First off, I want to say that the words in this blog post are written from a privileged position. I am not working on the front line, I am not putting my life and my health in danger every day to help others, and at the time of writing this, my family and friends have been kept safe from the physical effects of coronavirus . But I wanted to share my words and experience, so here goes…
On Sunday morning shortly after 5am, with a cat meowing from the bedroom windowsill for breakfast and a toddler lying horizontally across my pillow, following several hours of him sleepily kicking me in the head and ribs, I finally hit my lockdown rock bottom.
It looked, in hindsight, probably exactly how I would have expected it to look, the only difference I suppose is that I thought it would happen sooner.
We’d been in lockdown for 36 days (I counted on my calendar app) and like most of you, I’d found those 36 days to be a real wild adventure of ups and downs. A bit like a rollercoaster ride, but maybe more specifically like a rollercoaster ride in the dark – a bit like Thorpe Park’s infamous ‘X: No Way Out’ – because I had no idea what emotion was coming next or where it would take me.
It’d been hard to predict how I’ll feel on any given day. A bad day doesn’t necessarily follow a good day, and a bad hour doesn’t necessarily mean a bad day. But on the morning of Day 36, well, I crumpled.
I’d had a terrible night’s sleep, brought on by a smart thermostat that seems to think we want the heating three degrees higher at night (we don’t and yes ok maybe at some point in like 2022 I’ll get round to changing the settings), and a toddler that woke at 1am shouting ‘mummy! mummy! there’s a monster’. After going in to comfort him and reassure him that there was in fact no monster, he asked to sleep in my bed and the decision-making part of my brain that immediately tries to remember how I’d have felt as a kid in the same circumstances, ushered him into my bedroom and tucked him in between me and my boyfriend. Needless to say it was a terrible move and he woke me up at least every 30 minutes until the sun started to eeeeeeever so slightly creep up on the horizon and the cats assumed it was feeding time. Which in turn, woke the toddler.
And in the sleep deprived moments that followed I just couldn’t see clearly at all. All I could see was panic and fear and the complete sense of being overwhelmed to the point I was suffocating. It made me sob so that I struggled for air, and the only narrative running through my brain was one of escape. I needed to get out, as a matter of survival. As I stood up from the bed and tried to stabilise myself in the dark, the rational side of my brain started to catch up with my primal instincts. As I frantically considered my options and thought about the world outside my house, I realised the only place I could run to was my car on the driveway.
I thought about taking the car key and escaping to my Volkswagen Polo shaped holiday home, before realising it would likely not bring me any comfort or calm amid the chaos residing in my head. I would likely just be crying alone in the parked-up car in full-view of the neighbours and any early morning dog walkers rather than just crying alone inside the protected walls of my house.
It was then that my boyfriend told me to go back to bed, and that he would take care of Atti and the cats. It is that extra 90 minutes of sleep that saved me from the intense and panicked need to fight or flight. Instead it was replaced with an eerie and yet familiar silence.
It is a kind of numbness that I have felt at many stages throughout my life. A numbness that says you can’t be bothered to speak little more than answering questions in a mumbled ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know.’ A numbness that means you don’t have the energy to shower or cook or play with your kid. A numbness that doesn’t have the concentration for work or games or conversation. A numbness that just wants to feel the bed sheets and have the silence of the walls around you bring you an odd sort of simplicity, emptiness and peace.
This numbness I now know to be deeply entwined with depression. These periods plagued my teenage years and early twenties, but after a decade of battling with my own brain and learning how I am wired, I have been – for the most part – able to save myself from them. I am able to pull myself back, by noticing my warning signs and red flags, before I even get close to ending up there.
But here’s the thing: I rely heavily on a tried-and-tested set of self care measures. I have learned what works for me and what helps me out of the dark holes before I’ve even really started falling down them. And for the most part, those self care measures involve me leaving the house.
Think of a bit like playing The Sims, where giving your sim a cup of coffee might give them 10 extra energy points, but a long sleep in a decent bed will give them 100 extra energy points.
A shower will give me 10 extra points when it comes to my mental health, but having a cup of tea with a friend would give me 100 extra points. A walk would give me 30 extra points but having a full day to myself – to work and to go to a yoga class on my lunchbreak – would give me 150 extra points.
So, whilst I appreciate all the little things that help me get through the day – the FaceTimes and the fresh air and the noticing the blossom spring up on a new tree or watching my kid get stuck into a toy that’s never been interesting before – it just doesn’t feel quite enough to keep my mental health levels completely topped up.
I feel as if I am being slowly drained of all the extra supplies I have been quietly trying to store away over the past few months and years.
And as the dawn of Day 36 broke, I felt like a kid at the top of a slip ‘n’ slide, frantically panicking about my inability to stop myself from flying full pelt to the bottom.
I spent a lot of Day 36 in bed. To begin with I did nothing but lie in silence, but eventually, as time ticked on, I found an urge to start reading. I picked up a fiction boom I’d ordered a few weeks previously and let myself escape.
And by the time evening was approaching, I was starting to resemble myself again. I had started to come back to life. I laughed. I ate. I made conversation.
But finding that space for yourself at a time when we are confined to our homes – often with small children in tow – is hard. In fact, it is completely impossible for single parents. And it is without that breathing space, to restore ourselves and make use of the self-care methods we have so carefully taught ourselves over the years, that we start to crumple and fall back into old familiar mindsets we’d rather have left in the past for good.
Day 37 was a new day. It involved a better night’s sleep and more sunshine and the promise of a few hours removed from childcare to focus on writing and iced coffee. Day 37 did not feel overwhelming or suffocating or numb. It had glimmers of hope and inner peace and positivity.
So when it feels like you cannot escape, and like your own mind might consume you whole, just remember that this too shall pass. Every moment and hour and day is followed by a new moment and hour and day, that won’t necessarily look like the last.
We are in this together and we shall see the other side together.