SJ's COVID-19 diary: 2 months on

04 June 2020

One of our clients has kindly agreed to keep a diary during his COVID-19 confinement. This is his third entry.

I recently filled in a survey on how lockdown had affected my mental health. The questions really made me think, and I wonder how many people up and down the country are currently dealing with issues affecting their mental health that are directly related to lockdown. 

The usual mental health, wellbeing and addiction advice could be summed up by the five ways to wellbeing:  connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give to others.  Lockdown pretty much goes against all of these. Connecting with people online, for many is just not the same as seeing people face to face. Being active was up until very recently time-limited. Taking notice of your surroundings you can do anywhere but perhaps you feel less inclined to do it if you are always staring at the same four walls. With regards to learning, many people get their learning from their job, or thought they were going to take up new hobbies and activities during lockdown but the motivation isn’t quite there. The fifth point, give to others, is probably the most positive thing to have come out of lockdown. People are seeing the value of giving to others but, if you are struggling to such a degree that you are just about managing (or not managing yourself) it can seem like a difficult thing to do.

I am just coming out of a period of mental health crisis and in my opinion it occurred primarily because of lockdown. There were early warning signs, as there always are. I relapsed with my drinking. I wasn’t communicating with those closest to me very well. I had, in the weeks prior, expressed concerns about feeling constantly overwhelmed, but I convinced myself that things would improve, and that the end of lockdown would somehow be just around the corner. 

As I deteriorated, those around me contacted mental health services. Unfortunately, my experience is that the system is reactive rather than proactive. The system waits for the crisis to happen and responds to that, rather than early intervention.  I am well known to mental health services, so they have my case history, however, I think that perhaps they had underestimated the impact of lockdown on everyone’s state of mind. Rather than realising I had hit crisis due to lockdown, and difficulties with my addiction, answers were sought in my past, looking for things that had previously led to crisis situations. 

I was relieved that I wasn’t forced into going to hospital but was offered a place at a Crisis House.  I then managed to organise to go and stay with family, three hours away from Bristol, in a place I know and where I am allowed to take my dog.  I am very lucky I have that option, otherwise I would have been on the streets or in temporary accommodation given that my flat was not safe for me to return to.

How do I reflect on services involvement during this time? I never like having involvement with the police – but I wonder how many similar situations they have been called to: either mental health crisis or home disputes that have escalated to such a degree that police involvement is required.  The pressure in households and on individuals right now is extreme. 

Mental health services, as usual, don’t have enough time, enough money or enough staff to respond to the need.  I am unsure if they have really realised these unique challenges that lockdown is presenting, both for those with an extensive history and those with absolutely no history at all of mental health issues. How frightening it must be for those people to suddenly be confronted with these issues during lockdown and have no face-to-face support!

Then there are the homelessness services. I wonder how many people have had to give up their tenancy because they cannot afford it and are now sofa-surfing or in temporary accommodation, or those like me who have had to move for safety or mental health reasons.  If any of us have somewhere to go that isn’t the street we are lucky, but what happens in the long-term?  How will the council deal with all the extra applications for housing? We already know there is a shortage and long waiting lists.  There is a great deal of work going on in the background at the moment for those who have perhaps been long-term homeless and are staying in hotels to try and ensure that they don’t go straight back to the street once this is over, which is great news. But how many more new people will have ended up there due to lockdown?

I think we all sometimes have that feeling following a relapse, be it from an addiction or mental health issue or both, that ‘I’ve fallen down and I can’t get up’.  So how have I managed to get back up? It’s a process. You don’t suddenly bounce back upright again. It takes time, self-compassion,  and focussing on just one day at a time (or one hour at a time depending on how difficult things are). I am surrounding myself with people who understand me and can help me. I’m doing activities that I find helpful and help me de-stress (currently a lot of colouring, yoga and walking my dog), and ultimately I try to remember that I am not my addiction and I am not my mental illness. I am a person who struggles with those demons in life and they can at times seem all consuming. But I have a choice to lay down and let them win or to try and get back and fight them.  I will no doubt fall down again, but perhaps next time the fall won’t be so high, or for so long.