Thanks to Laura for writing this honest blog as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.
I have never written a blog before and, me being me, I know my self-esteem will doubt every single word I write; however, I wanted to write something about my experiences of mental ill health during this period of lockdown. I live with depression which is inexplicably linked to self-esteem issues. The main outcome of this is that I am immensely self-deprecating and generally dislike myself (I have got slightly better, a year ago I would have said hate myself). As with most mental illness conditions, it can be really tiring and is a journey I manage every day, through exercise, counselling, medication, lots of reading (I love a crime thriller) and support from family, friends and colleagues.
Bringing the COVID-19 pandemic into this picture is an interesting one. In January, I was on a facetime call to my family and my niece was talking about her teacher going on holiday to China. She was (as the loving and sensitive six-year-old she is) concerned about her teaching becoming poorly, because there was news of a virus outbreak in the city of Wuhan. As adults we reassured her, but never in a million years did we think we would be in the position COVID-19 has put us in today.
I had the week of the 16 March off as leave, so wasn’t in the office when home working started, but in anticipation, I had my laptop with me. The first week was, well… challenging! This wasn’t because I was working from home (although the state of my kitchen was horrific and six weeks on still needs a clean). No, the real challenge for me was connecting with colleagues, loneliness and my feelings of self-worth.
My self-esteem makes it hard for me to connect with people because I think I am bothering them. Whist my job isn’t affected (because working and progressing projects gives me a reason to connect), I am usually able to combat the social side to this by saying hello to people whist walking around the building or meeting people for coffee in the Atrium. But being at home and acting upon the message ‘look out for each other – connect’ has been really challenging. I always want to contact colleagues, but in March, I knew people were experiencing the pressure of dealing with the fallout from this unprecedented time. I couldn’t just bump into someone and therefore the first few weeks were horrible for me and resulted in me doubting myself and my worth daily. The only solution was to massively push myself out of my comfort zone in order to hear that part of myself that says ‘I am not bothering people’ and ‘I am allowed to show colleagues that I care’.
Loneliness is another big part of my depression and many other people have experienced this due to COVID-19. I am lucky and live with my partner, but his health-anxiety has been (understandably) exacerbated and talking to him about my concerns isn’t always possible. My life outside of work isn’t exactly as social as I would like it to be and I experience loneliness daily. However, during this crisis, family and friends struggle with their own personal circumstances of home-schooling, working and finding time for themselves, let alone finding time to talk to me. As a result, my self-esteem and lack of self-worth has had something to feed on.
Mental illness is hard for everyone and all I can do is work on finding out what helps me (pandemic or no pandemic). So, what has helped me to keep going during this crisis that I don’t normally do? We all know that exercise is good for our mental health, well I have gone crazy!!!! I run or do HIIT exercises most days at the moment as it helps me work through my sadness, anger and frustration. I set up my working space in my dining room on a Monday morning and at weekends pack it all away so I can litter the table with rubbish on Saturday and Sundays. I have a candle on most days that I work which helps relax me. I have also watched the odd movie whist working. The two biggest achievements for me have been starting to bring art back into my life (Greyson Perry’s Art Club – Channel 4, has helped evoke this passion) and I am becoming more aware of my thought patterns to the extent that my depression has areas of improvement. Some of my self-esteem triggers are diminishing and the projects I work on at UWE have gained momentum which helps me focus on what I want to achieve on daily basis, but also what I do that supports the faculty.
Mental illness is painful, no matter what anyone says, when its bad, it really does hurt. My journey has been a long one and will continue after the COIVD-19 pandemic has faded. Everyone’s experience of mental ill health is different and I hope by sharing my personal experience it might help at least one person in some way. There are so many good blogs, articles, books and websites that can offer different alternatives to help support mental health, you just need to keep trying to find what helps you best.
Ask yourself: What do I need right now? And be kind to yourself x