[Trigger Warning: this post discusses mental health]
I am writing this to share my experience.
I am writing this to show that I am one of many.
I am writing this to encourage you too to be vulnerable and reach out.
I have suffered from mental health issues for as long as I can remember and have been on my own personal journey for years. There have been many ups and downs, but I started 2020 on an all-time high. I finally felt like I was getting somewhere and I thought, however cliché it might be, 2020 was going to be my year. I was completing my Master’s Degree in Publishing, I was managing a team to publish the first issue of The Bridge Magazine, I was creating my very own LGBTQ+ magazine, and I had just been hired as a Trustee for The Arkbound Foundation. Everything was going well, and I was proud of how far I had come. Then it hit.
The 23rd of March saw the government enforcing drastic social distancing measures, with the whole of the UK in lockdown. For everyone, it meant something different: will I lose my job? When will I see my family again? When can I next go to the pub? For me, it meant something completely different. The lockdown had stripped me of my mental safety nets: seeing friends and family, keeping busy and getting out of the house.
By the start of April, my mental health was worse than ever. My world felt like it was crumbling around me and I had lost all motivation towards projects that previously had excited me. I was angry at myself for letting things slip. I was watching everything that I had worked so hard for slip away from me.
By May, I had forced myself to speak up and be vulnerable in order to try and navigate my way through this pandemic without jeopardising the projects that I cared so much about. Mental health is scary, confusing and extremely personal, and everyone has their own ways of dealing with it. Many people may be experiencing issues with their mental health for the first time as a result of the new anxieties surrounding the pandemic. Because of this, I want to share three things that have really helped me during this time, which will still ring true post-lockdown.
The thing about corona virus is that it is completely uncertain, and people who suffer from mental health issues usually do not like uncertainty. One of the best things I have done during this time is create my own absolutes. In other words, try and stick to a routine as much as possible, and by routine I don’t mean a full-packed, working 9-5 type regime. I mean make going a walk everyday a certainty, make doing a hobby once a day a certainty, make working on improving your sleeping pattern a certainty. Small gestures like this can give your day a bit of guidance, even on really bad days. Make sure that some of your certainties are things you really enjoy doing so that you can have something to look forward to every day.
2. Limit News Consumption
In the first few weeks of lockdown, I became obsessed with watching, reading and listening to the news. My days became completely consumed with negativity, fear and anxiety. I hate to admit it, but I even looked forward to the daily update from the Prime Minister because I was so desperate for new information, despite the weighty negative impact it had. I spent many sleepless nights scrolling aimlessly through Twitter and being completely consumed by Covid-19 news. Of course it is important to keep up-to-date with government advice, but obsessively checking can seriously hinder your mental health. If you’re like me, try restricting yourself to checking the news once a day. “Get informed and get out” as I like to say. For me, it was almost impossible to carry on with my day-to-day activities whilst my mind was consumed with constant negativity. However, getting into the routine of checking once a day freed up my mind to be more productive and positive.
3. Reach Out
From personal experience, one of the hardest things to do is talk about how you feel. There have been so many times throughout my life when I wanted so desperately to talk to my friends and family, but I always managed to convince myself not to. I always felt embarrassed and feared that people would judge me, or not fully understand. What this pandemic has taught me is that talking about how you are feeling is one of the best things you can do for yourself. We don’t realise it, but so many of our thoughts consume us and are kept completely hidden inside. However, there is a huge comfort in finally letting out those trapped demons. I won’t lie, it is scary, but it is worth it. It doesn’t have to be a big announcement or social media post but starting small by being honest with the people you love is a great start. If this isn’t an option for you, there are many amazing online services and helplines that you can reach out to in complete confidence. Some of these include:
- Mind: Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems
- Mind LGBTQ+: Information about mental health support for people who are LGBTQ+
- No Panic: Charity offering support for sufferers of panic attacks and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Papyrus: Young Suicide Prevention Society
- Anxiety UK: Charity providing support if you have been diagnosed with anxiety
- CALM: Campaign Against Living Miserably for men aged 15-35
- YoungMinds: Information on child and adolescent mental health
I am writing this to help shift the stigma around mental health. If you take one thing from this post, know that it is okay to not be okay. This is an extremely stressful and uncertain time for a lot of people. Whether you are completing a degree or working from home, be kind to yourself and make working on your mental health a priority. My hopes for this pandemic is that mental health issues are taken more seriously, and the stigma continues to shift. In many ways, lockdown reflects the feelings that many people that struggle with their mental health feel on a daily basis: feeling trapped, lonely, anxious, sad, low, the list goes on. Although we cannot control the physical lockdown, we can help ourselves get out of a mental lockdown, one step at a time.