I Was Recovering Before the Pandemic but Now I’m Stark Raving Mad

@tentaeminty’s #MadCovidDiaries, 21.06.20

I Was Recovering Before the Pandemic but Now I’m Stark Raving Mad – And It’s Not the Virus

Please note that this article has old lockdown rules within it; this was written over a time period where the rules were changing. Please look up the current lockdown rules for your area.

I’ve started writing this at 2.27am on Sunday, the 17th of March – 2020, of course – unable to sleep listening to my neighbours throw their fifth party since lockdown in England began. They’ve been incessant with their parties, celebrating every tiny thing – their third party was because their lawn was brilliant and they just had to brag about it to their friends.

On the few times I nip out to go to the shops, at least three-quarters of the time, I see a silver car, a Volkswagen, that I know does not belong to them. It belongs to a family friend or a cousin — I’m not entirely sure which — but I know one hundred percent they don’t live there. I’ve seen that car outside their gate at least 22 times since lockdown began.

But let me start from the beginning.

I’ve always been somewhat… “cursed” when it comes to mental health. I was diagnosed with Aspergers – which is now part of the autism spectrum – when I was 3 or 4, alongside a diagnosis of ADHD. From there, I dealt with abuse throughout my childhood and was showing signs of borderline personality disorder from the age of 9. I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety and depression since 15, showing the symptoms since 9. As I grew and developed, they developed with me, branching out into suicidal ideations, psychosis, and social anxiety alongside my general anxiety disorder. At 17, I had a very bad relationship that ended and left me with EDNOS – Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. When I was 18, I was formally diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and from there I was also retested for ASD (autism spectrum disorder), confirming my previous diagnosis. 

My total count of mental health problems is now at 11 — some of which I’m still learning to accept.

My physical health has never been in mint condition either. I’ve been a smoker since 15 and have mild breathing issues that come with that — putting me at a slightly higher risk to COVID-19 than most. That’s my fault, I’m aware and I live with the consequence of choosing to start something I knew was very addictive and has negative health effects. 

Alongside my lung issue, I’ve also got nervous issues, causing weakness and paralysis in my legs; I’ve had to go for an MRI in the middle of the pandemic due to my symptoms getting worse and worse. 

I’ve been in and out of enforced 72-hour viewing for my own safety; I’ve been on and off different medications, and met with different therapists since the age of 15. At the end of last year, in September, just after I turned 22, my doctors and therapists collectively decided it was time for me to wean me off my medications, stop seeing therapists, and to step out on my own without the aid these provided me. They were proud of the progress I’d made, were confident I could live more independently without aid, and I was happy to at least try.

My physical health doctors and specialists were happy to do more tests and start setting me up for more helpful things such as joint injections and seeing if a surgery could help me. 

Things were finally starting to look up for me which, in turn, boosted my mental health even more.

And then COVID-19 hit. I watched in February as it started taking over the news day by day, until it was all the UK news spoke about. I made sure I was safe as best I could; I wore a mask whenever I went out even though we had merely 2 cases in England. I washed my hands fervently, and still do — to the point that they’re naturally cracked and pained now.

My friend and I had plans to go to a concert at the end of February and we’d have to travel to London for it. We took a deep look at everything going on and decided — since we only had 5 confirmed cases at the time in England, as long as we were extremely careful, it should be safe.

After travelling, I came down with either an extremely cruel strain of flu or a mild case of COVID. I immediately isolated myself from March 1st, staying home even when we were concerned I might have fluid in my lungs. I eventually managed to get through and come back to a form of health. When I was first aware of my surroundings and could process information cohesively, I found out that the UK was preparing to go into lockdown.

My family and I locked down and isolated due to my potential illness, and we returned to our semblance of normal as much as we could. As I’m already mostly housebound, you could find me curled up on the couch, eyes glued to YouTube as I cleaned. My family went back to their essential jobs that they can’t take time off of. We kept in contact with our two essential medical worker family members who don’t live in the same town as per usual.

But now, I had new things to contend with — all 4 of my family members and I could be wiped out by this virus. This was the first thing I really needed to sit with and accept, and it took me too long. I hyper fixated on the news of the pandemic, I followed every inch of rules, I downloaded PDFs shared by pandemic workers in China and Italy and my family sat down via video call to figure out the best course of action from there. It took me a while and a lot of depression napping and working on autopilot mode — or as I call it, zombie mode — but after a few weeks, I adjusted.

The old normal is dead, and this is our new normal. It’s weird, but that’s life.

Come to the start of April, I’d adjusted pretty fully. I worked on fixing up the house, keeping on top of the chores, decluttering, throwing out trash bag after trash bag, overfilling ours and our (non-partying) neighbours’ recycling bins, cooking and baking so my family had lunches for work, and we could settle for easy family meals. I ordered everything online, hyper fixated on healthier things like DIYing what we’ve been putting off fixing around the house, and finally building our furniture we got ages ago that just existed in my house. I was still mentally sane and my recovery was still going strong. I’d managed to cut back on smoking, only really having 4 half cigarettes a day compared to 20-30 in a day and mostly relied on my vape and a lot of diet cola when my addiction urges pop up. 

Then came the turning point for me.

My mom and I did shopping runs for high risk people in our lives and our neighbourhood. Mask on, one glove on as per recommendations by virology workers. The supermarket had changed — thick hazmat tape segmented the aisles, with remindings every few feet to not step into the box ahead of you if someone was there. It was very hard for me to process this; my autism started screaming and I shut down. My mom helped me get through and I slowly adjusted when we went shopping next week. We made sure we didn’t infringe on anyone’s two meters and it became a new normal.

And then on my 3rd trip with my mom I noticed how people were starting to disregard the boxes and distance. People stood by us and lingered, instead of waiting just a few moments at the recommended distance. If someone was taking time in the box ahead of me, I’d wait — even if they were wearing a mask. They could be high risk and need this shop for essentials and it’s not my place to increase their risk in an already stressful situation for them. But those around us seemed to not care. People barged by, grabbed things with their arms close to people’s faces and the general hubbub we’d seen before in supermarkets was slowly returning.

It unsettled me. People were acting as if people weren’t losing their lives at horrendous rates. No one was really thinking about anyone other than themselves. It made me uncomfortable but I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I stayed quiet, packed our shopping, and sang along to the radio with my mom on our way to deliver groceries and go home. 

When we got home, our non-partying neighbours had their daughter and granddaughter around. At first, I thought nothing of it — it’s normal for the grandparents to babysit their grandkids — until I remembered. We’re not allowed to do that anymore. The uncomfortable feeling set back in my gut and I went inside, stripped, cleaned my hands with an antibacterial wipe, put our clothes in the washer, and we took turns showering. 

The next day, I woke up late after choosing to stay up and get some more laundry done and stuff packed up for charity stores when they reopen. I was groggy and confused as to what had woken me up at first to find that… It was loud thumping music from the other side. Disgruntled, I got up and went outside for a morning smoke to find in shock that they were throwing some kind of party. 

I reported them to the police but they’d overheard me and quickly dispersed. 

I was furious now, but it still didn’t click as to why

Things simmered down, I plugged into some YouTube series and ignored the outside world. I went to the corner store for essentials for my mental health and nothing more. 

A few days later, the neighbours were throwing another party. I reported them again but this time the police couldn’t send anyone round due to the influx of calls they were having. 

The next week, I didn’t go shopping with my mother but I started keeping a diary as my neighbours started their third party. Furiously, I noted down visitors license plates, and reported it to the police. Too many house parties were going on so they couldn’t come. 

I logged on to Twitter to unwind in my fandom spaces to find celebrities being dragged through mud for going to clubs and bars and restaurants. I was still angry over everything but I finally hit my turning point — watching everyone scream aggressively that the celebs could go out so they had every right too, despite the fact that they’re increasing risks.

——————

It took till the start of April — and the fourth party my neighbours threw — for my depression to start spiking up. 

It had a very serious effect on my mental health. My psychosis started up again, having hallucinations so vivid I often sit in a form of almost “shellshock” watching horrific demons walk around my room and taunt me. I was struggling to eat around this point, barely managing to eat a single bowl of ramen each day. My self-confidence issues came back with a vengeance, and I became a zombie, locked in a shell of myself again. I’ve had to go back on antidepressants and antipsychotics, forcing vitamins into me and at least having meal replacement milkshakes for some form of sustenance.

I’ve been struggling badly since then, watching the world go back to normal without a care in the world and it took me till May to one hundred percent understand why my mental health was tanking watching all of this. 

I always follow rules. Rules are there for a reason. These rules are there for ours or others safety. There’s a rule to wear our seat belt. There’s a rule to not smoke in certain places for reasons. I get upset when people don’t follow these rules.

And these distancing rules, hand washing rules, all of them, are all for reasons — as with seat belts and smoking, it’s for other people’s health and safety much as our own. 

But people do not have a care in the world. 

With the new loosening of restrictions we’re already seeing more and more people making obvious infractions of these rules. You can meet a family member outside, socially distanced but people keep coming round to see each other at their houses — not knowing if they’re asymptomatic and if the neighbours are high risk.

However, it’s not the new rules and new normal of life that’s making my mental health deteriorate. It’s society’s viewing of these rules.

I don’t like when people don’t follow rules. That’s part of my autism in following them — albeit, some rules are clearly outdated and need changing and I’ve no problem with them. However, these new rules were brought in with people’s health and safety in mind and it shows lack of empathy in people when they completely disregard them.

And these selfish cares are usually somewhat ableist. 

It comes under other forms as well such as ageism, racism, etc. 

As someone with a higher risk, and with the risk to my family, I finally snapped. I realised why I was so angry. These rules were introduced to keep people safe. To keep people alive and to help families see each other when this is over, not sit in a funeral room with only 10 people present and unable to comfort each other grieving. 

Disabled people who are at high risk (and elderly people – on the ageism, and BAME people who are at the risk of medical, institutional racism, and disabled, elderly and disabled elderly BAME, etc), doctors and nurses and medical staff, public health organisations, the WHO, and so many more are begging people to use common sense. Just because you can go out, does not mean you should

And this is where my uncomfortableness comes from. 

“But the government has said it is fine to pop out for a drink now!” 

And to a degree… It is countries and governments releasing lockdown arguably too early that are at fault for this… but it’s also heavily an ableist form of thinking. 

You, the able-bodied, younger, low-risk person reading this, will be fine. You’ll likely just have symptoms that bed bound you similar to the flu. 

But your high-risk disabled neighbour you can’t remember the name of likely won’t be. Maybe they’ll recover after a hospital visit. Maybe they’ll die and have to say goodbye to their family via a FaceTime call — if they’re not unconscious and comatose. 

It’s a case of not thinking about anyone but yourself or those closest to you in a time that we should be thinking of the most vulnerable in society more than ever — and I’m seeing most people parrot over and over again that my life is worth less than a meal out for lunch. 

Can you sit and imagine hearing people constantly tell you that your life is worth so little? 

Along with others like myself, I am told constantly and aggressively by people that they can go out and enjoy a drink because their government has said they can — and showing a complete disregard of my life for their entertainment.

My life — and many other people’s lives — relies on people staying at home to reduce the risk. Not making unnecessary trips out the house. Doing everything they can to reduce infections to stop medical staff being overwhelmed, but also so there’s space should people like me and those with higher risks can get treatment should we, unfortunately, need it. 

And now that lockdown is essentially over in England, everyone is rushing back to normal life in the middle of a pandemic, risking other people’s health. 

I was recovering before the pandemic started, but now I’m absolutely stark raving mad and barely able to tell hallucinations from reality and with a growing desperate urge to make everything go away. But it’s not the virus or the situation — it’s everyone with their ableist, selfish thinking, telling me their beer garden trip is worth more than my health and my life. 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. We ask that you seek our permission before you use any of our material – this includes researchers who want to harvest our data for analysis!

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