One phone call with a professional would have made a huge difference when I was in the depths of anxiety and paranoia. I’m so grateful my family and friends were there for me, but it scares me to think of others suffering without that support.

TW: Anxiety, OCD.

@mugamnesty’s #MadCovidDiaries 25.12.2020

In August I returned to my job and apartment, after spending ‘lockdown 1.0’ back home with my parents and brother. I was thrilled and knew how lucky I was to be getting my life back.

As a professional worrier and over-thinker, I’d expected low-level problems with a flat that had been left unoccupied for five months. I live in an old building and my landlord isn’t big on general upkeep, although he’s better than most! However a few weeks after my return, I spotted silverfish running around in the cupboard under the kitchen sink. In all honesty I wasn’t bothered, having encountered them in various buildings before. I was grossed out but not freaked out, and thought I had everything under control.

Unfortunately I ignored the early warning signs of a spike in panic and anxiety. Perhaps spending 8 hours deep cleaning a tiny kitchen was a bit excessive, as was dousing the kitchen in (expensive) cedar oil. It’s harder to spot these signs when you live alone.

The weeks went by and I didn’t see too many more silverfish, until one afternoon I returned from work to find a WHOPPER in the bathtub. I phoned home and sobbed, feeling like everything was outside of my control. More bugs continued to fall out of the bathroom vent over several days and I completely freaked out. I had to spend several days staying with friends as I was terrified of my flat, but I still don’t understand why I reacted in this way. I also felt really stupid as I know how lucky I am to have somewhere decent to live.

I am ashamed to say that at that point I’d spent around £300 (WAY outside of my budget) on products that were supposed to keep some harmless bugs out of my flat. Needless to say it didn’t work, and instead my belongings and home stunk of cedar oil for three months running. I hate the cloying buttery smell and one evening almost threw up – I felt like I was drowning in it. All I could think about was silverfish and other bugs. I was totally obsessed and “saw” them everywhere.

Things were so bad that moving from my bed to the bathroom each morning became quite the expedition. I’d lie in bed psyching myself up – I had to plan each footstep and would meticulously search for silverfish along the way. Once in the bathroom I was too afraid to sit on the toilet in case any bugs crawled onto my body. Showering was terrifying – I’d remove the shower curtain (since it could provide camouflage), leave my bath towels in the hallway and check everywhere for silverfish in between shampooing and conditioning my hair and washing the rest of my body. Getting dressed was similarly arduous; I’d turn each piece of clothing inside out and check for tiny silverfish all through the seams. I worried that they’d be in my hairbrush, toothbrush, shoes, hats and scarves. Before going to bed I’d search through my bedding and blankets (as well as under the mattress) with a torch, looking for bugs.

The kitchen was even worse and preparing food was a nightmare. I checked each piece of pasta for silverfish before adding it to the saucepan – a process made worse if the pieces of pasta had holes in or were small. I’d pour breakfast cereal into one larger bowl, check it for bugs and then pour it into my cereal bowl. I was afraid to take food or utensils out of the kitchen cupboards.

Eventually I became so anxious and paranoid that I was on the edge of a full blown mental health crisis. My family was far away, Covid-19 was raging and I could only spend so much time asleep in my friend’s spare room. I was also seeing bugs everywhere, and tried to ‘kill’ what turned out to be pieces of fluff on several occasions. I’d lie awake at night feeling phantom itches on my legs and slept with several lights on. I couldn’t control thoughts that the bugs were everywhere, waiting for me, crawling in my hair and all over my body. I’d have strange visions in my mind of a human sized insect crashing around my flat, or swarms of silverfish all over the floors and walls.

I knew I was in trouble, but didn’t have many options besides diazepam. I really wanted to speak to my previous care co-ordinator (or someone similar) but I’d been discharged from the Early Intervention Team several months before. Thankfully my friends were incredibly kind and supportive, and I spoke with my mum several times each day.

I have since spoken to a junior doctor from my new psychiatrist’s team, but they’ve said that if I need additional support in a crisis I should go to my GP or A&E. I’d find it helpful to “check in” with a CPN once a month or so (surely this would prevent crises?) but this is not available.

I have to admit I don’t see the logic in being referred to a consultant psychiatrist, yet having to return to primary care when you have a problem outside of half yearly appointments. I also wonder if there should be something in place to cushion a fall BEFORE someone needs to attend A&E. One phone call with a professional would have made a huge difference when I was in the depths of anxiety and paranoia. I’m so grateful my family and friends were there for me, but it scares me to think of others suffering without that support.

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