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If I’m supposed to survive the impending feeling of doom that has been created by the pandemic, I am going to have to find things to look forward to doing.

Sunitha‘s #MadCovidDiaries 6.10.2020

The last few days have been a real strain on my sense of being. The way I visualise it is a tug of war inside my head between all my different needs. A great example is that on one hand, I am still doing basic functions like eating and on the other hand, I think it’s been at least 3 weeks since I’ve washed my hair. On the latter point, luckily for me, no one can actually tell, which is one of the benefits of having thick South Asian hair. I hate the phrase self care because it ignores the fact that often, the energy required to do these arbitrary benchmarks of “self care” are actually detrimental to my overall wellbeing. Some days, getting in the shower means that I am unable to eat. Equally, in the past, if I decide to leave the house, it might mean that for two weeks after that, I am trapped inside. As anyone who has been through the thrilling journey of so-called recovery under the NHS, I realise that this external lockdown was nothing in comparison to my own self imposed lockdown from society. On several occasions, I got to the point where I had given up with the idea of ever integrating back into society as it left me with this feeling that everything was too much or worse, that I was less than.

As the days get shorter and the light fades away, I feel as if I want to hibernate in my cocoon away from society until the sun comes back again. Except this year, I’m working and even on my bad days, I still manage to convince myself that what I am doing is worthwhile. There’s also an aspect of realising that if I am supposed to survive the impending feeling of doom that has been created by the pandemic, I am going to have to find things to look forward to doing. Rather than dread the winter, I am trying to find things that are special about the winter aside from the reduced pressure to socialise with other people. For example, my ongoing attempts and failures to knit, all those clothes I need to “fix” with my substandard sewing skills or finally getting around to learning Tamil. In all honesty, just as lockdown didn’t necessarily lead to me doing any of those things because I procrastinate beyond belief, a symptom of my mental health illnesses, I’m holding out hope. The exception being that I got into my partner’s hobby of gardening and growing vegetables. Between two people living with long term mental health illness, we managed to keep things alive even if we did kill a few things. So the first time I ate a tomato from the garden, I nearly cried. Nearly because crying has been minimal in the last 6 months. The reason for the emotion was that after so many years, I had achieved this random goal of growing my own vegetable, a goal that I had come up with aged 21 after my first breakdown where I had given up on having any normal life.

In spite of everything over lockdown, I actually feel like I have achieved things and I mean in the context of my life, big things. At the beginning of this year, I had decided to spend more time doing activism and this in my head would focus on things that were dear to my heart such as mental health, racism, LGBTQIA+ issues, my local community and the environment. The list is long but in everything that I have been involved with during lockdown, if at least one of these things is not ticked, I decided not to continue. My dad also pointed out that if any behaviour was making a situation intolerable, I could walk away without feeling guilty or like I had given up. By keeping both of these in focus in my head but more importantly, without the outside pressures of attempting to do the basic functioning, I feel like I am figuring out where to put my energy. Today, my mum said that under all my outward insecurities of how I look, how I don’t feel good enough, she knows that I have so much self belief. Usually I question her, correct her but today, I realised that my mum hit the nail on the head. I don’t think I am wonderful, in fact, because of having an anxiety illness, I worry about all aspects of myself or my behaviour that I know doesn’t phase anyone else like deconstructing whole conversations with someone or rewriting responses to texts several times. However, in semi isolation, I do feel like I am able to be more truthful to myself. 

Every day that I wake up and struggle to get out of bed but manage to anyway, is an achievement for me. Every day that I wake up and don’t cause myself any physical pain, is an achievement for me. Every day that I wake up and I have slept more than 4 hours or sleep before 3am is an achievement for me. At school, I was always told to try my best and I always did that except I’d often overstretch. Now I understand, trying my best isn’t burning out but trying my best with what I can manage with that day. My resources and energy levels are finite, so I try to pace myself. Some days I feel like I have done nothing but it’s my body telling me that today, the best I can do is exist. It seems so strange that a few years ago, I would go to work every day, dress up in relatively smart clothes, sit in an office and that was my life. All my energy was being put into something that not only gave me no satisfaction but negatively impacted my mental health. Obviously, in that job, by now, I’d have had another breakdown especially with the current political climate of uncertainty and incompetency.

Instead of spending the last part talking about the current situation, which will no doubt induce anxiety in me and anyone else reading this, I am going to talk about something positive. All through my life, in spite of all the difficulties, trauma, which shaped my natural cynicism, there’s something inside me that holds onto all those little things. When I learn something new or try something for the first time, there’s always this fascination that takes over inside me. It could be the sunflowers in my friend’s garden or the sparrows flitting into the blackberry bushes, but the connectivity to what is around me has always been a temporary reprieve from what is inside me. Even on my worst of days, when I feel like giving up, those small things put a smile on my face. When I was fortunate enough to go to Greece, mid-breakdown, looking up at the stars, reminded me that so many other people had looked at them before me. I am not religious but the feeling that generations ago or perhaps at that moment, someone was looking up at the sky just like I was and feeling the exact way I do, well that’s kind of magical. Today, I have really struggled to write but I stumble through because for the first time in my life, I feel as if writing connects me to other people.

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