved getting out of bed and washing a few dishes, so be it. If you painted half a doorframe, or returned a book to the library – assuming you can find one that is actually open – it goes on the list. If you thought up half a line of poetry and crossed it out again. It goes on the list. Baked a cake? Sent an email? Next time your boss yells or someone is rude to you, celebrate the fact that you have a nicer temperament than they do and hope for them to feel better soon. That goes on the list too.
Don’t give up. Don’t let your tired and stressed brain trick you into thinking you should. It is the heart that is important. This is not positive thinking. Living takes courage. Living with mental health takes even more. Most of us get down and dejected by life of course we do. The trick is not to be defeated.