Having depression is difficult at the best of times. Having depression during a pandemic is a completely different ball game – one that comes with new rules and obstacles.
Naturally, there’s been increasing concern about the state of the UK’s mental health during the current coronavirus crisis. Kate Middleton and Prince William have been coordinating with mental health charities to find out what support they need and are urging us “to take time to support each other and find ways to look after our mental health.” Charities like Mind have been given a £5 million grant to expand their support and online counselling services have been making their Instagram posts sponsored like there’s no tomorrow. It’s natural for people to have a heightened sense of anxiety, sadness, grief and despair when something like this occurs and it’s great to see that charities are being given some provisions to help, but what can we do for ourselves? We’re facing *incoming phrase we’re all sick of* unprecedented times – which none of us was prepared for. So how can we look after ourselves mentally? It’s something I’m still getting to grips with.
Since the coronavirus crisis became an official pandemic, I’ve felt the effects of my depression to varying degrees each week. Sometimes, I’ll wake up and the sun will be shining, I’ll go for a walk, sit at my desk with a coffee and be completely fine. Other times, I’ll start the day in the same way, only to be hit with the weight of my depression for what seems like no reason at all. What I’m struggling with the most is not knowing where my natural anxiety about the things we’re all going through begins and where the depression comes into the mix.
Am I sad in the same way everyone else is sad? How can I be sad when people are losing their loved ones? Is it fair of me to be sad when there are people literally fighting an invisible war and I’m sitting at home wearing loungewear and drinking cups of tea?
I’ve had clinical depression from the age of 17 (though looking back, there were signs of it rearing its ugly head from the age of about 12). I’m open about the illness to a certain extent, in that I’m not afraid of telling people that my mental health is something that I struggle with, but I don’t tell many people the depths of what I’m feeling when I’m having a really bad day. I’ll use phrases like “I’m a bit down,” or “I’m a bit sad,” to convey how I’m feeling because it’s much easier than saying:
I’ve been taking SSRIs for 7 years to keep me afloat, and when I ran out of my prescription just before lockdown, I was an utter mess. I didn’t have my medication for about 4 days, which is incredibly dangerous and something to be avoided at all costs. I rang the pharmacist, who told me they were completely out of stock but ordered me to get an emergency prescription from 111 immediately. On hold to 111 for 45 minutes, I couldn’t lift my head or stop crying, and when I finally got through, I sank to the floor in relief. The mishap was my fault for not checking how many tablets I had left, but the wait-time, the fact that I couldn’t go to my GP and the fact that the bloody pharmacy had no medication left was born from the crisis.
It’s difficult to navigate depression at the moment, and it’s rubbish. There’s no sugar-coating it. It isn’t sunshine and roses all the time and I have a plethora of worries and questions that I don’t have answers to.
I’m worried about the amount of alcohol I’m consuming – when does it stop being meme-worthy to pour a glass of wine to cope and start becoming a problem? I’m worried about being selfish in even talking about what I’m experiencing – I’m aware of the privilege I have compared to other people. I’m worried about when we’ll all get back to ‘normal’ life. I’m worried about the fact that I can’t read a book for more than 5 minutes before I put it down to scroll through my social media feeds and refresh BBC news. I’ve always been a tactile person; in relationships, a boyfriend touching my leg as we sit on the sofa makes my entire day and a friend hugging me tightly when they say hello makes me light up, but I’m worried that I’m pissing off my flatmates when I ask for a hug because I’m desperately craving human contact. I’m worried. We’re all worried. It’s exhausting, but it’s important not to make it all-encompassing.
I don’t have the answers for perfectly managing depression during lockdown, but there are things I’ve been doing that have helped. I’ve thrown myself into cooking, putting on a playlist so that Stevie Nicks, Prince and The Courteeners can serenade me while I stir, sprinkle and serve. I’ve been painting furniture on my balcony that doesn’t need to be painted, because it keeps my hands and mind busy. I’ve been doing newspaper crosswords, because it stops me from spiralling into panic. I’ve been saying a resolute NO to excessive Zoom calls, FaceTimes et al, because dear lord, humans weren’t built to stare at screens for so long. I have been calling my parents more. I’ve taken photos of things that have made me smile, like the shadow of the cherry blossom tree that’s cast on my bedroom wall every morning and the noisy pigeon that’s taken up residence on my roof. These small, banal, meaningless things have helped. That’s all we can do right now: look for the small things and hold them tightly.
That’s all we can do right now: look for the small things and hold them tightly.
If you’re struggling with your mental health to the point where you’re concerned about your wellbeing, please, please reach out to someone. The emergency services are still taking calls, mental health charities are ready to help you, and friends and family love you. Things are out of our control at the moment and we can only do so much. It’s ok to feel bad, it’s ok to worry and it’s ok not to knit a new quilt or learn to speak Spanish during lockdown. If all you can do is get up in the morning, brush your teeth and maybe make something to eat – that is enough. You’re still living. That is enough.