Coping with COVID-19

How many months has it been now? Four, Five? I don’t know anymore. What I do know is even after the lockdown has been lifted and some of the restrictions are slowly going away. It’s definitely not over yet. I’m back to work tonight after two nights off and the new regulations regarding visiting shops will be in force.

Face coverings are required to be worn in any shops, including food shops and supermarkets, but are not required in hospitality settings, including restaurants with table service, bars, and pubs. They are also not required in entertainment venues (such as cinemas or casinos), visitor attractions (such as heritage sites or museums), exercise and sports venues (such as gyms).

Despite that this is government-issued, the majority of shops and supermarkets won’t be stopping non-mask-wearing customers from entering the shop, and nor will they be throwing out customers who remove their masks once inside.  Retail staff and managers aren’t the police and therefore they cannot police. Hopefully, members of the public will remember this. I really don’t want to bear the brunt of their frustrations (please!). The police are under too much stress to police people wearing masks inside shops so calling them and reporting people not wearing their masks where they have been told to won’t achieve anything either. Though there are rumors floating around, where I work that the police may perform random spot checks.  Retail staff “strongly recommended” to wear face coverings despite the government telling them they don’t need to. It makes sense, I guess. If we want our customers to be wearing masks to protect us then how are they going to feel if we aren’t wearing masks to protect them? Putting aside that I feel we are bolting the gate after the horse has bolted with the whole mandatory face mask, wearing thing.  I 100% think that this is an exercise in improving the economy rather than protecting us. There are still a lot of people who are refusing to go out in public. They aren’t spending money like they normally would.  Shopping is one of them.  Face coverings seem to give people a feeling of being safe and better protected.So if people feel safe and protected during the pandemic, they are going to be much more confident about going out of their homes and spending money in shops. Thus, improving the economy. The same with the government subsidies within the restaurant industry coming into force at the beginning of August. YASSSS half-price food!

I’m somewhat lucky in the fact that I work nights and due to the pandemic, the store, which is normally open 24/7 is currently not. So my public-facing duties only last 3 hours a shift.  I’ll only be required to wear a face mask from between 10 pm to 12 am and then again from 6am to 7 am. Three whole hours. Not so fortunate are our mortal enemies (kidding), the day staff will have to wear theirs throughout their entire shift. I honestly don’t think I could do it. The store is hot and humid at the best of times, but I absolutely hate having things on my face. It’s taken years for me to accept and get used to wearing my glasses 24/7 and even now I’m not wearing them and I should. I’ve had to wear a mask on public transport a couple of times and my automatic reaction is to try and pull it off my face. The hot air, the feeling of not being able to breathe fully kicks my anxiety off and I know for a lot of other people it does too. Even those that don’t struggle with their mental health aren’t coping with it. This brings me to the real topic of this post actually. How do people with an existing mental health condition cope with a pandemic like this? I’ve never seen something like this in my lifetime and I’m sure most people alive today haven’t either

COVID-19 and existing mental health issues

So, to begin with, people like us, who have lived with mental health problems are more likely to have experienced health challenges and inequality during our lives. We’re also more likely to be isolated and we are at greater risk of having other health conditions which could make us more susceptible to catching COVID-19. It’s also more than likely, that we find it hard to ask for help and support. I know this is definitely true for me. I tend to withdraw from people and hide my Bi-Polar due to fear of being judged and treated differently. This means not only do I not ask for help; I don’t get it either, because people don’t know I need it!

A lot of us have worked really hard, or working really hard to work towards being able to function ok on a day-to-day basis with our mental health problems. COVID-19 has disrupted this progress. Forcing the majority of us into a sphere of isolation. Now things are gradually becoming less restrictive we are expected to get back to somewhat normal. It isn’t that easy.

If you’ve fought a battle against an eating disorder. You may have found it incredibly difficult during the pandemic and the new rules surrounding supermarkets. Some of the techniques you may have learned to cope with may not be as easy to apply as they were. If you’ve ever experienced obsessions or intrusive thoughts. Especially ones relating to disease, illness, or cleanliness. It’s quite likely that what’s going on now has made you feel that you were “right all along”. The inflicted isolation that we are facing may remind you of the times that you have isolated yourself, or were forced to isolate yourself (hospital admittance, imprisonment?) during a bad period of your mental health.  The focus in the media on rule-breaking and police enforcement may make you feel like you’re being watched and controlled.  I guess what I’m really trying to get across is that many of the things we believe or have believed in the past are being “made true” and we’ve fought so hard to lead normal lives that this could indeed set us back.

Slogans such as “Stay at home, protect our NHS, help them, to save lives” gives us the idea that we shouldn’t seek help when we are struggling with substance abuse, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts due to our mental illness. That A&E is no longer an option for immediate emergency treatment. This isn’t true though. If you need immediate emergency treatment that is exactly where you should be. Please don’t avoid it.

A lot of us have built up support networks such as Friends, Family, Health Care professionals, and groups that currently are not safe for us to attend, because of COVID-19. It might be that home may not be a safe place to be right now either. Even though a lot of our support services are still available, the way they operate is different. They aren’t as easy to access as they were before and most services are not running at full capacity. Let’s face it most of them weren’t before anyway, due to heavy workloads and not enough staff. Now they have even less staff dealing with an ever-increasing workload. Since COVID-19, I’ve had three video conferences with my psychiatrist. It’s not the same. I don’t feel quite as able to open up and be honest. I’m constantly focused on the way I appear on the screen. He can’t really see subtle differences in the way I dress or subtle shifts in my body language, which would usually indicate a change in my mental health status. You’ll probably find me complaining about face-to-face consultations (I’m nothing but a professional moaner) but this is even worse.

When you’re not feeling good you may feel like a burden on friends, family, and the NHS but now you might feel like an even bigger burden than before. Putting your problems on to people, who you feel may already be burdened by the current situation. This may make it less likely that you’ll reach out during a crisis. PLEASE REACH OUT.

On a completely different note. You might be confused because you’re dealing with this better than you could have ever expected. I really vibe with this one actually. Apart from the period of agitation in regards to not being able to do things that I want and the subsequent path towards hypomania because of it. I’m coping relatively well. Probably too well.  I’m not scared of the virus; I’m not worried about catching it. I feel like I’m not normal because of this and it’s beginning to bother me.  There are a few instances in my life, where I have gone into “auto-pilot”.  A stressful situation has occurred and I’ve really powered through it. I’ve dealt with it incredibly well and then BOOM it’s over and collapse under the huge amount of weight I’ve been propping up. So, a big fear of mine currently is that this could lead to a downward spiral if/when it’s finally over.

A thirty something from down south (Cornwall, UK). People who like me tell me I'm funny, sarcastic and have no filter. People who don't would probably say I'm a bit of a bellend. I'll let you make your own mind up.

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