Lockdown Diaries – The Harsh Reality

It’s been 12 days since lockdown began in South Africa. I’ve been working from home for exactly 16 working days, but I’ve pretty much not left my house for 22 days already. On 16 March, I visited my father at his medical practice (he is a general practitioner) to collect some medication only to find out that he had seen a coronavirus patient that morning.

It was still early days (only over a week since the first positive coronavirus patient was recorded in the country), only 2 days since the President had declared a national state of disaster, so all Phil and I could do was self isolate for 14 days.

I got sick, but it was nothing serious and some broad spectrum antibiotics helped. It was just a sinus infection, but the paranoia that came with it did nothing positive for my mental health. A thousand questions flooded my mind and it was scary. I hadn’t shown enough symptoms to be tested… but would it get worse? With every thought, my sickness felt like it was worsening because of my anxiety. The symptoms became psychosomatic and I had no mental energy to pull myself out of the abyss… until now.

And that’s what I want to post about today.

Staying home, we seem to be spending more time than ever on social media. And the pressure seems to be at its optimum right now for some reason.

People keep posting about protecting your mental health with all these tools, but honestly – what tools can you really use when you’re in a slump? You’re just trying to survive. My generation has never experienced anything like this before. Even the tools I’ve learned in therapy were hard to conjure up at this time. Sometimes staying alive and getting the bare minimum done is all you can manage.

I read a post that said – “You are not working from home; you are at home during a crisis trying to work

I couldn’t have put it more poignantly.

It’s great that people have the emotional and mental capacity to tick off a bunch of personal tasks during this lockdown time. It’s amazing that people feel like inspiring people to keep going, but I have to be honest – for me, it feels hurtful because the reality of mental wellness isn’t that simple.

All I can speak to is my own experience during this time.

It’s ideal to keep practising yoga at the same time every day, and write down your thoughts, and and and… but people don’t seem to realise that people living with mental illness can’t just “up and at it” that easily. I have friends who have battled continuous unexplained panic attacks because their NORMAL routine has been thrown out.

I have tried to keep to my routine, but it’s been difficult. To say that work on my day job has exponentially increased is an understatement, and it’s not easy to balance. Reporting structures are different (because it has to be) and companies are scrambling to keep their workforce alive so that their businesses stay alive… but what about our minds? It really feels like this survival of the fittest thing is next level – “adapt or die” feels very real right now.

People living with mental illness – no matter how mild or severe – have specific coping mechanisms designed for their life, and these 12 days have thrown us all off. We basically have to start over, because what we used to do (to cope), we can no longer do. Adaptation takes a little more time for us. Our brains work a little differently.

For example, I learned that I need to match my anxiety level to an activity in order to release that anxious energy. For that reason, I use the following method:

  • Step 1 – Intensive workout (to release endorphins)
  • Step 2 – Meditate (to silence my mind)
  • Step 3 – Write (to release my words onto paper)

These mechanisms are built into my everyday routine – waking up at 05h00 for work, being at work by 06h30, working until 16h00, coming home to cook and unwind, do the above, eat, maybe do a bit more work, and then sleep… I tried to follow this same pattern the first week that I worked from home but it just didn’t work. There just wasn’t enough room in my mind to comprehend the crises at hand…

The empath in me was afraid for our country. I was flooded by thoughts of the world falling apart, I was terrified for my father who still had to work – I was terrified that he would contract the virus and I would not be able to see him. I know I couldn’t control any of this… but I couldn’t control myself. So much fear. Leading to major anxiety. Leading to a drop in my immune system… leading to me getting even more unwell.

Can you see how people living with mental health issues might be struggling right now? How delicately you might have to tread around them?

Thankfully, Phil and I need to eat… and I found an outlet in creating new dishes again, something I hadn’t given my heart to in a while. So it’s not to say that adaptation is impossible… it’s to say that it happens at different rates for different people.

It has taken 22 days for me to get here. Since cooking is really therapeutic to me, I have adapted to including this into my new routine. Come 18h00, I now down tools and ensure I can put my heart into cooking something beautiful. It’s taken 22 days for me to be able to write something down, consider unrolling my yoga mat, and sit down with purpose. It’s taken this long for me to adapt… and it’s probably because I have some tools at my disposal. What about the people living undiagnosed or the people all alone struggling…

My point in this post was to ask people to reach out to those they know. People who have grown quieter. People who seem okay, but who might not be (if you, yourself, have the capacity to do so, that is.) Most of all, I’d recommend not bombarding people with news. It is really overwhelming. (My new thing is I check in on the day before’s news and stats in the morning while eating breakfast and that’s my fix for the day. Even though I love following the news, right now it just isn’t working for my mind.)

This is the reality. For many.

And again… to anyone struggling… try not to succumb to the pressures of work out challenges and the like. You aren’t failing because you can’t do it. Dim the light, silence the sound, and centre yourself. You are not failing because you are unable to be as productive as you’d like. Don’t compare your journey. I know I am not because I am doing the best I can.

I know you are too.