or how your disorder was actually preparing you to survive.
I think for the first time people with experience of mental health disorders are at somewhat of an advantage.
Those of us who have suffered and endured depression, anxiety, OCD and other related illnesses have a lead on those who have, up to this point, been relatively healthy.
Here’s what I mean.
I have suffered from anxiety for several years. I can be feeling fine but then a sudden feeling of dread sweeps over me: my heart starts pounding so much I can feel it in my throat and in my back and my head just aches.
My palms sweat as my hands shake and there’s a low-level fear that I have forgotten something, or that something awful is about to happen and I just don’t know what it is. I know my heart pounding is my anxiety but what if it is something else? Something worse? What if I really have a heart murmur or am having a partial stroke or heart attack? (I’m getting older now, it could happen.) And my hands are shaking: have I eaten today, or maybe it’s early-onset Parkinsons.
Previously anyone looking in would think I was over-reacting. They would assume I was a hypochondriac or at least overly dramatic.
But now every time someone gets a dry throat, or sneezes, or coughs, they are wondering if they have COVID-19. To them, that is a perfectly normal reaction considering the circumstances. They have a low-level constant worry that they, their children, or someone they love is going to get sick. They worry there isn’t going to be enough pasta or toilet rolls. So what do they do? They hoard or they panic buy and they scream and shout.
Meanwhile, those of us with anxiety have learned coping mechanisms. We know when we feel bad how we can cope, what we do, how we act and react. Are we looting, screaming and panic-buying? No.
We are breathing gently, doing exercise and keeping busy and we are good at it.
Everyone who has ever suffered from anxiety take a deep breath and congratulate yourself. You weren’t suffering- you were preparing for this time, for this moment when you can turn to your dad who is freaking out (and who once told you that there was nothing to worry about so what on earth did you have anxiety for?) and you can say “Hey dad, here are some breathing techniques to help you calm down. Now hug this teddy bear and come watch cat videos on Youtube.”
We have GOT this.
I do not have OCD and would never presume to understand people who do. I do, however, have some friends who have it (I also have a degree in Psychology but there is more to understanding a disease than simply knowing about it. You never truly know a disease unless you actually develop it).
My friends tell me that true OCD is an itch in your soul. A constant fear that if you don’t complete certain rituals then something bad will happen. It can be as random as tapping certain tiles to ensure that your mother won’t get ill.
But guess what?
Now people are obsessively washing hands, they are cleaning doorknobs, they are trying to restrain themselves from touching their face. They are stockpiling toilet rolls and hand sanitiser. Why?
So they don’t die. So their children don’t die. They panic if they haven’t heard from their parents for a few hours and they set up Zoom chats or wattsapp just to check on them.
That ‘irrational behaviour’ they accused you of, that fear that if you don’t do these things they might cause irreparable harm is exactly what they are going through now.
People with OCD take a deep breath. All this time your disease/disorder was paving the way for you to understand these times; this fear that simple acts will have a long term affect.
This time you are the ones who are ahead of the curve.
Social Anxiety and Agoraphobics
For so long we’ve worried about social situations. we’ve worried about saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing and have people look at us funny. We’ve worried about humiliating ourselves or breaking things, causing irreparable harm.
so we isolate ourselves, sometimes to the point of becoming agoraphobic. But guess what?
Now everyone fears to gather in big groups. Perhaps not for fear of embarrassing themselves but maybe, say, accidentally sneezing on someone. By coughing or making a tasteless joke about Corona when someone’s parent has just died.
They worry about being fined or spreading the disease and accidentally killing someone.
So everyone is self-isolating and, judging by face-book and other social media, most people are slowly cracking up. They are not used to staying inside for long periods of time. They are not used to staring at the same four walls and having to find things to do or being content in their own company.
Yet you do. You have this shit down.
You can spend hours on your own, enjoying the solitude and working on yourself and your own things. You know how to portion your day out to get the best out of it. You may know how to work from home or study or play.
You are the professional here. Life has been building to this moment for you. So go on, drop links to those invaluable websites, show us pictures of your organization, your daily routine and your badass meal prep.
Teach us all how to thrive in self-isolation and you can be smug as all hell knowing that you self-isolated before it was cool.
Depression sucks. One day maybe I’ll post my own story about me and my 20-year fight with it but in the meantime, I’ll go with generalizations.
When you are depressed you lose the joy you had in all things, you want to hide away and sleep and just be away from everyone. Depression makes you feel guilty about what you’re not doing and what you’re feeling. Depression leaves you feeling empty and tired. You don’t want to eat or sleep, or read, or play or do anything.
All you often want to do is end things. Not suicide but, somehow, to just not exist for a while.
During this self-isolation, it’s easy for depression to become worse because you can’t really do much and you have extra guilt coupons for that. I have a constant poking in the back of my head telling me that I should DO something, fix something, make something, be useful, be productive, get up, be amazing.
But now is the time to practice those mindfulness tips that I know full well I’ve not done and, better yet, I can practice them with my family who are looking for things to do.
So we have set a time to get up. A solid routine helps us keep to my medication timetable. Here’s mine just in case it helps you.
- 8.30 Wake up and have breakfast. Take tablets and spend 20 mins reading
- 5 minutes of mindfulness breathing exercises or some slow yoga for exercise.
- Pick one cleaning/tidying job and do it in the morning. That way no matter what happens you have done something productive. If you are working from home now is also the time you can do that.
- Lunch at 1pm. Sit with family and chat about something non-Corona related
- Craft, read, write or go for a small walk. Do something creative for yourself.
- 5.30 start cooking dinner do 5 minutes of mindfulness breathing while it cooks
- Watch a film with family, read a book by yourself or play on the computer.
- Bed by 10.30
By keeping to this schedule I have been able to ward off the worst of my depression during this time. Being away from work means I finally have the time and the space to work on these aspects without worrying about going in and having to deal with customers. I am trying to think of this self-isolation as a boon rather than a burden. But if you are finding it hard, know that others are too.
Others who have never had to deal with these feelings of guilt and low-mood. There are people who have never had to fight feelings of worthlessness and lethargy and in this, we are the experts.
So maybe depression sucks for us but imagine having it for the first time and not knowing what it is. Imagine someone you love slowly succumbing to depression.
What we can do is keep our eyes open for the signs of depression in others, because, damn do we know them well. Watch out for their mental health as well as your own and don’t be afraid to tackle it. Point out that you understand what they are going through; you’ve been through it and talking might just help.
Be the hero you needed when it first hit you.
So that’s my little hypothesis. We; the ones who have been through the nightmares of our mind and the perversity of our reactions and have come out the other side; we are the ones who are most equipped mentally to deal with the situation happening now.
We’ve been there, done that, got the diagnosis.
So take this time, take this opportunity to lend a hand to others who might be feeling what we’ve felt all along. Pass on our experience, our knowledge and, most of all, our coping tactics and who knows, maybe when all this is over everyone will have a better understanding of mental health issues.