I realise now how essential real, physical contact is for mental wellbeing

Kate’s first #MadCovidDiaries Diary 28.3.20

I don’t know how long I’ve been isolating for now.

It feels especially cruel to be forced into isolation at the exact point I was finally feeling well enough to rebuild a social life and get involved in the community again. Virtual hangouts; WhatsApp groups; online therapy – all of it rings hollow because I realise now how essential real, physical contact is for mental wellbeing. Consequently, everything feels bleak. But I know it’s just a mirage, forced on me from conditions that are, for once, external from myself.

I can go outside but think ‘what’s the point?’ And even if I do, every movement feels fraught, consequential. Leaving my apartment I have to pass communal areas and come into contact with surfaces that others have touched. The panic, anxiety and OCD tendencies seem like fairly minor parts of this whole affair (for once, anyway, anxiety is justified, and that somehow trivialises it). But the depression is difficult to keep away. I wonder if it is even possible to not become depressed when you haven’t been in the presence of another human for weeks. So what do I do?

It’s easy when your usual routine is taken from you, to slip into bad habits. I try to impose a routine on myself but it all feels futile. So what provision is there to stop people slipping into deeper depression when we’re under instruction to stay inside and not see anybody? And then I quickly come to the realisation that depression isn’t just a ‘mental’ illness but is inherently physical: everything hurts; I feel exhausted and unable to do much at all.

Sometimes I feel a glimmer of optimism: when this was all starting I felt giddy at the prospect that people may now begin to see just how mutable the society that we live in is. I still feel, weirdly enough, fortunate to be living through something so momentous, and also hopeful for a future that significantly diverges from the status quo that proved to be unadjustable for so many of us.

I worry about the next few weeks and months. I know I have to do something urgently. It’s been heartening to receive so much consolation and support from those who know that my mental health is suffering. But I just wish I could sit in the same room as them, hug them.

When we’re threatened, we engage various physical responses that escalate depending on the severity of the threat. The first level of response is what trauma specialists call the social engagement system, and it’s where we seek out the presence of other human beings in order to calm us and provide us with a sense of safety. If we can not have that, we go into fight or flight mode, and, if fighting or fleeing doesn’t help us, we freeze. I am afraid that I am immobilised right now. This is the real effect of enforced self-isolation: as Dr Lucy Jonhstone rightly pointed out in her letter to the Guardian, never have the causes of such neuroticism been more apparent.

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One thought on “I realise now how essential real, physical contact is for mental wellbeing

  1. I know what it feels like. I had 10 years of depression and loss of self confidence. I got help, local community centre group. It is possible to survive. Virtual hugs since actual ones not possible.🤗🤗🤗

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