Surviving lockdown, building resilience

Lockdown 3 presents new and old challenges for Sophie. the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead from the Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Here she bravely reflects how the latest restrictions are impacting her and her view of the world. Do you identify with her experiences and lessons in respect and resilience? Scroll down to read more...

Since my last reflection in Sept 2020, we have had lockdown 2 and 3 here in England, and many tiers and tears along the way.

Life is not a one-size fits all model. This was my final reflection in my first blog, it is something I am constantly reminded of and surely the foundations for understanding true inclusion. What helps some people is the thing that can make another person worse. I genuinely feel a sense that we need to remind ourselves of that every second of the day. Before we make that judgement on another’s view and behaviour and, possibly more importantly, before we judge ourselves.

How I’m supporting my mental health

It feels like we have adopted such a set view of the world around the ‘rules’. Which I am in no way saying shouldn’t be there, but I have to say I’ve found myself doing it so easily. Going out on my walk, seeing more than 2 people, I think “well they aren’t sticking to the rules”, yet I know nothing of their circumstances. They might be in houses of multiple occupancy, one of them may actually be on the verge of a breakdown, one of them might be grieving, that connection might be the one thing that keeps them going and surviving another day, they might be in a support bubble. And me casting aspersions in other directions is also no good for my own health, as all it does is create resentment in my own mind, around why am I sacrificing so much when no one else is. The world has always been many shades of grey, but at the moment it feels no one is willing to see that, or to make their own risk assessments of situations.  

I think it’s fair to say pretty much everyone is starting to struggle with the mental health effects of the pandemic and lockdown in some way or another. I have certainly noticed it in the people around me. And I feel bad as half of me thinks welcome to my world, you now have some understanding of what it’s like, and the other half of me feels so sad that the people I love and care about so much are also having these feelings. And I feel very lucky that I am able to articulate how I feel with reasonable ease these days, and also have the ability and resources at my disposal to realise I need to deploy certain strategies and keep trying different strategies if they don’t work. But for many of our population this will be the first time they are experiencing these things. And as much as I want to support all the people around me I am also acutely aware I can’t pour from an empty cup and there’s only so much of me that I can give to others right now, as its taking all my inner being and strategies to get myself through this current situation.  

The importance of supportive, inclusive workplaces

My mental health was so severely impacted as a result of having to work from home in the first lockdown – you can read more about this in my first blog – because my home is my psychological safe space, and the impact of not then having a safe space because work was forever in it, and as a result I had to have a period of absence from work given that impact, and an absolute crash in my mental health, it is no surprise that the announcement of lockdown 2 in November was a real anxiety provoking moment, and I have to say it was a real mix and conflict, as half of me thought I’m forearmed this time, so I can totally do this, and then the other half of me thinking oh no, I know what this can do to me and the sense of fear that it will happen again in terms of the real deterioration of my mental health was very overwhelming.

I was definitely in a different place in terms of having such a supportive employer and I had my risk assessment in place to support me being able to flexibly and safely work from the office when needed, which ensured my home could remain a protected safe space. I will forever be grateful and feel incredibly privileged that I have an employer that one, understands this, and two, I have office space available that can be so Covid secure. However, what I still grapple with is that I very much feel a sense of guilt that I am able to work from the office to maintain my mental health, when others are not as fortunate as me to be able to do that. And that brings in its own mental health implications. But just as to manage my Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS) why would I eat something that I knew was going to make me poorly, why would I work from home full time knowing it would make me poorly? But again, doesn’t that highlight my own social conditioning and the disparity between how we prioritise our physical and mental health.

Combating loneliness

However, without getting into the whys and wherefores of the lockdowns, lockdown 2 wasn’t really a lockdown in my view, however, I still had to deploy a variety of strategies in order to support my mental and physical wellbeing during that time. As someone who lives on my own, I can say that the decision to allow support bubbles to continue during the last two lockdowns has been a real life line to me. In normal times having lived on my own for many, many years and been very happy with that, I’ve never experienced feeling lonely because my social life is always so active that I always appreciate all the time I get on my own. But not having all my social interactions I was experiencing feeling lonely and alone for the first time in my life.

The decision to close holiday parks, I’ve got to say really, got to me. I had made a choice not to go on holiday abroad when we were able in the summer and had booked a week away close to home with my support bubble in November, but due to lockdown that had to close. That had been the one thing keeping me going. I found myself feeling very resentful towards those people who had managed to go abroad, like I was being punished for being sensible now I couldn’t even drive 20 miles down the road to spend a week in a caravan with a hot tub and not interact with the world, which is the point of lockdown. But, it was just down to poor timing of when my week off was booked.

However, to my great benefit I feel businesses have got so creative in offerings and events that you can do online etc. In November I took part in two online rum cocktail masterclasses and attended an online pop concert by Dua Lipa, which was amazing!

Building resilience and gratitude

Then on Monday 4 January 2021 the news that we all knew was coming but were dreading, lockdown 3. I had really prepared myself for this one, or so I thought. I had prepared myself for a very tight two-week full lockdown. I had made my plan of what I was going to do to manage my mental health in that time, and have to admit, was feeling quite smug it wasn’t going to get me, shows why you should never be smug about these things! The announcement that there was no end date in sight for this lockdown was a shocker. Whilst I totally understand why, it hit me like a train. My birthday is in mid- February and I had worked on manging my expectations that things might be a little better by then, but now faced with the prospect that is more than likely not going to be the case, was a real stab. But I adopted the theory of, I can only control me and my behaviour. Therefore, re-grouped and worked out what I could do to get me through. What I will say is you have to be willing to constantly reflect and adapt your strategies. I found that all my usual strategies were just not working and all the things that had brought me joy in the last 2 lockdowns weren’t cutting it. But I opened my mind up to trying other things. Who knew trying a kettlebell class on you tube would actually bring joy to your life! But trying something new was really helpful, when the old tricks that had worked previously weren’t enough.

I think this time the feeling of guilt around knowing that I am so lucky with my life, I have a lot of privilege (a wage coming in, a roof over my head, great supportive family and friends, a supportive employer) and there are people are much worse off than me but cant get rid of the burning sense of darkness inside of me. The guilt of missing silly things when people are fighting for their life. But to me they aren’t silly, they are what keeps me on an even keel in life.

My final point is a tip around limiting media interactions. I feel so strongly that the media really need to take a long hard look at themselves and the damage they are doing to our society. The other day I happened to go onto social media during my lunch for some light relief (I find social media really positive in terms of great quotes and motivation) but I happened to see an article around the announcement later that day, and that the government were considering taking away support bubbles. And I then spent 4 hours until the announcement in the highest state of anxiety at the prospect of not having that lifeline of my support bubble. Turns out they were not in question. But it made me reflect, the news used to be about reporting what has happened and sometimes an analysis of that, but it has become about reporting what they think might happen and second guessing, and in the process affecting the mental health of a lot of our population. How can that be a responsible thing to do? So, I have now unfollowed all news outlets on my social media so that it can still be a positive place for me to gain the support I love about social media. I also think they should have to turn off people commenting on their posts, as I’m sure they post things on purpose just to cause division.

And that brings me back to where I started, we need to start seeing, and getting comfortable with the space in between this. People have such strong (and sometimes venomous) views in one direction or another, whether it be the rules and restrictions, or those in the opposite conspiracy theorists view, but both are so oppressive towards each other’s views, that it becomes a fight of right and wrong, rather than challenging each other to maybe open their lens up slightly to realise that might be their view of things, but its not the only lens and what works for one person doesn’t work for another.

Stepping up for mental health

So I want to leave you with the thought that gets me through: ‘if you cant see the change, be the change’ (not sure who it is by, Google tells me it is wrongly attributed to Ghandi) and that’s what I am trying to live by. I don’t see many people speaking this truth of the pandemic completely but specifically around mental health and supporting people to relate with these impacts, so I will continue to stand up and try and give a reflective balance to these things, being in the privileged position I am to have some  of the vocabulary and understanding to be able to articulate this. And if it helps just one person feel like they are not on their own with feeling this, then it’s worth it.