How to survive the first week of quarantine: Emilie’s Top Tips

TW: COVID and its impact on mental health

I was only planning on writing reflection pieces about how quarantine has been affecting me, but now that the U.K. (amongst others) has also been put into lockdown, I felt it was important to give others a few tips about how to survive the first week of quarantine as a mentally ill person. These tips are from the point of view of someone who will go into lethargy and depression in times of hardship, so these are the things that helped for me. If you tend to respond to emergencies with manic episodes or obsessive behaviours, some of these tips might not apply. Just take whatever might feel important, and leave the rest out:

The medical adjustment

These are steps that should be taken as soon as possible. They gave me a sense of security. Basically, it’s the “if all goes down in flames, at least I’ve got this” part of the plan.

  1. Adjust your emergency or crisis plan. Most of us mentally ill people have an emergency plan, whether we have put it on paper or not. There are the people, doctors and institutions we know we can call or go to if things get really bad. I felt that the most reassuring thing for me to do once I heard about the quarantine was see how it was going to fit around that emergency plan: was my psychiatric hospital still open? Were the emergency psychiatric nurses from the centre nearby still working there? Were hours modified? It’s not like I rushed to the phone immediately, but this was one of my major tasks in the first few days.
  2. Organize therapy (in the UK this may be provided by your Community Mental Health Team, Recovery College, local charity or service user led group). Psychiatry is one thing: as a medical profession, I knew things weren’t going to completely close down. On the other hand, I was fairly angry to see that the French government hadn’t deemed therapists’ office essentials and therefore had closed them down. I got in touch with my therapist to organize biweekly phone calls, at the hours of our normal sessions. It’s important to continue therapy in these times, and to retain a sense of normality.
  3. Find out about crisis resources. This is the facultative next step. If you don’t seem to be able to adapt your emergency plan, if you can’t get a hold of your therapist anymore, you should start looking for other resources put to the public to deal with the situation: is there a mental health hotline put together for your area? Mental health professionals helping? It’s also important to look for financial resources if you’re usually dependent on government funding: is your government giving financial help to go through the crisis? Are there other ways for you to be able to have enough money to keep going?

Organizing for lockdown

Just like everybody else, you’re going to need to organize yourself to be able to keep on going without going outside as much as possible. That means getting supplies, mostly.

  1. Don’t go shopping in the first few days. If you have even the bare essentials to go on for a couple of days or even a week, without going grocery shopping, try doing it as late as possible. This is the best way to avoid the frenzy and the panic of the first few days. Food isn’t going to disappear. This isn’t a famine. And honestly, supermarkets in the first few days are going to be quite a traumatic experience. This also counts for medication: people are also going to rush to pharmacies in the first few days, but there shouldn’t be a higher demand for mental health drugs. Try waiting a few days before going for your prescription refill if possible, to avoid the crowds.
  2. Expect people to panic. This for me was particularly difficult in my first few ventures outside and resulted in quite a few panic attacks. You’re going to feel like both a predator and a prey. Other people are going to look scared. Not meet your eye. It’s not just that they will make a step aside to avoid being too close, they will avoid talking as well, hunch their shoulders… It’s… Honestly if you’re socially anxious like me, it’s going to be bad. But you have to remember that we’re all going through this, and this is difficult for everyone. Give people time to adjust to how to be remotely social again and remember that smiling or looking at you will not make them deadly sick.
  3. Expect the first week to be difficult. Honestly, I hope for you it’s not going to be the case, but being locked down, without social interactions, in a global pandemic, is probably not going to do wonders to your mental health. It’s okay to need time to adjust. It’s okay to feel like you can’t get out of bed and be productive for a few days because this all just feels too much. Allow yourself to feel, even if that means wallowing in self-pity for a while.

Getting into some semblance of routine

This is, for me, the last important task of the first week. As I was saying, if you are mentally ill, don’t set immensely high expectations for yourself, especially on the first few days. You’ve heard it everywhere before, this isn’t a race, it’s a marathon. Burning yourself out in the first week isn’t going to be of any use.

  1. Sleep. This, to me, is the part I still struggle with the most. The first few days of quarantine I pretty much spent entirely asleep, because this was my way of avoiding the situation. So here are random tips I can give you when tackling hypersomnia: change your bedsheets and PJs more often. If you sleep more, and especially if your sleep is agitated, you’re going to sweat and feel gross. And believe me, it really doesn’t help. Remember to keep hydrated. As soon as you wake up, whatever the time, drink water or you’re going to get a hell of a headache. Try and get some fresh air. Even if you can’t go outside, open the window. At least, there should be less traffic outside so less noise and less pollution, right?
  2. Figure out social interactions. It’s really important to not isolate yourself mentally even if you have to physically. Check on your loved ones. If you, like me, don’t particularly like initiating contact, make sure you have a few people that will check on you every so often. Organize calls, video conferences, activities shared online with people you know. Talk about your day to day life. Share your experiences. The music you listen to and the last show you watched. Not just what’s going on outside.
  3. Establish a safe distance with outside information. Most people are going to say avoid the media if you’re already anxious. Whilst it is true that you shouldn’t be checking your timeline every few seconds for more click baiting news about the virus because that’s just not healthy, I think it’s also important that you keep relatively informed. Otherwise, you can too easily build a cocoon around yourself, limit your life to the walls of your apartment. Things will start losing meaning, you will lose your sense of purpose… Look at the window. Literally and metaphorically. Don’t imprison yourself in your own thoughts. Either subscribe to one or two news accounts on social media (I really don’t recommend watching the news if you can avoid it) or have someone you trust pass you along a few pieces of information or articles about what’s going on each day. Remember you’re not alone through this.

I hope this can help. Hang in there, we’ll get through this!

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