covid // update 2

~ #covid-lockdown

I’d like to delve into the mental side of how the pandemic has affected me so far. I find doing this kind of introspection useful, and I think analysing my own mental health in the midst of such an historic moment will be interesting to look back on and laugh, cry or most probably cringe.

When lockdown started here in the UK, I was working in Tessian’s London office near Liverpool street. There was a feeling in the air that things were about to change dramatically. We joked facetiously every Friday that we might not see each other on Monday, and that every visit to the pub might be our last for a few months.

How trivial it all seemed back then! Maybe this was our way of dealing with the possibility of such an enormous event. Or maybe we felt that the problem was far away and not really something we needed to worry about.

It was like this up until we finally got word that we’d be working from home for the next few months.

I was already at home, with sinus pain (but no fever, and no cough) and when my flatmate came home he said he’d be moving back in with his family. My initial reaction was slight confusion — was he doing this knowing that he wouldn’t be able to come back for months? I asked and I think at the time he said that he didn’t really know but was ok with that.

I didn’t really think that living on my own for an extended period of time would have a had such a negative impact on me. But this was more than living alone, it was living alone with almost no physical or close contact with anyone.

I remember thinking, “I can be in the same supermarket as 100s of other people, but not even meet up in the same park as my friends”. That is, under the rules of the lockdown at the time.

In the face of hardship, British people have something deeply ingrained in them that tells them to muster the strength to push through and survive. A friend of mine likened it to the post-war mentality, not seen here in practice for many decades. And although I didn’t live through the war myself, I have older relatives who did live through such difficult times. I think they look back and feel happy that they played their part and made it through.

The fact is, keeping “a stiff upper lip” is not an effective way of dealing with mental health.

This part of British culture is a rallying cry for individuals to show “strength” in the face of hardship but I feel like this is not entirely the right way to approach the survival of a mentally complex society.

Being “strong” in the face of hardship could be understood in a number of ways; one being “bury your feelings, act normally” which clearly doesn’t even try to address the actual issue, whatever it may be. “Keep calm and carry on” is the exact embodiment of “suppress your feelings and continue without change”. There’s no doubt in my mind that this kind of stoicism could serve to the detriment of one’s mental health, despite how encouraging or invigorating they might seem on the surface.

My way of “carrying on” mostly involved pushing myself harder at work and even in my free time.

I did a lot of yoga, sometimes went out for exercise but over time I did less and less.

I lost motivation and eventually I realised that I couldn’t be on my own any longer.

I realised under the intense pressure of my job and everything else that I would rather be leading a different life, and started planning for a different path.

This is really awesome, like, really awesome. I’m glad I’m finally prepared to take a leap into some other path and embrace it.

I feel like I’m getting closer to knowing where I want to go and what I want to do next. But even now, covid is far from being suppressed, let alone eradicated. There are signs that we could have a vaccine by the end of the year but the general public may have to wait until the end of 2021 before a wide-spread vaccine is available. People are saying we may be living with this virus for years to come, just as we have with other illnesses that now have vaccines.

Until covid is under control, travel will be more difficult.

But if I do move away, I don’t think it would be a temporary thing, but rather a permanent move to another country for a year, if not longer. I feel like I’ve already waited too long already to do something like this.

When I started planning this move a few weeks into lockdown, I began to feel more positive about my own immediate situation of being locked down. I felt a bit more hopeful.

But ultimately, this wasn’t (and isn’t) going to happen in the short-term. And planning is certainly no replacement for the real thing.

Eventually, after two months on my own I accepted that being alone wasn’t working and that I needed much more social interaction if I wanted to maintain my mental well being.

So I packed up and went home for two months to spend a lot of time with my amazing family (and my family’s pets who were exclusively my therapy pets for the duration).

This blog post is getting far too long so I will continue talking about life at home during lockdown in the next one.

Thanks for reading!