Just over two months ago I wrote a blog post entitled “Staying Sane in the Age of Corona”. It was published on March 15, approximately a week before the UK went into lockdown. At that time it was only those people with symptoms, or whose family members had symptoms, who were required to stay home. The announcement on March 23, that all non-essential workers must stay home, took me by surprise. I’d been thinking of the possibility of one or two weeks relaxing at home reading and watching Netflix. Now that I’ve had a couple of months of it, I must admit the novelty is wearing off.
My “mental health plan” was a short-term one: I had the chocolate, the wine, the books and the Netflix subscription. All was well in the world. I’m not going to give more mental health advice. Social media is awash with mental health advice – the government is providing it, the Mental Health Foundation are too, as are many charities, especially since this week is Mental Health Awareness Week. This advice is timely, because many of us are finding it tough. My Facebook friends repeatedly request “copying and reposting” of mental health messages. I’m not going to do that; firstly, because I don’t “copy and repost”; and secondly, because I’ve experienced mental illness for more than half of my life and I can assure you copied and reposted messages don’t make me feel any better.
A work routine is a large part of what keeps me from descending to the depths of despair. But for me it can’t be some self-imposed work routine – it has to be one I’m required to fulfill in order to avoid letting other people down. There is satisfaction in being at work for the day. Work isn’t always fun – it’s often really hard – but still it provides the sense of deserving to relax afterwards. And it provides contrast, just as the weather and the seasons do.
I actually have a long list of things to do at home. Cleaning the oven was at the top. I have the chemicals and the time, just not the motivation. If every day is the same, why should this be the day when I clean the oven? I could pay myself to do it, but what would I spend the money on? I’d like to go to a café and have coffee and cake with a friend, but I can’t do that. I could buy new clothes online but I don’t see the point: my family don’t care what I wear, and I rarely see anyone else. I might be interested in doing stuff at home, or buying new clothes, if there was a time limit on the lockdown. It doesn’t feel to me like there is. I feel in limbo, uncertain of when or if we’ll ever get back to business as usual.
I had to have my familiar – my little black cat – put to sleep on Saturday. Emergency veterinary care is available, but you can’t go into the clinic with your pet. I couldn’t hold her paw as she left this mortal coil. Now there’s a Moxie-shaped hole in my life. I didn’t realise how much I’d miss being woken up at 6.30 am by a rough little tongue licking my eyelids.
I’m sorry if you were looking forward to a blog full of helpful advice and inspirational statements. You can go overboard on inspirational statements. Even time I see a wall plaque laden with “inspiration” I just want to smash it with an axe (am I the only person who feels that way?). As a precaution, I take Prozac before work and never carry an axe in the car (believe it or not, I come across as mild mannered to most people).
At work I wear a yellow badge with a black dog – it’s the badge of the Black Dog Institute, and it’s telling everyone “it’s okay to say”. One of the hardest aspects of living with a mood disorder was having to hide it. Hiding it didn’t help me or anyone else. If you tell the truth about how you are, then you give others permission to do the same. The world is a kinder place without the stiff upper lips.