In July, I was lucky enough to win Vlogger of the Year in the Mental Health Blog Awards, here I talk about that, the worst period of anxiety I’ve possibly ever experienced and the physical health problems I’m currently trying to deal with.
I posted this video on YouTube in April and forgot to post it here on my blog so better late than never, this shows a bad day for me with my anxiety during a very difficult time.
TW: Non-graphic mentions of Self-Harm and Suicidal Ideation.
The end of school isn’t a time I like to think about. I remember the good bits and have spent the last 14 years trying to ignore the rest but as is the way with these things, when you try to bury them, they often resurface when you least expect it. Today, I was reading this post by mental health charity, Mind, about the Hubs they want to have created to give young people a place to go to get quick and easy access to mental health support before they deteriorate on waiting lists. The descriptions they gave of children and how they’re being treated brought everything flooding back to me because despite so much progress apparently being made in society in the last 14 years, how schools, doctors surgeries and mental health services are treating young people hasn’t changed a bit. So I’m going to go back and explain what happened to me because it’s something I’ve never felt able to talk about on here, or really in real life either. I’ve told people bits and pieces or slipped sections into conversation but I’ve never really gone into detail because it was too painful and most of all, I was embarrassed and ashamed, something I should never have felt and something I hope to one day be able to move past.
I became ill with depression just before my 16th birthday. Things were bad at home, my parents weren’t getting on and I dealt with it very badly. 18 months later they were separated and 18 months after that, divorced. The month before my 16th birthday I seemed to just lose my ability to cope. Rather than taking things in my stride or believing I could cope and things would get better, I started having darker and more bleak thoughts and felt sad all the time. I spoke to a trusted teacher at school and she said to try and be nice to myself, to relax and to try and have a nice Christmas. I don’t remember much of that Christmas but I know it wasn’t good and things were at a real low in my family. By January I felt worse and wondered if I might have depression. I knew nothing about it but had heard it on TV and given that I felt sad all the time, it seemed like that might be what was wrong so I eventually asked my mum to take me to the doctors. It was a total waste of time. The doctor was really dismissive and said it was the time of year, that it was January Blues and “Every teenager in the country feels like this at the moment”. It’ll pass. I said to her that if that was the case there were going to be a lot of dead teenagers but she sent me home with no diagnosis, no help and no treatment.
By February, I was coping much worse and for the first time in my life I started self-harming. I vividly remember the date and the circumstances that led to that, even 14 years on. I’m absolutely terrified of pain, verging on phobic about it. I avoid pain at all costs, am phobic of needles and completely freak out at the idea that something will hurt. And yet, here I was self-harming. At first it was maybe once or twice a week, it certainly didn’t stay that way. 6 weeks after my first appointment, I asked to go to the doctors again, I was now regularly self-harming and seriously contemplating suicide and wishing I was dead. She immediately referred me to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services). A few weeks later I was assessed by CAMHS and within 10 minutes I was diagnosed with depression and put on anti-depressants. No therapy, no talking about the root cause, no explanation to me or my next of kin about the effects these meds could have on me whilst taking them or if I stopped suddenly, just a prescription for some pills. Soon after this I started restricting my food intake.
The whole of this chunk of my life is hazy at best. There are milestone moments that I remember but the day-to-day and the exact order everything happened is really hazy because I was so unwell at the time. I became hugely sleep deprived and was sleeping under 4 hours a night. I’ve always had major sleep problems but this was in another league. By February or March I was seeing the school counsellor and while she was lovely, it was fraught with problems. I got kind of obsessed with her and completely reliant on the one adult that was actually listening to me and taking me seriously. She didn’t know me very well and didn’t really seem equipped to deal with someone as severely ill as I was becoming and quite honestly, I think she was out of her depth but she was all I had. She made various promises about what would and wouldn’t be kept between us and so I knew where the boundaries were. Unfortunately, and again, my memory of this event is really not clear, at some point she agreed not to tell my parents something, possibly about the extent of my self-harm, I don’t actually know, but then went back on her word and didn’t tell me so the first I knew of it was my mum appearing in a school corridor after she’d been called in. It turns out, despite being a pretty composed and collected person, I don’t react at all well to being cornered or surprised. I refused to go home and ran off to go and find my trusted teacher who helped calm me down. I don’t remember what happened after that but I never trusted or confided in the counsellor again.
As I deteriorated further, my sleep remained bad, self-harm increased and I was losing weight. My nurse at CAMHS was an eating disorder specialist nurse who seemed like she’d never met a person with an eating disorder in her life. Every week I’d be asked how I was doing, every week I’d tell her I was worse because my life was starting to spiral out of control. I know that must sound like typical teenage angst but it genuinely wasn’t and things were worsening at home and my depression and symptoms surrounding that were worsening too. I was also months away from leaving school and having to go through huge changes which I also don’t cope well with. Every week she’d tell me “Well you’re looking better”. I’d be weighed each week and she’d make unhelpful comments if I’d stayed the same or gained weight which just spurred me on to reduce my calorie intake further. At no point did they give me any techniques to be more resilient or to learn to take things in my stride again and I was mostly just told to hold ice or ping rubber bands so that I stopped self-harming and to focus on the future when I could move out (a likely 3 or 4 years in the future). Suffice to say, none of that helped.
In May, my Grandad was hospitalised and died a few weeks later. My anti-depressants weren’t helping and just made me feel numb and I knew it was bad if people didn’t process death and this was the first death I was exposed to so I came off the meds. My family were furious and my nurse and doctor at CAMHS were equally unimpressed. I was told off which felt really unfair given that I’d done it for the best reasons. Again, I don’t remember the circumstances fully but I had an appointment with CAMHS and my trusted teacher offered to attend with me as it was just round the corner from my school. She came but the appointment went very badly and I ended up in floods of tears with her outside on the pavement refusing to go back to school because I felt so helpless. Unbeknownst to me, this triggered her to need to leave school for the day. That night I slept for 2.5 hours. I woke up at 5.30am and just couldn’t be in the house anymore and decided I was going to go out. I wrote a note to my family explaining that I’d gone out and taken my school stuff and would attend school on time but I just couldn’t be in the house. I walked to the beach and sat there watching the sunrise. My mum kept calling me and I didn’t answer. I didn’t want to talk to her knowing I’d be told off. I knew it was dangerous to go out in the dark at 16 years old but I just couldn’t stay in the house. Eventually something in me told me I had to answer the phone and mum asked where I was. I said I wouldn’t tell her but that I was safe and was going to go to school. She was very insistent that I had to tell her where I was. I eventually did and before I knew it she pulled up in the car and made me get in. It was there that she explained I had been excluded from school. I didn’t believe her and thought she was just trying to scare me or punish me for “running away”. I hadn’t done anything wrong and school couldn’t know yet that I’d run away so I couldn’t possibly be excluded but she explained she’d had a phonecall from the school the previous day and because I’d upset the teacher, they couldn’t have me in school while I was “behaving like this”. My world fell apart. I had exams coming up, my leavers’ service and my school prom and I was told that I could do my exams in isolation and I wouldn’t be allowed to attend anything else, no last lessons, no leavers service, no prom. They weren’t even going to let me say goodbye to my friends. Thankfully, one of my exams was a 5 hour textiles exam which had to be done in school and they eventually agreed that if I “behaved” in that, that they’d consider letting me attend my leavers events. Being someone who was good as gold throughout school and never once got sent out of class or given detention, that wasn’t difficult and after a week of exclusion they agreed to allow me back in class and to my leavers events as long as I “promised to behave”, whatever that meant. I still don’t actually understand what rules I broke or what I was specifically excluded for other than accidentally upsetting a teacher who was probably inadvertently triggered because my experience was a bit too close to home. I attended all of my leavers’ events and lessons without incident.
At college, it had been handed over that I had mental health problems and I had to have a meeting with someone before attending. The ‘rules’ were spelled out about not being allowed to self-harm on the premises and that I’d potentially be expelled if I did. For the avoidance of any doubt, I’ve never self-harmed anywhere other than at home and I’ve never carried dangerous objects or showed anyone my injuries unless made to and my injuries never required medical treatment or intervention of any kind. It was such a humiliating experience. I completely understand that of course it would be completely inappropriate to self-harm on school, college or workplace property which is why I’ve never done it but it’s so embarrassing having that spelled out in detail to you and you being talked to like you’re some kind of deviant or criminal. Self-harm for me was always a coping strategy and a means of survival. It’s why I don’t feel ashamed of my scars and why I no longer deliberately cover them up because I’m sure I’d be dead if I didn’t have them and hadn’t got through in that way. I’m never going to apologise for that because to apologise for self-harming would be to apologise for being alive and doing what it took to survive those times.
I managed to hold it together for a few months at college but I felt like I was falling apart. My eating disorder worsened and I was very close to being diagnosed with Anorexia. I’m not sure if I ever did get an official diagnosis or not but I was told I had Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, Anorexia Type because I was slightly over the weight at which I’d be classed as Anorexic. I was cold all the time, I felt faint a lot and just completely miserable and overwhelmed. I had been put on a different anti-depressant just after my 17th birthday which made me dangerously suicidal (again with no prior warning of this possibility given to me or my next of kin) and so I took myself off that after 4 weeks. Again, I was told off for this but I absolutely maintain that I’d be dead if I’d remained on it because the suicidal thoughts and feelings were so intense. I was put on a third a couple of months later which made me sick which really didn’t help my eating disorder, I was taken off that one after just a few weeks.
Thankfully, my dad had private medical insurance with his work that covered the whole family and my GP at the time (a different one from the previous year) suggested going private. I spent a couple of months having check-ups whilst I deteriorated and in that May (2018) I said I couldn’t keep myself safe and didn’t want to and that if they left me at home, I wouldn’t be alive to see the next appointment. Within days I was admitted to a private psychiatric hospital for what was initially meant to be 4 weeks and turned into 9 weeks and I was only discharged then because the private medical insurance funding ran out. My parents separated while I was in hospital and I was discharged to my new house having visited it once. I stayed in outpatient therapy for months after that.
My physical health deteriorated, probably because of the sheer strain of the mental illness I’d been suffering from relentlessly for 18+ months and my attendance at college dropped hugely as I became functionally nocturnal because my insomnia got so bad. College threatened to take me off my courses when my attendance dropped below 50% despite it being entirely because of illness. I fought and fought to be kept on so that I didn’t have to do another year and finally managed to get them to agree but it was very begrudging on their part. Yet again, I was treated like I was skiving and not bothering to turn up, rather than so ill and so sleep-deprived that I was asleep at home during lesson times because it was the only time my brain would shut off enough. I eventually managed to drag myself through my A Levels and after some retakes I managed to get the grades I needed to go to University the following year.
Throughout these experiences it didn’t feel like I was treated fairly. I wasn’t naughty or disobedient, I wasn’t acting up or misbehaving. I was ill. I had a challenging homelife, I’d been physically ill from the age of 9 with ME/CFS which led to lots of disruption and an abnormal childhood and I’d been bullied a lot and after it all caught up with me, I was then treated like I was bad. I understand that it must be really hard for schools to know how to handle children like me, they’re experts in teaching but they’re rarely trained in mental health but what worries me most is that in 14 years it seems that almost nothing has changed and so many mentally ill children are still being treated like they’re naughty and punished and penalised for symptoms and behaviours that they simply aren’t in control of or to blame for. It has to change. We have to believe children, to take them seriously and intervene quickly and robustly. We need to give them understanding, teach them coping techniques and not punish them for symptoms of mental illness that they can’t help. I was a model student with an exemplary record throughout my time at school and it’s beyond embarrassing to remember that I was excluded because I was so ill. We must do better.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week again and this year the tone appears to be changing. Not the tone of the government or most of the charities, but from campaigners and sufferers of mental illness there’s a distinct change occurring, a tiredness, a frustration and a building anger. This year’s theme is Nature which seems innocuous enough but honestly, who is it helping? For years, we’ve known that nature and being in green spaces helps improve mood etc etc. And yet, we are increasingly building on green spaces, packing people in like sardines so they’ve got no views, no parks, no wildlife around them and then during awareness weeks we tell them to go and seek out the nature that’s been so cruelly stripped away from their neighbourhood. How? Where? With what funds?
One of the biggest problems I have with this week is that it’s not designated to a proper cause. It’s called Mental Health Awareness Week but mostly it’s Mental Illness Awareness Week. Really, there need to be two. But much more than that, people need educating on the difference. We all have mental health, like we all have physical health, we all need to take care of our mental health just like we need to look after our bodies but mental illness is illness like any other. It’s when something’s gone wrong, off kilter, and we need access to diagnosis, treatment and support in order to regain wellness again. Nature is not a substitute for support, nor is it a treatment for mental illness. It’s a good tool to help keep mentally healthy and performing at your best but if you’re mentally ill, a walk or a roll around in some grass isn’t going to cut it where medication or therapy are needed.
Nature isn’t accessible to everyone. For so many reasons and in so many ways. Not just because it can be difficult to find when you live in particularly urban areas but also for those with limited time or resources and most notably for me, because I’m agoraphobic. My condition means that I don’t cope well with being outside so nature is pretty inaccessible to me. Lack of access to nature isn’t what’s keeping me ill, it’s not the cure for my conditions and yet all I’m really seeing on social media and the news this week is about how nature can help alleviate symptoms and while this is true in mild cases, it’s really not effective for those of us with severe symptoms. Most days I’m not well enough to even go out of my front door, let alone go into nature for a walk or a picnic. I live in a flat so I don’t have a garden I can go to. I’m very lucky to have a lovely view and can see a local park and the South Downs in the distance, I see squirrels and seagulls and foxes and people walking their dogs but it’s all through panes of glass. I’ve tried to follow tips and bring the outside inside and have an orchid and I’m growing some tomato and chilli plants. Surprisingly enough, despite all of this, my anxiety isn’t better and my agoraphobia still isn’t cured.
What I need is therapy. I don’t need awareness so much as I need access to support. I need to stop being threatened with discharge from my mental health team. I need support and treatment to exist in accessible ways that don’t require me to leave my home, the thing I need therapy in order to do! I need options that aren’t just CBT which I’ve exhausted over the years and which doesn’t work for people like me. I need waiting lists to be shorter. I need to not be waiting 3 years or more for an assessment that may still not lead to any new treatment options. I need doctors, MPs, and society as a whole to fight for funding so that instead of churning out the same “It’s OK Not To Be OK” and “Be Kind”, and “Reach Out For Help If You’re Struggling” slogans year on year, change actually occurs and people like me can finally access treatment and support without having to wait until these conditions possibly kill us. Fighting my own mental illness is hideously hard but fighting society at large as well is impossible. I’ve been blogging for 6.5 years and nothing has changed. Services in my area have been cut, doctors are retiring or leaving, appointments get shorter and spaced further apart and the threat of discharge gets bandied about more regularly. I’m still just as ill as when I first went to the doctors. I’ve still not received any therapy on the NHS. I can’t be medicated because all of the medications made me worse. I’ve just been left. The support I’m offered is an up to 30 minute call once every 6 months with my psychiatrist. He doesn’t know my Grandad who I was a carer for for 4 years has died, he doesn’t know that I’ve had physical health problems that have majorly affected my sleep for almost 3 months, he doesn’t know I’ve suffered from intermittent suicidal ideation, or that the waiting list for the assessment he’s sent me for has been extended by another year. Why? Because my next appointment isn’t until June and I last spoke to him before Christmas.
Nature’s great but it’s not a substitute for treatment. Awareness Weeks have had their day. What we really and truly need is Action Weeks. And then actual action. I no longer care about whether people accept that I have an anxiety disorder or realise that it’s not my fault or that I shouldn’t be ashamed of it. I know that awareness has its place for all of the people who are coming up behind me who are starting to suffer symptoms that they don’t understand or who are having experiences they’ve never had before. I know we need to make people aware but the whole point of awareness always used to be so that you sought help early enough because it’s been well-documented for a long time that the earlier you intervene in mental illness, the better the outcome and the less intervention is usually needed. But support is so sparse now that awareness is almost useless. It’s all well and good suspecting you have a mental illness and going to speak to your GP about it but then what? Almost all of the doors that used to open are firmly nailed shut thanks to funding cuts. We keep hearing about a pandemic of mental illness, but there’s no vaccine coming for this and social distancing will surely worsen the effects. Knowing what’s wrong with you is the first step but without a second you’re still stranded. Alone. Frightened. Unable to get better. And sorry to be a cynic, but walks or visiting gardens is going to be of little use to people suffering from psychosis or eating disorders or just about any mental illness that’s actually at a diagnosable level of severity.
I’ve been in two minds about whether to even post about this because I really don’t like posting negative or angry things, especially about public events or things that are aiming to help but this is falling so short. It’s like the Clap for Carers. It’s all well and good clapping but it’s not paying people’s bills, it’s not actually making a meaningful difference and it changes nothing in the grand scheme of things. Awareness weeks have had their day and could still be useful now if they were followed up with action but all the time we’re focusing on airy-fairy topics like nature and deeming that to improve everyone’s mental illnesses, we’re falling dangerously short and without radical change this pandemic is going to last a lot longer than the Covid-19 one will. We don’t need Awareness Weeks. We need action!
Finally an update explaining where I’ve been and why I’ve not been posting for such a long time.
I don’t even know how to express how soul destroying it is to apply for disability benefits in the UK. I know about the system because when I was a child, my mum claimed Disability Living Allowance for me because I suffered from pretty severe ME. It was no fun filling out the 40-page form of all the things I couldn’t do and the help I needed but thankfully for me, my mum did most of it and she got help from an organisation and it was pretty smooth sailing.
Fast forward to February 2020 and my partner finally persuaded me, 6 years after becoming severely ill with 3 anxiety disorders, that I really was entitled to some financial help and that I should be applying. I’ve known for years I should be getting it but I just couldn’t face doing it because I knew how it would go because I’ve known a lot of people go through this system. Despite knowing exactly what would ensue, it somehow didn’t ease the effect it had on me. Had I known how much it would affect me, I’m sure I’d have never agreed at all. It’s made me so ill and it just seems to keep getting worse as each time they assess me, I’m disbelieved, doubted and misconstrued. It just eats away at you.
In order to get through my life day to day, I mostly ignore that I’m ill. I don’t focus on what I can’t do, I don’t think about myself as an ill or disabled person, despite knowingly and willingly identifying with those labels/descriptions, I just get on with what I can do and adapt as much as possible so I’m able to function the best that I can. But when you’re applying for disability benefits, obviously the focus is all on the negative and that would be fine if you only had to jump through those hideous hoops once. But you don’t. I’m now on my fourth attempt at getting them to believe the severity of my symptoms, my limitations and the amount of help that I need. I’ve already filled out their 40 page form, I’ve already spoken to a stranger for an hour on the phone where I tried my very best to answer their questions and give as much information about my situation as I could which all then got twisted. I then had to ask them to reconsider their decision after they scored me just 2 points and wrote completely inaccurate and dismissive statements that genuinely made us wonder if they’d mixed up my case with someone else’s because it was so wrong. After another inaccurate and assumptive judgement from them, I’m now having to appeal. All of this whilst navigating a global pandemic and the deterioration and death of my mother-in-law from terminal cancer just 5 days after the last decision letter came through.
Regular readers of my blog will know that despite not feeling it, I’m a very strong person who’s gone through a lot and continues to get up time and time again to keep on fighting through but honestly, fighting to get the government to believe that I’m ill enough that I deserve some money, and not a huge amount at that, is feeling like it’s too much to bear. I have to keep going into more and more detail about what I can’t do, the ways in which I fail, the ways in which I’m defective, the things my partner has to do to care for me and keep me as well as possible. I just don’t want to keep doing it. But I deserve this money, I’m entitled to this money and I should’ve had it for the last 6 years and because of their ludicrous system, I couldn’t bear to put myself through this to try and get it and so I’ve missed out. I’m trying to make a stand, to say “no more”, but every day I feel like throwing in the towel and just disappearing back into my own little world where I don’t have to perform like a circus animal to prove that I’m suffering and worthy of help.
On top of all of that, I discovered that they haven’t even used all of the evidence I sent them when I originally applied. Most notably, they haven’t used my diagnostic letter where my psychiatrist, who by chance has known me since I was 18, diagnosed me with the 3 anxiety disorders, I still suffer from, in 2015. Instead, they’ve used the 2 letters from before that in 2014 and an update letter from him in 2019 that literally says they’ll keep me on their system and doesn’t mention my conditions at all. I’m desperately hoping that this can only serve to strengthen my case at appeal but I just can’t understand why I’m at the point where I’m having to appeal, I should’ve just been awarded the money in the first place. I know this happens to thousands of people in all sorts of worse off, more obviously denying situations but that doesn’t make this any more ok that I’m one in a long line of people who’ve been unfairly rejected. I know all too well the stigma that goes along with claiming these benefits and that many lay people want the system to be stringent to weed out the benefit frauds but honestly, I don’t know how anyone who’s fraudulent would have the time, energy or persistence to get through this and actually win and the fact that 75% of decisions for this type of benefit get overturned at appeal screams absolute volumes that this system isn’t just overly harsh, it’s damn well corrupt. If 75% of any company or individual’s work had to routinely be checked, changed or overturned, you’d be hauled up before your manager or MD before you knew what hit you and you’d be sacked or taken to court for misconduct but somehow, because it’s the government and government-contracted companies, it’s all ok. But there’s no accounting for the human cost in this. I’ve noticeably deteriorated and coped worse with the other shit in my life thanks to this. I’ve seriously considered suicide on multiple occasions, not because I want to die but because I want this to stop and I want to stop feeling like a burden. That’s what depths this system takes you to. Anyone around me will tell you that despite not being an optimist and being a very realistic person, I’m bloody brilliant at making the best of things and being inventive about how to live the best life I can and yet applying for benefits to get money to help me live my life more comfortably and independently has got me to the point where I’ve seriously considered ending it because it feels and seems so unbearable.
I don’t even know how to end this post because I’ve been meaning to write about the process throughout so that you could go on the journey with me but I just couldn’t face it. In fact, the only reason I wrote this was to get my thoughts and feelings out in the hopes that it would make it easier to write my appeal objectively rather than emotionally and in the hopes that I might get enough of it out of my brain that I might sleep properly for just one night. I can’t even remember the last time I did that. The process is shocking from beginning to end from the assessment forms that are so heavily skewed towards physical disabilities with a couple of mental health questions thrown in that they can’t possibly capture what living with these conditions is like to the phone assessment with a nurse who spent almost the entire call emphasising the wrong condition and symptoms no matter how many times I tried to clearly explain what I was claiming for and why, to the decision letters that are filled with grammatical and spelling errors that are clearly created from copied and pasted statements that don’t remotely fit your case and make you wonder if they’re even assessing you, to the pages and pages of written information that you receive that you haven’t got a hope in hell of being able to take in and process and yet you still have to in order to basically beg for some money. And finally, the assumptions they make that because you’re bright and you have a degree that you’re capable of those things now, that you’re making up the disabling effects these conditions have on your life and that although you might “prefer to go outside accompanied” that there’s no evidence that doing so would cause you to suffer overwhelming psychological distress despite being diagnosed with agoraphobia that literally has that as one of the essential diagnostic criteria. I won’t be committing suicide, I’m not letting them off the hook, but this system needs calling out and exposing for the vile, corrupt, hoop-jumping exercise that it is and I’m going to fight in every way that I can to get what I deserve.
Today I thought I’d give you some specific insight into what it’s like to live with severe anxiety. I often talk in sweeping statements and generalisations and I think people don’t realise what the nitty-gritty, day-to-day life is like because it’s not always rolling from one panic attack to another, it’s much more subtle, specific and random than that. I’m currently going through yet another very bad period of anxiety. I’m never really sure when I’m not going through one of these and the only way of describing the last 6.5 years is bad and worse. I don’t often notice the times when it’s bad until it gets worse and then I can recognise that what preceded was indeed “just” bad but it’s not better and worse. Like pain if you’re still feeling it will always hurt, it’s more and less, but not better. So I’m anxious and more anxious through periods of weeks and months.
As I said, currently I’m going through a particularly anxious period but it doesn’t necessarily look like you’d expect. It does include the typical worrying for hours on end about everything my brain can possibly imagine. It also includes having panic attacks about justifiable things, as well as not. But the things that you’re probably not aware of are what I want to talk about here.
- It’s being tired all the time but so wired and highly strung that you can’t sleep.
- It’s being exhausted and unable to keep your eyes open during the day and then your mind racing at 100mph at night and almost being too frightened to go to bed because it’s so severe.
- It’s feeling sick and a feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach but with no reason or cause.
- It’s your brain constantly scanning for whatever the threat is and then it picking something at random and fixating on that until it scans again and finds something new.
- It’s not being able to remember things or take in new information.
- It’s reading the same paragraph over and over again and knowing you’ve read those words and willing yourself to concentrate and take it in this time and still having no idea what it says.
- It’s feeling full of completely useless energy and almost buzzing but your brain feeling like a frantic fly that just constantly throws itself at a pane of glass despite being next to an open window.
- It’s forgetting your medication, day after day, and never managing to put two and two together and realise that you’ve forgotten it and that’s why you’re feeling extra wired and your heart is beating out of your chest.
- It’s being hungry and having so many choices for what to eat but spending hours not deciding because none of those things make sense in your head anymore.
- It’s not being able to multi-task and having to mute the TV or turn it off because it’s too distracting while you’re reading a text or realising that you’ve missed 10 minutes of your programme because you’ve gone temporarily deaf whilst scrolling through Facebook.
- It’s having so many hobbies or projects that you could continue or start and not being able to pick one.
- It’s watching stuff you don’t even like on TV rather than stuff you’d love on catch-up or DVD because you can’t commit or decide on those and spending hours watching mind-numbing stuff just because it’s on.
- It’s aimlessly walking from room to room in the hopes that inspiration will strike and it never doing so.
- It’s looking out the window and watching the world go by, everyone having a purpose and you just wasting day upon day like this.
- It’s flicking through recipe books desperately wanting to make something knowing full-well you can’t decide and aren’t capable of making anything much more complicated than toast.
- It’s having responsibilities or ambitions and watching them fade away.
- It’s having dreams and goals and watching them fade too.
- It’s going without meals or eating snacks instead because you just can’t decide what to make and you can’t work out how to do it anymore.
- It’s wishing that you could have certain meals and knowing that you can’t because there’s no one there to make it for you and you’re not able to do it yourself.
- It’s losing even the most basic routines that you’ve built up and forgetting to make enough drinks over the day.
- It’s running out of crockery because you didn’t time the washing-up well enough.
- It’s remembering and forgetting multiple times a day to do the same chore or send that email or message and realising at 11pm that yet again you’ve not done it.
- It’s writing lists of tasks to do in your diary each week and writing over 50% of that list again the following week and the week after because you’ve still not done the tasks.
- It’s forgetting to look at the lists and feeling like screaming because this is so basic and you still can’t do it.
- It’s checking and re-checking things because you can’t remember the answer and you stop trusting yourself.
- It’s your tinnitus ramping up to deafening volumes.
- It’s hearing your neighbours going about their daily lives through the walls and floors and feeling so alone and lonely.
- It’s wondering how you ever functioned normally and how you ever got a degree when you can’t make a roast dinner or read a book anymore.
- It’s not being able to write a shopping list.
- It’s feeling sick at the thought of a timetable because you know that’ll just increase your feelings of failure when you inevitably don’t stick to it.
- It’s wanting to scream and shout and cry and just sitting in numbness.
- It’s wishing that you’d die and then instantly panicking and taking it back because you feel selfish and unworthy and you don’t want to cause others pain but wishing that this pain that you’re living with would end.
- It’s wondering about suicide and realising that you don’t actually want to die you just don’t want to have to live like this anymore and you can’t see a way through or a way out.
- It’s wondering how you can possibly make someone understand what this is like and then worrying that you will because you know how much it’ll scare them.
- It’s being paralysed by fear.
- It’s being mentally stopped from even starting anything because you’re so worried about failing even though you know that not even attempting things is a type of failing.
- It’s wondering if this is it and if it’ll ever get better.
- It’s wondering what you did to deserve this.
- It’s wearing the same outfit days in a row because you don’t know how to choose a new one. It’s not being able to make decisions of any kind.
- It’s not being able to concentrate.
- It’s scrolling through Instagram and seeing so many craft projects that you’d love to try and never even trying to start one.
- It’s being unable to work and having no responsibilities and still feeling like you have no time to do anything and never really ever getting anything done.
- It’s wishing you could be someone else.
- It’s feeling guilty all the time.
- It’s feeling insignificant and over-noticeable all at once.
- It’s feeling like a burden and wishing you could disappear.
- It’s being desperate to make a difference, to help people and knowing that even with your limitations you could do it and never quite working out how or where to start.
- It’s promising yourself over and over again that you’ll change and do things differently and it never happening.
So there you have it, a snapshot into the day-to-day difficulties of life with an anxiety disorder. That list is why it’s so difficult to explain succinctly what it’s like to live with. I don’t have particularly specific sources of anxiety, there are groups of situations I experience huge anxiety about including anything social and anywhere that I could get trapped but those are so huge, wide-ranging and general that it’s hard to give an accurate or detailed picture of what life each day is like and why I’m so unable to do things like sort out my own meals on a regular basis or fill my day productively, the list above hopefully gives more insight into why those things and so much more are so difficult.
It’s World Mental Health Day and again, I’m not sure what to say or where to start. Often I let it pass without words because nothing I can think of to say feels like enough to warrant even starting. But I don’t want to be silent on a topic that’s so important to me, on a day when the world talks loudly and tells us what we all should and shouldn’t be doing regarding mental health and mental illness.
The problem is that most people like me who are mentally ill and who’ve been trying to fight stigma for more years than we care to remember are tired. Really tired. We’re tired of the narrative surrounding this day and mental illness generally. We’re constantly told to be kind and it’s ok not to be ok but quite honestly, the latter makes me want to vomit. Because honestly? It’s not ok not to be ok. I deserve more than that. I get that the phrase is saying that we shouldn’t feel ashamed, we shouldn’t be stigmatised, we should feel like it’s alright to talk about our bad days but despite the progress that’s been made, there is still such a long way to go. And quite frankly, I don’t want it to just be accepted that I don’t feel ok. I want people to be angry that I’m left to feel this way, to suffer, often needlessly. I want people to fight for funding, for treatment, for services to be opened and started up rather than defunded and closed. I want people to be outraged that our waiting lists for help are months, if not years long. If that was any other patients there’d be protests or riots, if it was others being told to just wait on the medication or therapy that would keep them alive, people would be up in arms but because mental illness is still stigmatised and dismissed, it’s viewed as lesser, less important, less life-threatening, less dangerous and far more self-inflicted and able to be controlled by the sufferer than physical conditions. It’s not until people spend extended periods of time with someone who’s very unwell and able to articulate their experience that people start to understand what it’s actually like and what we actually go through.
World Mental Health Day just seems to have turned into companies, governments and people in society loudly shouting that people like me should talk, we should reach out, we should get help and in some ways that’s true but if you actually look at the reality of those suggestions, you’ll realise why we’re so tired and feel so helpless. We can’t get help when we ask for it. We’re turned away because we’re not ill enough or too ill, because we have complex diagnoses or damaging symptoms that services aren’t equipped to deal with. So few people can meet those super specific criteria and more and more of us are falling through the cracks. I’m currently on a waiting list that could take 2 years to reach the top of just to get assessed for a diagnosis that is unlikely to get me any treatment. I’ve agreed to be assessed because it’s literally the only thing I’m now being offered and it could help explain why previous treatment options have worked so poorly for me. But then what? I’ve not really been told what will happen if I get diagnosed, or if it’s discovered I don’t have this condition. What’s very likely to happen in the meantime is that the Adult Mental Health Team will discharge me because they’re not “treating” me currently and they can’t offer anything else that’s suitable for me. I’m much too ill to engage in any of the “treatments” they offer and so I’m likely to get discharged. In what universe is that acceptable? In what other branch of medicine would someone so commonly and easily be deemed too ill to be treated and discharged to deal with it alone, with no support and not even someone to talk to about it?
We have come a long way, even just in my lifetime and in so many ways that’s fantastic but when I look at the issues we still face, the stigma we still encounter and the appalling lack of access to suitable treatment and support, it’s clear that we have far further to go than the government and wider society would like you to believe. There are so many “inspirational” stories, posts and quotes going around, as there are every year but they simplify the mental illness experience to a ridiculous degree. I’m a walking contradiction and I reckon most people with mental illnesses are. I’m incapable but I’m also capable, I need help but I’m independent, I can’t look after myself but I can look after others, I’m incredibly anxious but I’m a brilliant problem-solver, there are so many things that I can’t do but there are so many things that I can and I don’t need to be written off just because I’m ill. I do, however, need help and treatment and “talking about it” isn’t going to cut it, I need actual support and therapy but these aren’t being offered. I’ve seen lots of posts today about these issues from mentally ill people so I definitely think the message is getting out but I’ve also seen so many posts suggesting that we just need to reach out and talk to someone and actually, when you’re very ill, that’s nigh on impossible to do, especially when professional help isn’t available. Rather than the onus being on us, if you’re able to then please check in with anyone you’re worried about, anyone you know is ill or struggling or who you’ve not heard from in a while because they might not feel able or even worthy enough to reach out and you’ll never know the good you could be doing by reaching in. Being mentally ill is a very lonely experience and it can become all the more isolating by people who don’t understand the suffering telling us to “just” reach out, talk about it or seek help when those things are often impossible to do. Be our ally, be our friend and help fight our corner because without funding and an increase in services we’re heading for a pandemic of mental illness and you could be one of the ones realising that not being ok is far from ok.
Yesterday I got an unexpected phonecall. It was a private number. That always fills me with dread. What I really wasn’t expecting was that during a global pandemic, while my country is on lockdown, my mental health service would phone to discharge me. A lot of what ensued is a blur. I was on my back foot from the start and was just completely stunned that a stranger was calling me and trying to discharge me back to my GP. I’ve not been checked up on during this crisis so when this woman introduced herself and where she was calling from, I was immediately really pleased and impressed that they were phoning to see how I was. They weren’t. In fact, I don’t think I got asked any questions about how I am, how or if I’m coping or if I’m getting enough support. She went straight in for the kill and said they were planning on discharging me. I then spent nearly 20 minutes trying to find out why, what that would mean, how I can stay on their books, what criteria I have to meet, all the while trying not to burst into tears and have a panic attack.
More and more unexpected information came out during this phonecall including the fact that my psychiatrist retired in September or October which I’d not been told. I apparently should have been written to by him but even she couldn’t find a record of that letter on their system. He had, seemingly wrongly, promised to keep me on their books until I was well enough to attend treatment in the future. He’d apparently promised this to a lot of patients, all of whom I’m assuming are getting the same out-of-the-blue phonecall passing them back to their GP with no warning or support. It means that I’ll no longer be allowed to have visits from my support worker, the only professional involved directly in my care who actually sees me and knows what I’m going through and how damned hard I’ve worked despite the lack of visible progress or improvement and who continues to support and boost my confidence and self-esteem and treat me like a valuable human being. She has to work under a clinical lead and I’m not allowed one of those because I don’t fit the criteria and so she won’t be allowed to work with me either.
I know that mental health teams are increasingly underfunded. Before all of this, I worked in one. I know all too painfully the limitations of the services, the understaffing and the squeezing from all angles. I’ve tried to make myself as little of a burden as possible on the NHS and specifically on my local mental health team. I’ve not agreed to appointments unless I really believed I’d be well enough to attend. I stopped booking them when it was making me worse and I was becoming unreliable at attending because I didn’t want to waste appointments that could be given to other people. I didn’t agree to have therapy that I’ve previously had that I knew wouldn’t help me and that again, I wasn’t well enough to attend. All I asked was to see my support worker for an hour every couple of months and to be kept on their books, under a named psychiatrist, so that I didn’t have to wait weeks to be re-referred in the future by a GP surgery where I’ve met none of the doctors and the last doctor I was under kept me on a medication that my psychiatrist described as basically poisoning me with horrendous side effects.
Oddly, this phonecall came the day after I had a completely unexpected letter from the same team telling me that an appointment had been booked for me to have a telephone consultation with a new psychiatrist. I have no idea who booked this or why and the lady on the phone yesterday wasn’t aware until I highlighted it and she checked my records and even she didn’t actually know why it had been booked. I was already stressed and anxious because of this random appointment but it also really upset me and made me pretty angry because I begged to have telephone appointments 5 years ago so that I could still engage with support but not make myself really ill trying to go to appointments. I was always flat-out refused this and told that it was completely impossible. I know that we’re living through “unprecedented times” right now and that people are having to change and adapt their work in order to maintain services during this pandemic but I cannot for the life of me work out how it’s possible, doable, and acceptable to have telephone appointments with a psychiatrist now, when a few years ago it was completely impossible even though that meant that I had to stop having any support from a trained professional because I was too ill to do it in the way that they offered.
All I kept being told yesterday was that their service only offers time-limited, goal-specific help, none of which I’ve ever been well to engage with because the offerings are so limited and are all aimed at people who are much less ill than I am. All I’ve ever been offered (apart from medication which we’ve all agreed I can’t and shouldn’t take again) is 6 sessions of CBT and group art therapy run by a support worker, the same job role I had when I was working. Yesterday, I asked what people like me are meant to do, those of us who are too ill to engage with what they offer and she said there were community treatments, all of which she acknowledged required you to be well enough to physically attend. I’m severely agoraphobic. I can’t go out. So the upshot seemed to be that there’s nothing for me, no service, no treatment, no one to keep an eye on me or make sure I’m not spiralling. No one unrelated to me who I can talk to about how this is actually all making me feel or what it’s like to live like this which actually leaves me with no one to talk to about that because I just can’t bear putting that on people around me. My social network has reduced and reduced over the years of my illness and each time I’m struggling, there are fewer people to talk to and I feel further and further away from them and from normality. I’m good at getting through the day-to-day stuff, I’m great at ignoring my limitations and working within them to the point where I sometimes forget that I’m ill and often forget what I’m not capable of until I’m rudely reminded by circumstance and it all comes flooding back. I don’t have people to talk to about how frightened I am, about how much my belief and hope are fading as each month passes. It’s not because I don’t have people close to me, it’s because I can see how painful it is for them when I talk about these things and I know that what often keeps them going is my grit and determination and continuing belief that I’ll get better. I don’t have the heart to tell them that I don’t know if I believe that anymore and that although I mostly do think that I’ll be better, albeit not cured, one day, that image is increasingly vague and I’ve got no idea of how to get from here to there, what to do to make it happen or when it may occur. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be 6 months from turning 30 and still severely agoraphobic and unemployed. I know I achieve a lot and this isn’t meant to be a pity-party but it’s very hard to keep yourself going, day after day, year after year, when you have to fight for even the basics of medical support and then have that randomly threatened with being removed.
The only reason I’m not now discharged is because of this mysterious appointment that’s been arranged for me. She eventually agreed that I could speak to the new psychiatrist and see what he says and that we’d “discuss it”. So now, I get to spend the next month, waiting and trying to work out how or even if I should try and persuade them to keep me on their books. Because even if I manage to stay this time, how long will it last? It will always be hanging over me. They offer me next to no support and no treatment anyway so in many ways I won’t be any worse off without them. But it feels like I’ll be even more alone, even more adrift and cut off from reality, normality, and help. It makes me sad and angry that people like me are just abandoned. That we’re so ill we can’t function and are essentially punished for that by having accessible treatment denied. So many people have the opposite problem of needing help but not being so ill that it’s deemed necessary and having to wait until they deteriorate before anyone will treat them. Increasingly it seems that there’s a right way of being mentally ill and more and more of us are failing to do it that way and then get denied treatment. I can’t make my illness fit in with the criteria they set, I can’t get myself well enough to attend the treatment that they say will get me better and so rather than bring any of it to me or even keep it paused until a miracle happens and I can get myself there, they decide that I look bad on their books and need to go. I wonder how many people out there exist as I do? I don’t think we’re even counted. They know how many people have a diagnosis, how many people went through therapy, how many people had a psychiatrist. But once I’m discharged, I won’t exist anywhere as a statistic. I won’t be counted as one of the people they failed, I won’t be listed somewhere as one of the people who was so severely ill that they couldn’t be treated. I’ll just disappear. Even statistics for houseboundness don’t seem to exist. I’ve looked and looked over the years and never found anything that even attempts to give numbers to how many people are physically or mentally ill enough that they’re confined to the house. I know there are many of us. The sheer number of people who, well-before lockdown or Coronavirus, were arriving at my blog because they wanted advice or help to cope with being housebound, is huge and I’m just one blogger with a small following and a pretty small reach. There must be thousands of us. But we’re all hidden away and mostly we’re forgotten about and just left. Lockdown has shown just how hard living your life indoors is to the masses. People are going stir crazy. They can’t work out how to entertain themselves, how to stop eating every 30 minutes, how to work, how to get medical help. This has been my life for 6 years and I’ll tell you for nothing, there’s never been a better time to be housebound because of the sheer number of free resources that have been released. So many things have adapted and been made accessible so that life can continue despite us all being indoors and still it’s unbearable for many people. Spare a thought for those of us for whom this is our life permanently, who don’t get to do PE with Joe or have church services via Zoom or watch Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals in our lounge the rest of the time. The majority of the time, these things are completely inaccessible to people like me and now even mental health treatment, in the midst of a pandemic, is being withdrawn because I don’t fit into the box neatly enough. As yet, I’m undecided about what to ask for in this appointment and whether I’ll put the energy into trying to fight or just give in this time because as seasoned readers of my blog will know, absolutely every step of the way, I’ve had to fight to get any treatment or support and I’m so unbelievably tired of doing that and being let down. I always thought that I’d get through this on my own, in my own time and I have no idea if that’s true but it looks like that’s the only option I’m left with and I’ll just have to hope that one day, the solution will reveal itself and I’ll somehow get from here to “better”.
For 6 years, I’ve been virtually housebound suffering from severe Agoraphobia, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety. It means I’m in a fairly unique and experienced position to advise about the dos and don’ts of being indoors for a prolonged period of time. Below is a long list of suggestions that have helped me and that I hope will help you to cope and keep occupied.
Do remember that this will have an end point. Much as it’s not clear when that end point will be, there will indeed be one and it’s important to focus on that and not get too bogged down or pessimistic. For those who don’t know me, I’ll point out here that I’m not an optimist, nor am I a fan of most self-help stuff because I find it patronising and overly simplistic. I’m not involving myself in the medical side of things because there are plenty of articles already available on this and I’m not a medical expert, but I am an expert in how not to go stir-crazy when cooped up indoors for an indefinite period of time, for reasons beyond your control.
1. Create and Keep a Routine – Getting up and having a routine are absolutely key to keeping focused, motivated and having any sense of what time of day it is. You’d be amazed how quickly those things fade if you don’t stick to at least a few basic plans each day. The absolute musts are getting up, going to bed and eating at set times as those all help to regulate your body clock. Getting dressed and having activities planned for the day are also great for helping you be ready to tackle things and motivate you to get stuff done rather than lounging in front of the TV all day. Writing out a timetable can be really helpful, as well as a list of suggestions for activities and tasks to do if you get bored or can’t think of something to do at a specific time.
2. Limit Accessing of News Updates – It can be really tempting in times of crisis and uncertainty to want to be as informed as humanly possible, all the time. Stop. It’s SO bad for your mental health, won’t lead to you being more informed and is likely to just make you panic and feel sick. Choose your news sources wisely! Don’t take notice of the umpteen viral social media posts written by so-called experts that are constantly contradicting each other and spreading misinformation and worry. Pick one or even a few specific times a day where you will check on these reliable sources and then avoid the rest of the time. If you find this too much, then keep reducing down until you reach a happy medium of informed and calm-ish. If it’s all too much and you want to hunker down, then feel free to avoid all news and stay in your happy place. Do whatever it takes to stay sane and coping!
3. Be Prepared but Don’t Panic Buy! – We’re all well aware of how ludicrous the situation is in the shops right now (at least in the UK) and it’s important to be prepared and to have in the things you need for if lock-down happens or you have to self-isolate. Having enough food and supplies in is really useful but please, please don’t panic buy because it’s stopping everyone from being able to be prepared and causing widespread anxiety. If you’re able to get food in, then a great idea is to batch cook some meals to freeze so that if you become sick, you can eat nutritious food, won’t need to go shopping for a while and can just defrost and reheat instead of cooking when you really won’t feel like it. You do not need 1500 toilet rolls, they don’t taste nice or help your lungs! Make sure you eat healthily and regularly and stock up on some treats too – try to avoid eating all of them on the first day of quarantine!
4. Finances – Money is becoming a huge worry for many. Try to avoid burying your head in the sand and work out exactly where your family stand and look into what help is available to you. Making a spreadsheet of current expenditure and income can help you identify areas to cut back on, as well as showing you your budget. This puts you in the best position to act quickly and pre-emptively if things are going to worsen for you and could help you avert a crisis. The finance situation is different for everyone and changing daily so keep researching and applying for all of the support available to you and remember that even small changes can build up to make a big difference.
5. Social Contact – While we’re all having to avoid physical contact with people outside our household (and inside for those self-isolating), we don’t have to be isolated from all contact. Phone calls, emails, video calls and group chats are just some of the ways in which we can continue to socialise. Talk to people about how you and they are feeling, give each other tips of how to pass the time and talk about anything other than the virus when you can! Check in with others who you think might be struggling and rekindle friendships that fizzled out due to lack of time – there’s an abundance of that right now. Setting up cyber groups is another way of doing joint activities whilst being socially distant, things like film nights, book groups, cocktail evenings, lunch dates, debates and more can all be done via video chats or cyber groups to keep you involved and connected with each other, sharing activities and combatting boredom.
6. Plan for the Future – During scary times, it can feel all-consuming and never-ending but this will pass and there will be light at the end of the tunnel. In order to keep focused on that and to keep you getting through all of the difficulties and things you currently can’t do, rather than focusing on what you’re missing, put all of those things and the things you’re looking forward to doing once this is all over, into a list. Keep adding to it each time you think of something new and it’ll give you all sorts of ideas for how to fill your time once this period of isolation and restriction comes to an end. It’s highly likely to increase your enjoyment and gratitude for the ability to do those things once you’re finally able to again. I never get over the novelty of feeling the wind on my face having spent the majority of the last 6 years indoors.
7. Use this as an Opportunity – You’re likely to suddenly have a lot of time on your hands and while that might seem like a dream come true, the novelty quickly wears off. Rather than letting the boredom set in, use this as an opportunity to get tasks done that you’ve been putting off, to learn new things, to start something that you’ve always wanted to and even to re-evaluate your priorities and make changes to your life. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day busyness of life and forget that we can change things we don’t like and put more time into the things we do and now is a perfect opportunity to start making that happen.
8. Look After your Mental Health – This is crucial! A lot of us who have mental illnesses, have strategies and coping mechanisms to keep our symptoms at bay and enforced time at home may be restricting your ability to do some of those things. Even those who don’t have mental illness may well have things they do that keep them calm, focused and able to cope well with daily life and being indoors for prolonged periods of time is likely to have quite a profound effect on your mental wellbeing. My key suggestions would be to talk to others and tell them how you’re feeling, share tips on coping and activities to pass the time and set goals together that you can help each other achieve. Being at home can be extremely lonely and isolating but you don’t have to be mentally alone, there are a lot of us out there all in this together so head to your contact list or social media to find others to connect with and you’ll realise you’re not alone in finding this hard and that might just make it a bit easier. If things get really bad then reach out for professional help, it’s still accessible especially over the phone and online, so don’t suffer in silence!
9. Help Others – If you’re feeling bored or have any skills, services or supplies that you could share with others in order to help them then do it! Helping others is a great pastime as well as building community spirit and connectedness. In times like these, even small gestures can make such a huge difference and they help us see the wider picture of us all being in this together. Obviously, maintain social distancing whilst doing this.
10. Be Creative – As you’re likely to soon find out, there truly are only so many hours of daytime TV and trips to the kitchen to check the fridge for snacks, that one can take before wanting to climb the walls. Therefore, creating, rather than consuming, is a great way of getting out of that cycle and making your day better. It doesn’t have to be drawing or painting, it can be literally anything from writing a poem to building a shed, taking photographs to making up a dance. Anything that involves you making something or changing it and using your hands and your brain to produce something, will do just fine and it’s great for giving you a sense of achievement too because you can see the result of your efforts at the end.
11. Keep Fit – You might have to get a bit inventive here and try not to annoy your neighbours (especially those of us in flats/apartments) but getting your heart rate up and your blood pumping is a sure-fire way to help clear your head and get rid of excess energy and anxiety. If you have home exercise equipment then use that, if you’ve got a garden then get out there and run, play with a ball or even skip. For those of us who only have indoor space we’re a little more limited but thanks to the wonders of the internet you can find free workouts, yoga and Pilates tutorials, dance classes and more. You could do strength training if you’ve got weights and if not, get out some of those stock-piled tins of beans and use them instead. If motivation is tricky, then get your friends involved and hold each other to account or even video chat whilst you all do the same workout and cheer each other on!
12. Avoid Substances and Bad Habits – It’s a really tough time for everyone and it can be all too tempting to look for ways of escaping difficult feelings but leaning on substances or bad habits will only harm you more in the long-run. Try to avoid alcohol, comfort eating and any other self-destructive behaviours and talk to others if you’re struggling to manage. Keeping busy is the key to getting through as unscathed as possible.
13. Free Activities and Resources – Companies and individuals are offering free services, resources and activities, with new ones popping up daily for kids and adults worldwide. There’s everything from fitness routines to tours of zoos and museums, education and language-learning resources for all ages and abilities, colouring pages, recipes, courses and qualifications and so much more. Now is the time to start looking into all of the things you always wanted to do and never quite made the time for, be it learning sign-language, pasta-making, or crochet, there are guides to almost everything, if you look.
14. Change your Environment – If your country allows and you feel it’s safe to do so, then go outside to an open area, staying 2 metres apart. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden or a balcony then use that regularly. If, like me, you don’t have outdoor space then you have to be more creative. Watching nature programmes and documentaries is a great way of seeing outdoors without actually being out there and opening windows as often as possible to get fresh air in is really beneficial. Even just changing rooms or sitting down the other end of the sofa is better than staying in the same spot for days on end. You could redecorate or rearrange some of your living space to freshen it up and make it feel different and new. Keeping your curtains and blinds open and making sure you get enough daylight will help your mood, sense of time and your sleep pattern and although you may not notice the benefits, you’ll certainly notice the deterioration in all of those things if you keep the light out. Another great way of getting the outdoors indoors is to grow something. It’s very therapeutic to have a plant to look after, it’s good for air quality, and it can even be useful if you grow something edible – my personal favourite is chilli plants which grow pretty quickly and easily and can then be added to my cooking or saved up and made into chilli jam.
15. Working From Home – For those of you who are unexpectedly working from home, try to keep a distance between work and home. If possible, keep your work to one area of your home, keep it to specific times and outside of those don’t be tempted to check emails or do extra unless you absolutely have to. Psychologically, it can be hard to keep a mental distance when there’s little to no physical distance but our brains are really good at picking up on cues so setting routines and times that are similar to your regular work schedule and even changing clothes, eyewear or hairstyle so that you have ‘work’ and ‘home’ versions could make the difference between feeling like your work is never finished and being able to fully enjoy your free time. It requires discipline and it’s not easy but having separation really helps you to focus on the task at hand and then let it go when the time for that is over.
16. Tune Out – Although most of the things I’ve suggested involve ‘doing’ stuff to keep your mind and body occupied, you sometimes need to just ‘be’ and that’s just as important. Write a list of things that help you relax, calm down, and zone out, and plan those in so that you’re not exhausted from too much ‘doing’. Anxiety, stress and worry are exhausting, trust me, I live this every day and it’s really tiring and you’re likely to get a lot less done than you’re planning or hoping. Try to be ok with that. Plan in regular time to just ‘be’ and you might find that the rest of your time is more productive because of the breaks you’ve taken. Similarly, if you’re religious, spiritual, or have regular practices like mindfulness, meditation, or relaxation, then ensure that you’re still building that into your life, even if it means using alternative methods to access it. You’ll need periods of escapism too and reading, audiobooks, gaming and passive TV can all provide this and give your brain a much-needed break.
These are frightening and uncertain times but hopefully by following some of my suggestions, you’ll keep as calm, occupied and content as possible, until freedom is restored.
For specific, anxiety-related tips on how to cope with being housebound, you can find my post written 14 months in here.