We are living through a moment in history, a moment that will be taught to generations, in schools and universities, we will learn a huge amount from this pandemic, invaluable information that only a crisis can teach us. It’s important to remember that this is just a moment, a moment that will pass.
Living with chronic mental health difficulties has allowed me to build an armoury of coping mechanisms to help me survive battling my darkest thoughts and feelings every day. My life has been chaotic, a constant rollercoaster of emotions, my family has been unstable and difficult so we’ve had more than our fair share of tragedies. This worldwide chaos feels comforting, I know how to live through chaos. Most of the world is being forced to live in survival mode for the first time, being forced to stay indoors and not see family and friends, things people enjoy and rely on for comfort have been taken away, people are fearing for the lives of those they love, scared of physical contact and feeling high levels of anxiety when having to go out in public. My mental health has already done all these things to me, when the lockdown happened there was almost no change to my day to day routine because I was already so isolated and terrified of everything. Although this was a harsh realisation about how I have been living my life for the last 10 years on and off, it also put me in a position of strength knowing how to use my coping mechanisms to survive this moment.
I would like to share with you the coping behaviours I am using every day to survive and cope with the current situation:
Avoiding my triggers has been the main way I am coping with what’s going on in the world, the sharing of fake news, spreading fear and conspiracy theories floating around social media constantly are too much for me to handle. My mind can be impressionable but also obsessive so instead of scrolling through social media for hours I am removing myself from this reality and lodging myself into Netfilx marathons and the dramatic worlds you can find there. It is absolutely okay that I spend most of the day watching tv shows, it passes the time and allows me to get from today until tomorrow without having an anxiety attack. I have also stopped speaking to people about it, I struggle with feeling helpless and useless when I can’t help those suffering, still trying to learn this isn’t my job!
No.2 Survival Mode
Survival mode is the ultimate in living one day at a time, for me it’s more one moment at a time. I try not to think of what might happen tomorrow or next week and try to focus solely on what I need to do in the immediate future to stay alive, like eating and drinking, making sure the dogs have been out and going home to sleep. Living like this isn’t sustainable for a healthy life but it will get me through right now. It feels like my entire day is about making sure I have eaten something. Lots of us are turning to food to cure our boredom and ease or distract from our emotions and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! So, what if you put on a couple of extra pounds, we are literally dealing with a once in a lifetime worldwide crisis.
No.3 Radical Acceptance
This one’s a new one for me, I am still learning how to apply it but it is an incredibly powerful coping mechanism and is the basis for a lot of mental health treatments out there. I am learning how to accept things for exactly what and how they are. There is a pandemic occurring, it’s scary, it’s somewhat unknown (pandemics and epidemics happen quite often), many people will sadly lose their lives to it, many people will lose loved ones to the virus but death is a natural part of life. Millions of people lose their lives every day, millions more lose loved ones every day. The best way to survive the uncertainty is purely to accept that this is how it is and you can only do what is in your power to do. Feel comfort in the thousands of people in the same position, there is always a way out, you just have to wait it out sometimes.
A huge part of mental health recovery is being able to feel grateful for what you do have and not focusing on what you don’t. We are lucky to live in a country that has a fantastic, if chronically underfunded and underappreciated, NHS. We have houses with running water, electricity and most of us have access to the internet. I am grateful that I live in a small town and getting into nature isn’t difficult. I am lucky I am counted in my sister’s household and I can still see her, my nieces and nephew. I am grateful to live in a country that won’t let people starve, the help is there. Thinking of these things is so much harder than thinking of all the things going wrong but in order to cope with the things going wrong you must be able to see what is going right. During a crisis there are always amazing people coming together to help. It helps me remember we do live in a beautiful resilient world, filled with people trying their best to live a good life.
I hope that my sharing an honest account of how I am coping will help put some of your minds at ease, or help some of you to feel less alone.