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‘These are different times’: Mental illness and self-isolation

By Jessica Patton

This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

Self-isolation can be triggering for someone suffering from mental illness.

At the time of writing this, I’m on self-isolation Day 5. But on Day 11 since contact. Or at least since I made contact with someone with the virus. I’m writing this as I sit in my 700 sq. ft. condo that I share with my partner, our two cats and puppy. My partner is collateral damage due to being in love with me (sorry, boyfriend).

It’s not important who I came into contact with. It doesn’t matter how. And it doesn’t matter why. The only thing that matters is keeping myself sane and happy throughout these confusing times and I’ll share some ways I’ve been trying to do just that a little later.

These are different times.

I’ve suffered from depression, anxiety and social anxiety from my teen years onward, though I didn’t always understand it. I’ve been in therapy on and off since I was 21. My first time was when I spiraled after getting out of an unhealthy relationship.

What’s going on in the world is extremely difficult to grasp. I work in news and am reporting on the coronavirus but there’s still a strong disconnect between what I’m writing about and what I’m seeing and feeling when I’m outside. It’s also my dad’s birthday today and it’s weird that I’m not allowed to see him.

As I sit on my balcony writing this, I can hear cars whizzing by on the highway, I can see people out walking their dogs. A UPS truck just pulled up outside an apartment to make its daily deliveries. And there’s another person walking with two coffees from the Tim Hortons that’s just down the street in my little concrete jungle.

But if you look closely, you’ll see the effects of COVID-19. The sounds from the highway are quieter than usual, even though it’s rush hour. There’s only one person walking the dog. That UPS driver is wearing a mask and gloves. And that person with the two coffees? Maybe there would have been a second person with them rather than a second cup in their tray.

These are different times.

The one thing that this self-isolation hasn’t played on is my social anxiety. Usually my social anxiety causes me to miss out on taking part in fun activities or meeting new people. I am usually at home berating myself for not being stronger. But now? Everything is closed, everyone who can be at home is at home. There are no fun parties, there are no fun gatherings. It’s terrible but at least it’s saving me from those thoughts.

I’ll take that as win considering the mind fuck that this virus and mandatory self-isolation is playing on me both mentally and physically.

I hate the unexpected.

Every morning when my alarm goes off, I have to take a second to focus myself because I get overwhelmed with the feeling of the unknown. I hate the unexpected. A core belief of mine (and one of the biggest ones I’m working on through therapy) is “if I don’t know what’s going to happen, something bad is going to happen.”

I struggle to fall asleep at night because I’m either remembering what I think I fucked up that day or seeing all the things I think I will fuck up the next day. I also struggle to sleep because I won’t know whether I’ll be waking up to a dark day or a bad day. You never really know when it will hit.

With the added bonus of self-isolation and the very real possibility of infection, I now go to sleep wondering if tomorrow will be the day I wake up with symptoms or my partner will wake up with symptoms.

The fear of the “dark day” has also increased because, while usually there are places I HAVE to be – work etc., Now, there is nowhere for me to go. That’s a scary reality to live with and it’s one I know that others are feeling.

But that’s the reality of living with mental illness.

I know I am one of the lucky ones because I have a supportive partner, I have the unconditional love of pets and I have a job that allows me to work from home with no issues. That’s almost why I didn’t want to write this. I feel guilt for struggling so much when I have so much. But that’s the reality of living with mental illness. Sometimes, even when you have it all, it feels as though you have nothing.

But I’m not going to make this a 2,000 word complaint. I’ve been dealing with mental illness and self-isolation before the world took this unimaginable turn and I’ve found a number of healthy outlets for myself and I want to share them with you.

Some, if not all, will be things you have heard about. They may seem like obvious answers or actions but I am going to try to share them from the perspective of a sick person and hopefully it will be even clearer how they can provide that peace of mind or that moment of happiness.

1 – I’m (trying) to stick to a routine.

For me, having a plan helps lessen that fear of the unexpected. I started waking up at 7 a.m. every day a few months back and I continue to wake up at 7 a.m. now. Even if my gym is closed or my commute is now a mere three steps to my den and not a 25-minute drive to my office.

I wake up, I take my dog out, I make my coffee, I check my email, I take my medications, I get changed and if there’s time, I watch some TV before logging on. This is not changing, even in self-isolation.

My gym is closed but there are resources available online now (I’ve never been more grateful to be living in the age of the Internet). So once my work day is done, I log off, change into workout clothes and either start up a class or will head outside for a run (yes, even in self-isolation you are allowed outside – just make sure to protect yourself and those around you).

Then I will come home and make dinner before I smoke some pot or eat an edible (it’s legal now and it helps to calm my mind). Then I settle in either alone or with my partner to watch some television. I usually head to bed around 10 p.m. I set my alarm and put my phone on silent. I read for a bit, I turn my light off and hope I fall asleep at a decent hour that night.

This routine has helped me sustain some level of normalcy throughout all of this. But if you stumble, and you will, don’t beat yourself up about it. We’re human and it happens, don’t let it weigh more heavily on you now because of circumstances. They’re fucking confusing and you’re allowed to have your moments.

2—Keep in touch.

We have the power of technology to thank for helping us to keep up that human connection and interaction. I don’t think I ever thought I’d see the day where I would be thankful for social media, for FaceTime and for phones in general. I’ve always blamed them for making things so impersonal, but right now? They’re saving my world.

Every day I’ll spend at least an hour checking in with people because I know how much getting a text, a phone call or any sort of life update has meant to me. Some coworkers and I have even started a happy hour FaceTime call (BYOB) a few times a week. It helps to not feel so alone while we have to be alone.

I’ve also never been so grateful to have pets before. I make sure to take time to just sit there and love them as much as possible.

3 – Keep up your personal hygiene.

I know firsthand how depression can get you to the point where you realize one day you haven’t washed your hair in three days or changed out of your PJs in a week. Your face wash is gathering dust and your laundry hamper remains empty. Self-isolation can do the same thing.

Make it a point to sleep in your PJs, work in your work clothes, and chill in your everyday clothes. It sounds lame but changing my clothes and picking out outfits gives me a sense of purpose. Who cares if no one else is going to see it, you will and you’ll feel more human.

The same goes for your skincare routine or your hair care routine or whatever hell routine you’ve come to love and embrace. The consistency makes me feel as though nothing has changed. My mind still needs those medications, my face still needs that cleanser (desperately), and my body still needs those supplements and greens. These are all things you should be doing for you and no one else anyway – so being stuck in your apartment doesn’t change that.

4 – Find a new hobby or pick up one that you may have neglected.

Almost two years ago I stumbled upon fluid art painting and it changed my life. Instead of being sad and wasting away in bed, I channeled that darkness into my art.

Unfortunately for me, my studio is at my parent’s place so I will be without that until my self-isolation is up. But that hasn’t stopped me from trying to fill that time or that hole. So I dusted off my old colouring books and marker set and got back into art therapy.

I also started on my personal website I had been putting off for so long. Now, I realized, is the perfect time to focus on dreams that I may have been putting off. In a perfect world, I would be able to use my life to help other people. The biggest way I’ve been able to deal with my illness is to use my experience to help other people going through the same thing.

We still should choose kindness.

My dream? For my words, my art and my experiences to help people who are struggling. And I’ve realized now might be the time where that dream can become a reality.

If we do our part to help end the threat of this virus, we can do our part to keep ourselves, the ones we love and the rest of the world happy and strong and living to fight every damn day.

My favourite saying is: “Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. So be kind, always.”

But even in a time where we might be all fighting the same battle. We still should choose kindness. Always.

Comments

Thankful1
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You are amazing. I share your love of words and your diagnoses. And what a gift to realize that for me, for us, this is our normal ways of thinking, acting and behaving and to share your struggle is to lessen the burden of my own. Blessings.

rob
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Well said Jessica. It truly is amazing how much routine helps those of us battling a mental illness. At some point in the future it would be nice to come up with a way to display the artwork that many use as part of their therapy, myself definitely included. Sometimes thoughts are easier conveyed through images then through words.

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