A serving of COVID-19 with a side of mental illness

Living through a major historical event is daunting as it is, but surviving a government-ordered lockdown whilst dealing with mental illness?

 

 I’ve been diagnosed with GAD (generalised anxiety disorder), depression and depersonalisation disorder – combine all of these with a global pandemic, and there’s no denying the future looked bleak. To me, at least on first impression, this seemed like a recipe for a complete mental breakdown. Meeting up with friends on a regular basis, being able to explore the cafes London has on offer, and trying to get my academic life in order, in the sanctuary of the library, are all key to keeping my mental health intact during term-time. Suddenly, all of these distractions and opportunities to keep myself busy were banned. 

 

Almost overnight, the ubiquitous flurry of London life came to a surreal standstill – and there’s no denying the anxiety burning in my chest as I realised this was going to be my life for the foreseeable future. 

 

However, it’s now been a month since I saw any of my friends in person, stepped foot on a bus or went for a drink in Spoons,  and yet somehow I’m managing. To my fellow mental illness sufferers: self-isolating does not have to mean your mental-symptoms get worse. There are always ways to adapt to new situations and it is crucial, now more than ever, to remember that you need to be kind to your mind. I’ve compiled a list of the things that have been making lockdown more bearable; they’re all seemingly minor habits, but I’ve found that incorporating these changes into my daily routine has alleviated a lot of the stress that comes with being confined to one’s home for the majority of the day. 

 

 

  • Gratitude Journaling. 

 

Journaling is something I had always wanted to start doing to aid my mental health – the feeling of lightness and relief I experience after talking through my emotional burdens with a parent, trusted friend, or therapist has been an immense help through my years of dealing with mental illness. When the lockdown was announced, I thought – what better way to get my worries off my chest than with a journal? I take around 10-15 minutes each day to write about anything that’s on my mind for that fleeting moment of the day, be it negative emotions or positive observations. At the end of the journalling session, I always make sure to jot down 3 things I am grateful for that day – for example, today it would be:
1. Finally getting around to writing for CUB!
2. The frozen yoghurt lolly I snacked on earlier. 

  1. My dad sending me a narration of my cat’s whereabouts from home, 6,000 miles away.

 

 

  • Creating.
    Don’t worry, those posts that you constantly see on Twitter that essentially say ‘if you haven’t got a side hustle by the end of this pandemic, you’re a burden on society’ get under my skin too. What I mean by creating isn’t that you need to become a globally renowned artist, by the time lockdown is over, or that you need to churn out a new novel, like there’s no tomorrow. Personally, I’ve found that repetitive, seemingly small movements can really calm my OCD-like symptoms, such as obsessive thoughts and compulsions. One of my friends has gotten really into crocheting recently. When I gave it a go last week, I found that the hours melted by without my noticing. Looking into a hobby that you can do with your hands is especially helpful for fidgety and anxious people, like me, who suffer from Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours (e.g. biting your nails, skin-picking).  

 

 

 

  • Mood-tracking apps. 

 

At first, I was really skeptical about this one. My first thought was: ‘how the hell is an app asking me how I feel 3 times a day going to do anything other than annoy me?’. The premise behind mood-tracking mental health apps is that by gaining a greater understanding of your everyday moods, and how they impact your day-to-day functioning, you can understand how certain situations/environments/people can trigger negative moods, or an increase in negative symptoms. To be honest, some days I find it really hard to summon the energy to fill out the questions, and be accurate with how I’m feeling. However, I’ve been using an app called Moodpath recently, and after 14 days it gives you an assessment of your emotional health – there’s also the added bonus of lots of cute meditation exercises and free courses you can take. 

 

Ultimately, there’s no simple way to navigate a pandemic when you’re suffering from a mental illness. The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping the way we structure our social, physical and mental spaces,  and there is no quick-fix to the impact this may have on our mental health. Keep focusing on why you want to recover, and know that this uncertain period will end. 

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