Kimberley’s First #MadCovidDiaries 3.4.2020
Here’s something that took me a while to accept – when the Coronavirus pandemic started to take hold of the UK and the behaviour of society drastically changed, I felt angry.
To some extend, I’m ashamed to say that. But let me explain.
As the UK saw cases of COVID-19 soar, society had to quickly make changes to try and stop the spread. This was necessary and I accept that completely. But these changes are what disabled people and those with existing mental health conditions have been asking for for years. All of a sudden, companies were able to offer flexible working arrangements. Meetings were moved to teleconferences or over video, or all together cancelled (which to me suggests they probably weren’t necessary to have in the first place). Learning was moved from the classroom to online. Discretion’s were given more freely. Yet I, and many others, had been craving this sort of flexibility for years. Meetings would cause me panic attacks. Deadlines would trigger me to pull hair more. Lecture theatres caused me huge amounts of anxiety that would leave me physically drained. I have always worked hard at whatever I am doing, but my mental health has fluctuated massively over the years. I have felt as though my requests for flexible working arrangements when I have needed them the most have been quickly dismissed. And now? Everything can be changed in a moment.
That anger quickly went back to all-consuming anxiety. The idea of a lockdown would leave me lying awake at night, feeling suffocated, trapped and out of control. My anxiety is centred on control and I always have to know I have an escape route. Lockdown would take that away. I couldn’t just go for a drive, or even drive somewhere else to walk. How would I cope? I spent days in tears, terrified for the future.
Now lockdown is here, confusingly, my anxiety has shifted. My household ended up having to self-isolate for 14 days due to my son showing symptoms, just over a week before we were told officially by the government to stay at home. When that fortnight had passed, I needed to leave the house for essentials. I was terrified. It made absolutely no sense to me why my anxiety had moved from feeling trapped to feeling scared to leaving the house. I didn’t know what the reality of a supermarket would be like. Social media was filled by photos of empty shelves, people ignoring social distancing rules and having to queue for hours on end. I knew the world would look very different to what it had been just two weeks prior and I was scared that I wouldn’t know how to act or behave in such a world.
Somehow though, I managed. I did it. I got to the supermarket, followed the rules and left. It wasn’t pleasant. It was alien and strange, but now I’ve done it once I am hoping the next time it won’t seem so daunting as I know what to expect.
But during my trip, my mind went back to when I felt angry and it occurred to me that therapy had also, for many years, tried to change my way of thinking to some extent. Having emetophobia and OCD means that I live in constant fear of germs. My hands are often raw from excessive hand washing and I live in a state of hyper-vigilance, watching for any signs of someone being unwell. Therapy said I should accept these fears, learn to live with them. I remember laughing when my therapist suggested such a thing. How on earth could I just sit with the fear and not let it completely take over? Society told me my thoughts were “wrong” and my fears were “irrational”. They are disproportionate to the perceived danger. All of a sudden, almost overnight, society seemed to start playing out my own thought patterns. Everyone around me was scared of this germ. They were terrified of leaving their house. They washed their hands and stockpiled soap. They, too, were being hyper-vigilant, looking for any way to put more physical space between themselves. I remember coming home from the supermarket and crying over how confused my brain was. Society told me I was wrong, that my thoughts needed to be changed. And now, society lives in fear and practices all the things that go on in my mind. For someone who has gone through years of therapy, this is unsettling and distressing for my mental health. I don’t know how to feel, what to believe, how to behave.
On top of all this, I have a beautiful little boy who turned two this week. He has been through a great deal in his life with his health and as a baby was on a ventilator in PICU. Twice in three months. So not only am I having to try and make sense of what is going on in my own mind, I am terrified for my son. I can only be grateful for the fact that he knows no different right now but I’m sure he must sense that mummy is scared, despite my best efforts to try and hide it from him.
Like many others right now, I am surviving rather than thriving. I still struggle with that some days, but others I can accept that that is how life is right now, and that is okay.
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