Update 23/3/20: For those looking for tips on coping with social distancing, self-isolation, lockdown and generally being indoors because of Coronvirus, please read my new and updated blog post here, written on the 23rd of March 2020. There are also lots of tips there that would be useful for those who are housebound due to anxiety as well as other mental or physical illnesses so do read that post in addition to this one as 6 years in, I’ve learnt a lot more since writing the original post below.
- Try to get a routine
I can’t emphasise this point enough and it’s the only thing that keeps me even vaguely on track. I don’t timetable every little thing, that’s too restrictive for me but I have a basic list of things to do each day. One of the main things is get up at and go to bed at the same time each day. Try and eat at set times and maybe set yourself a tv schedule or activities at certain times so that you don’t become disorientated about time of day.
- Get up
This is a hugely important point for anyone that doesn’t have to get dressed each day. Do it anyway! You may not think it makes much difference but you’ll be amazed how quickly your motivation disappears and your standards slip if you don’t get up properly each day. You don’t have to get dressed up, plaster yourself in make-up and curl your hair but do the basics of showering and dressing each morning (not in the evening before your partner returns from work) because at least then you’re starting your day right. When you’re out of work/sick/housebound it’s all too easy to stop caring, to stop bothering and to make your situation worse. These small things are so important to keep you functioning as much as possible so that you don’t fall into the depression pit.
- Eat properly and regularly
This sounds obvious but despite having a lot of time on our hands, many of us really struggle at getting our eating under control. For the first 6 months of being ill, thanks to the medication I was on and sheer boredom I would just graze throughout the day. I was never properly hungry for meals because I kept snacking and I just ended up eating junk food because I felt sorry for myself and wanted to cheer myself up. This is a huge reason why Western society is becoming so fat, because we reward ourselves and cheer ourselves up with food. Food is not a reward, it’s fuel. Once it starts becoming a reward you end up on the slippery slope towards obesity. The meds I was on gave me super strong cravings for food that were so intense they’d stop me sleeping. In 6 months I managed to gain almost 22lbs. This then leads to major problems because when you’re housebound exercising is really challenging so losing the weight becomes very difficult. Trying to stay out of the fridge when you’re inside all the time requires an immense amount of willpower but take it from someone who knows, you will feel so much better if you stay a stable, healthy weight. I’ve now managed to lose 30lbs and still need to lose over a stone before I’ll be back to being a healthy weight. All of that is having to be done through food restriction because I can’t do enough exercise in my flat to be able to burn off the calories. It’s really really hard but I’m steadily losing the weight. Don’t use being out of work or being ill as an excuse to gain weight because it truly does make everything worse and it’s hard to fight the condition and boredom and weight loss on top!
- Keep busy and learn new things
It’s all too easy to settle into a routine of waking up at noon, mooching about in your dressing gown, watching trashy daytime tv, snacking and not bothering to do anything but this is a sure fire way of maintaining and worsening your situation and state of mind. None of those things are good for your mind or soul and they’re a great way of becoming disillusioned, bored and unmotivated. Use the time you have to do something productive. Learn something new, contact friends and family, be creative – just do something! Since becoming housebound last year I’ve taught myself to crochet using youtube videos, I set up a Facebook page to sell my crocheted items and take regular commissioned orders, I started doing adult colouring, I set up this blog and very recently set up a second so that I can review adult colouring books for publishers, I regularly contact friends and family and try to arrange visits with them, I’ve been interviewed on the radio and I’ve learnt to bake lots of new things. There are days when I’m too ill to do anything and I just lie curled up on the sofa, watching tv, barely even able to make myself food or drinks, but on the majority of days when I don’t feel like that I make sure that I’m doing something useful and productive. It’s not the same as going to work or being the perfect housewife but at the end of each day I try to have something that I can show that I’ve done, something that I’ve achieved, something that I can tell my boyfriend about when he gets home from work so that I don’t feel completely useless and hopeless. My self-esteem plummeted when I had to stop work and I find it really hard to maintain my self-worth because I do just feel useless and worthless most of the time, however, being productive means that I can show myself that I’ve done something and that I’ve not wasted the day in bed. I’m not able to change lives at the moment like I hope to do in my future mental health career, but I will at least have things to put on my CV to show future employers that despite life being really tough, I still did my best to keep going.
- Write a list of your achievements no matter how small
I always used to hate posts like this because they were full of either common sense stuff that was really obvious, or ridiculously positive bullshit (sorry Nana) that just made me want to vomit. I’m not an optimist and I’m certainly not one to look for the silver linings of the clouds that seem intent on constantly raining on me. However, I also know that I’m incredibly good at ignoring all of the good bits about myself and all of the things I achieve. Throughout being ill I’ve thought about the things I can’t do, the things that others can and are doing, the burden I have become and how useless I feel now I can’t work but this all means that I overlook all of the ways in which I’m trying, the ways in which I’ve not given up and things I do to fight this condition each day. On one of my particularly good days I managed to go to my local charity shop and found a lovely cupcake shaped cookie jar (I collect all things cupcakey) and that jar now has bits of paper in with all of my achievements on. These include managing to go to the shops, taking the bins out, standing up to people, visiting relatives, all of the things that a week after the event I’ve forgotten about and discounted because I’m still not cured and able to be useful yet. It’s not changed my life and I doubt it’ll change yours but it does make me focus a little more on each small success I have and I now have a record of all the things I’ve achieved that I can read through if I’m having a rubbish day (providing I remember the jar exists).
- Be outside as much as possible
This sounds a little odd coming from someone whose biggest anxieties are focused on being outside and around lots of people but I’m also best placed to advise you that if you can go out then you should because being cooped up inside is unbelievably claustrophobic. If you can’t go outside, like I’ve often not been able to, then move rooms so you’re seeing and experiencing a different environment and if you can, open a door or window so that you can get some fresh air. I’m lucky enough to have a balcony so often when I can’t face going outside and being around people I’ll go and sit out there or even just sit inside next to the open door. These things really do help you feel less imprisoned which is a huge problem for those of us who are housebound.
- Keep in touch with people and make contact
This is really important because, in my experience, when you’re out of sight, you’re often, sadly, out of mind too. When you’re newly housebound people will get in touch to see how you’re doing and offer advice or support but as the weeks and then months go by, many of these people drop off your mailing list and get back on with their own lives. It’s vital to make the effort and keep in touch with the people you care most about so that you don’t lose all contact with the outside world. It can be really hard to make contact because when you’re housebound you can’t talk about your job, or what happened last week on your commute, or that new restaurant you tried out and you may often feel that you have nothing to talk about and nothing of value to say – I certainly feel like this very regularly. Keeping in touch with others keeps you rooted in the real world though and means you can stay up to date with what’s going on in your local area, what’s happening at work in your absence and on the latest gossip about that girl you went to school with. These conversations help keep you in the loop and stop you from being totally isolated. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand what it’s like to be housebound and don’t know how to help and so they withdraw for fear that they may upset you or be rubbing your nose in it by talking about what they’re doing that you can’t. I can only speak for myself here, but I can’t think of any time in the 14 months I’ve been housebound that I’ve been anything other than grateful and interested to hear about someone else’s life. The mundane things to you are so much more interesting to us now our world has shrunk and I’m more than happy to hear about how dreadful the commute has been, how work’s been grinding you down or about the latest argument with your partner because it means that I get to share in the normal things, the everyday things, the things that make up our lives that I often no longer experience. This contact may also lead to people offering to visit and while this can be very challenging, particularly for those of us who are housebound because of anxiety, it’s always worth trying to fight the demons and have people over because in my experience it lifts my mood for hours if not days afterwards. Human contact, both physical and psychological is vital for us to thrive and when you’re housebound this contact is drastically reduced. As an extrovert, I love to be around people and can talk to them for hours each day and it’s something that has always made me thrive. Now I’m housebound, I regularly go for days where the only contact I’ll get is a 10 minute chat with my boyfriend between him getting home from work and then having to go to bed or a quick facebook message to someone. Keep in touch with as many people as you can so that you don’t become too isolated or forgotten.
- Don’t give up – write a list of all the things you’re looking forward to
This can be a bit of a depressing activity because you’re reminded of all the things you currently can’t do and are desperate to. However, it can also be really exciting because we end up in a very special place where lots of mundane tasks that everyone else takes for granted become something we look forward to, work towards and cherish. Having your life taken away from you and being forced to live it within the confines of a few walls is really awful – it’s why we imprison criminals, it’s used as punishment and it often feels like you’re being punished or tortured when you’re housebound. But, you end up with a completely different perspective and I personally have an ever-growing list of things to work towards being well enough to do. Most people dread going food shopping each week but it’s something I’ve always quite liked doing, I can’t even express how much I’m looking forward to being able to take over the role of chief food shopper in my relationship again. I can’t wait to be able to browse in shops and take my time choosing fresh bread and comparing prices of tinned tomatoes to get the best deal. I can’t wait to be able to talk to shop assistants and train conductors, to be able to just jump on a train and visit friends and family. I daydream about spending the day at the beach, buying an ice cream, attempting to learn to run. I want to join a pilates class and go to a crochet group so I no longer have to crochet alone. Keeping all those things in sight keeps me pushing forwards and trying to improve and I’d really advise writing your own list so that you have things to look forward to and eventually, things to write down and put in your cupcake jar that you’ve managed to achieve.
Being housebound is one of the worst things that has ever happened to me and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but doing the things listed above gives you the best chance of staying as sane as possible and coping as best you can. These things will help you get through each day and hopefully keep you going long enough to get out the other side and released back into the outside world. I don’t have any quick fixes, no magic cures, no advice about how to stop being housebound and be able to no longer be anxious outside the house, I’m still fighting those demons and the majority of days they still win but these tips will help you retain a sense of self, a sense of achievement and stop you going stir crazy so give them a try – I’d love to know how you get on and whether you found any of them helpful.