Having a mental illness has sparked a bit of concern amongst my family and friends of how I would cope with Lockdown but the truth is I’ve loved it. I appreciate everyone’s experience is unique because if you were to add demanding children or a partner into my equation I maybe wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much. For all that I am in some ways quite an extrovert, I am actually in many more ways an introvert.
When Boris Johnson told us to stay indoors for 23 hours and no outside contact with the world, a lifetime of often crippling social anxiety just danced out my window. My lockdown buddy was my little chihuahua called Trouble and I knew we’d manage just fine. It turned out to be quite an epiphany though and I learned some lessons that I will absolutely carry with me when more regular life resumes. I feel in a sense that the whole world stopped……and I STARTED
I STARTED to have more time to create a self-care routine. I’m ashamed to admit that it was enforced through boredom but as it became part of my regular routine to do certain activities I realised I could feel the benefit for my mental health. For once in my life I could think about what would actually be best for myself, what would I like to do? I decided I’ve always wanted to try journaling but life just always seemed too busy before. I researched what kind of journals to buy because for all that people would class me as a “writer,” if you put a book of blank pages in front of me there would probably still be blank pages a day later. I need a little seed of inspiration to write – just something that strikes a chord in me and makes me feel passionately enough to tap away on my keyboard at 300mph trying to keep up with my consequent thought process. I bought a journal that gave me the ability to write freehand, asked me questions that required me to look to my inner self and provided inspirational topics – one of the questions was “If you had 3 mins to make a speech to the world what would you say?” What an amazing question!! I won’t reveal what my answer was just incase I have to make that worldwide speech one day 😉 It had pages for therapeutic colouring which I had always hated before. “Adult Colouring In Books” are so intricate and for me the only thing that did was quadruple my anxiety and frustration to the point I couldn’t even colour within the lines. I specifically chose a journal that the pictures were quite clear and big. Not quite the level of a 3 year old but also not the tiny detail required when they think they’re encouraging us to be “mindful.” Such intricate, detailed colouring only results in making me “mindfully mad!”
I STARTED to develop a healthy relationship with food. I was an avid fitness class user until the world went into lockdown so I knew that I would probably gain some weight going from high intensity training to none, but I recognised that this time to myself was a chance to re-educate myself how to take care of my body in a healthy way. Having spent my life often in a state of starving or binging, there was nobody more surprised than me to find that I had accidentally fallen into a style of eating called “Intuitive Eating.” Being honest, I’d watched a documentary on it last year but I wasn’t entirely convinced and it left me with the memory of it being along the lines of “I’m eating 12 doughnuts because my body is communicating to me that’s what it needs and I’m listening.” Hold on though, that’s what I took away from the programme but let me share what the official definition of Intuitive Eating is, compliments of google. ….”
- Intuitive eating is a philosophy that rejects traditional dieting and calls for listening to your body’s own cues to decide what, when, and how much to eat.
- The approach isn’t designed for weight loss but instead considers your mental and physical health holistically
- To get started, stop thinking of foods as “good” or “bad” and instead eat snacks or meals consistently (every 3-4 hours) with protein, fiber, and fat.
Don’t ask me how it happened but I am a convinced supporter of this style of eating. In regular life I might feel hungry yet it be another 2 hours before I can stop for food because I’m in the middle of something. Lockdown gave me the luxury of being at home most of the time and therefore it was a case of “I’m hungry….eat,” “I’m thirsty….drink” I’ve learned that getting too hungry is a trigger for overeating so I STARTED ensuring I always have something healthy to snack on if I have to be out the house. I wouldn’t have believed I could be disciplined enough to do this but it actually feels natural now. Nobody was more surprised than me when I was in a supermarket, heading, out of habit to choose a “meal deal” sandwich option and a voice popped in my head , “I want Protein.” I didn’t panic or think I was hallucinating, I simply listened. I changed direction and went down the aisle that had cooked chicken pieces and as I chomped on it in the car, I realised that protein was indeed exactly what my body needed. I had no sugar cravings after eating it. I was satisfied and I was gobsmacked. Oh my goodness, I have become an Intuitive Eater and I love it!
I STARTED to create a sleep routine and also found myself becoming very protective of it. By 8.30pm I begin to shut the world out and I get ready to run my bath. I’ve always been aware of the sleep hygiene health professionals promote but it had never had any effect before. However, I STARTED to learn how much adrenaline runs through me to function in the day and without being drip-fed that constant anxiety I was able to set boundaries around my sleep routine. While my bath is running I lay out my Weighted Sleep Blanket (check these out if you have insomnia/anxiety/autism) over my duvet, closed my curtains, set up my essential oil vaporiser mist to be pumping out a beautiful mix of oils that are used to calm the mood, light my room up with a soft glow lamp, and light some candles for my bath. Maybe I should admit I actually have company when I’m in the bath?……Alexa!! I bring Alexa into the bathroom and I sink into the water with whatever choice of music I am in the mood for. On one occasion she played the whole rendition of the musical Annie and my poor neighbour probably had to endure me belting out “The sun’ll come out tomorrow…..lalala” Usually it’s relaxing music I have her play though and for once in my life, my sleep medications is given half a chance to work after my bath because I am already winding down. I always felt my head was capable of overriding my medication but since sticking to this routine I haven’t had a single night of insomnia.
I STARTED to look at the relationships I have in my life – everything from friends, to family, to health professionals. I had read a quote on facebook which struck an intense chord and it was simply “Not everyone deserves a seat at the table of your life. Choose wisely.” When we had to choose our “bubble” it really did force us to look at which friendships we thrived in and which were more out of duty or because we had a long standing history. I also became starkly aware of how imbalanced some friendships were in terms of if it wasn’t for me making the effort all the time, would they actually even make an effort at all? Doing my journals every day has been good for my self-esteem and it gave me the courage to accept that even if someone has been a friend for life……what do we actually bring to each other in the here and now? All friendships go through dry phases and it doesn’t mean you give up on the friendship but with having time to really reflect on the past few years I came to the conclusion that sometimes people grow apart…..and that’s okay. There doesn’t have to be a dramatic conflict or fall out, I just had to recognise that some people are in your life for a chapter, not necessarily the whole book…..and I’m okay with that.
During lockdown I STARTED to get to know myself better than I could ever have had the time or capacity to do before the pandemic. My writing helped me to identify areas of my life that needed work on and I’ve enjoyed that aspect. I learned who and what matters most to me in life. I also learned that I am very much a morning person and it’s taken me 43 years to be aware of that! Actually identifying when you are able to produce your best work is really crucial to how much you will enjoy the task so I recommend you work that one out 🙂 Life before this pandemic was always quite manic for me and although I’ve somehow created a different one with just as much going on, it’s all very much based around self-care so it’s a different kind of busyness. While I appreciate Lockdown has been horrific for some and tragic for others, for myself personally, it’s been a gift. Being forced to stop being such an active participant in the outside world gave me a chance to reach deep inside and pull out the things that were going to get me through a worldwide pandemic alone with a mental health condition.
In doing so I STARTED to write more, I STARTED to sleep better, I STARTED listening to more audiobooks, I STARTED to appreciate certain people more, I STARTED to let some people go, I STARTED to engage with an online therapist each week , I STARTED to find a healthy relationship with food and was finally able to let go of a lifetime of disordered eating………I STARTED to realise that for one of the first times in my life I felt at peace, as if my heart was truly happy. I STARTED to understand that this is who I am. I recognise I am a bit different than a lot of people I know. Maybe I’ll never quite fit the mould of what some people expect of me but I’m okay with that. I still pray for people who are not having a positive time in lockdown and if I can help anyone I always will. It’s been a huge revelation though to realise how much I’ve learned about myself and I hope I can help others I meet along the road. My heart is to help others but Lockdown taught me that the first person I need to help is myself. May I always remember that.
credit to Angela McCrimmon