mental health in a pandemic – 6 months on

2020, mental health

Hello!

Writing about mental health is always incredibly subjective – there’s such a broad spectrum of symptoms and each person who lives with mental illness handles it in incredibly different ways that often contradict each other, so bear in mind that when I write about mental health I’m writing about my experiences of mental health and cannot speak on behalf of anyone else.

Lockdown has been a ride, hasn’t it? In the UK more and more places are going into local lockdown, thousands of new cases are being diagnosed every day and ‘young people’ are getting the blame for eating out to help out, going back to work and supporting the economy. Amongst so much uncertainty, it’s not surprise that the anxiety that craves control is going haywire.

At the beginning of lockdown, personally I flourished – all of my uni assignments got pushed back and adjusted so I had plenty of time to work on them, my boyfriend was home from work for the longest time since he started and I felt so in control of everything that was going on.

Then the first ‘three weeks’ of lockdown turned into months, I had less assignments to work on and the ones that were left feel big and intimidating and overwhelming, my boyfriend being home meant that he just played video games all day and gazing out the window felt too much like wishing for a life we couldn’t have anymore.

Normal has changed. The uncertainty of not knowing what ‘normal’ is anymore is the worst feeling. And we have no idea how life could ever get back to a ‘normal’ where we don’t wear masks and we don’t sanitise at every opportunity and glare at people who don’t understand the concept of 2m apart or following arrows on the floor in public places, especially in a world where there are people who ‘don’t believe’ in vaccines (which will never cease to baffle me); ‘normal’ feels like a very far away concept.

On the surface, I’m doing okay – my boyfriend (fiancé? He’s put a ring on it now so I should really get used to calling him that) has gone back to work and whilst at first I was nervous to be on my own, I now make the most of being as productive as I can whilst I don’t have the background noise of video game commentary and too many 5 minute crafts videos (he has an obsession). But underneath, I’ve been getting these ‘nausea attacks’ (I don’t know how else to describe them) and there’s this tight feeling in my stomach and I don’t know if it’s anxiety or a bug or a new intolerance and it keeps me up at night and wakes me up at ridiculous times in the morning. I’ve had more panic attacks in these moments in the last few weeks than I’ve ever experienced in such a short time frame before and it’s really hard, to be honest.

But assuming it is subconscious anxiety and not anything physical, I’m doing all I can to keep my mind occupied – I’ve been listening to a lot of instrumental music to fill in the silence without distracting me from whatever I need to be focusing on, I’ve been making more of an effort to meditate using the Headspace app and trying to make a sense of routine with my daily to do lists and regular meal times.

With no end in sight to this pandemic and a looming second wave in the UK, coping mechanisms are always changing and however much it goes against everything I know, we just have to ride the wave. The waves are going to wash over us anyway, resisting them won’t change the tide.

Well that was potentially a bit deep for a random Tuesday in September, but I’m a bit pretentious like that – I love a water related motivational quote!

Whether or not you suffer with mental illness, living through a pandemic that has touched every single one of our lives was never going to be easy. I hope that you are feeling okay, because okay is enough! It’s okay not to be okay, but it’s okay to just be okay too.

Thank you for reading – I hope you and your loved ones are happy, healthy and staying safe!

Sophie xx

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using my bullet journal to create routine

2020, mental health, organisation

Hello!

I’ve been writing about my bullet journal for a long time now – flip throughs, monthly set ups, weekly spreads, why everyone should bullet journal etc etc… but you’d think in a pandemic lockdown I wouldn’t put an effort into maintaining it, right? My uni is closed, I have no deadlines to meet for anything (pretend the dissertation isn’t real…), no social plans, so why am I holding my bullet journal closer than ever?

Do I sound like a melodramatic Buzzfeed article or what?

I’m someone who craves routine – the longer lockdown goes on the more lost I feel because it gets more difficult to motivate myself to maintain a consistent routine, but that’s where the bullet journal comes in! Having a to do list every day and a meal plan every week gives each day just a little bit of structure.

I’ve not been waking up consistently at all (this morning I woke up at 7.30am, then fell asleep until 10.20am – I’ve not slept that late since I was a teenager!) but I have lunch at 12, start cooking dinner about 5.30 to eat at 6 and aim to go to bed at 9… sometimes I don’t notice the time but generally I’m in bed by 10 at the latest! (I’m a granny, I need my sleep!)

My to do lists generally have 6-7 things on them every day and include things like washing my hair (because ya gal cannot keep track of the last time I washed my hair), doing my daily Headspace meditation and recording a clip for my 1 Second Everyday video – that’s three things already! Then I have 4 other tasks that generally include a form of exercise (I know! Who even am I anymore), something uni related, something craft related and then whatever else needs doing whether it’s cleaning the house or going to a pub quiz!

The system works pretty well for me most days – sometimes I get everything done by lunch time and I’ll either start the next day’s tasks or have the afternoon off, sometimes when my brain’s not doing so well tasks will start to pile up but after a day or two of feeling low I’m getting better at recognising that I don’t want to do that any more and just tackling one task at a time (then writing them off at the end of the week because no one needs to start the week with a bucket load of tasks from the week before – reassign them to the new week!).

Sometimes if I’m feeling particularly unmotivated I’ll even set myself a properly timed schedule – this can be super helpful with bigger tasks because then I know I only have to work on them for a set amount of time then I’m done with it for the day. Even setting a timer so you get that proper sense of conclusion is great. I used our Alexa to set a one hour timer to do uni work, then my sister called so I paused it and when it resumed I carried on where I left off and after an hour I’d made really good progress and I felt really good about myself!

Obviously there are some days where the thought of even sitting at my desk is too much, but it’s working with your mindset and your emotions to make this time work best for you. We all have good days and bad days, especially when you’ve got mental health in the mix as well, but it’s listening to your own mindset and pushing yourself where you can. It’s all a balance!

I’ve been using the phrase ‘gentle productivity’ for a couple of weeks now and I really like it – lockdown is a breeding ground for bad mental health and being gentle on yourself (whether it’s giving yourself a break or pushing yourself back to your desk) is the key to having a bit of routine and normalcy and protecting your mental space.

Thank you for reading – I hope you and your loved ones are happy, healthy and staying safe!

Sophie xx

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aspects of ‘normal’

2020, lifestyle

Hello!

Having been on a little family holiday with my Dad last week, visiting local attractions like my favourite indie bookstore (book haul post here), a manmade reservoir which is beautiful on a sunny day (not when it’s raining and half shut down, but the cafe was lovely) and browsing round all the little shops in the town, I let myself get too settled in what could be considered ‘normal life’.

‘Normal’ as we knew it before the pandemic didn’t include using different hand sanitisers in every shop we went into, wearing a mask and mastering breathing without fogging up my glasses (which is not an excuse not to wear a mask!) and having to try and count how many customers were in the shop before we went in. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining about any of this. In fact, I think the town we visited on our holiday was incredibly well prepared and respectful considering all the conditions. What I’m saying is that despite all these additional measures, it didn’t really have any impact on my shopping experience and it wasn’t difficult to adapt to in any way; it still felt normal.

My weekly Asda trip still makes me cross because an announcement comes over the tannoy to ‘stay 2m away from staff and follow the arrows in a one way system’ to then have three members of staff within a foot of each other (and me) having a natter with no PPE walking the wrong way down the pasta aisle! Most of the town I live in appears to be the same which is frustrating. But some of the shops have precautions and screens at checkouts and I feel way more comfortable nipping into town for anything I need (which isn’t much because I’m on a spending ban so if anyone wants to hold me accountable for that please feel free).

Now that we’re allowed to go see friends and family and businesses are doing everything they can to encourage custom and lots of entertainment streams are doing everything they can to stay alive (theatres are planning to open again in 2021 and I’m eyeballing tickets for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella…), it’s easy to forget that we’re still at a Level 3 of 5 on the government’s scale of the UK’s position on the pandemic – it’s still a very real and literal threat!

I think it’s ridiculous that shops are opening, let alone theme parks and zoos, but I somewhat relied on human sensibility in that it doesn’t matter if places open if people aren’t going to use them.

But then people used them. People flocked to Disneyland and pubs and are boarding planes to get their summer tan and I lose all my faith in humanity all over again. This virus isn’t just about our personal safety, it’s about considering the danger we pose as individuals to those who don’t have the immune system to survive an illness like this. It baffles me how anyone can be so ignorant and self-centred to think that wearing a mask is about ‘taking their freedom away’ (what freedom? It’s allowing you to do the things you want to do without being a risk to other people’s lives??). It makes me angry so I have to think about something else because my anger is never going to convince these people that we can’t take the mindset that we’re going to combat this virus as individuals.

This definitely isn’t what I intended to write about today. My favourite blog posts to write are the ones where I just ramble and the words come out of my quickly typing fingers before I can really process it (which is why I also thoroughly proofread all my blog posts).

I keep thinking about what I would be doing now if we weren’t in lockdown; I know I’m craving some sort of change but I don’t know what because in ‘normal’ life I’d probably be doing much the same, staying at home trying to convince myself to work on my dissertation project and struggling, but my partner would still be away at work and I’d still be able to go procrastinate with my friends on campus with an array of snacks. Maybe I’d be a bit further along with my diss project, because I’d have the facilities, the support of my lecturers and the motivation from my friends but I don’t know how much would really be that different.

This week I’ve arranged to view a wedding venue with my partner. It’s the first real step in planning our wedding, which is still over two years away, but I know that when we get there it’ll be masks on, much of the venue may be closed off and that lingering sense of uncertainty that we’ll be able to have 80 guests in one place in 841 days time.

‘Normal’ may be on its way back, but I don’t want to let myself get too comfortable with it whilst we’re still at Level 3. I can only hope that there isn’t a second wave and we’re really on our way out of this pandemic.

Thank you for reading – I hope you and your loved ones are happy, healthy and staying safe!

Sophie xx

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going on a British holiday in lockdown?

2020, lifestyle, travel

Hello!

Four months into lockdown, a lot of people are talking about the summer holidays they’ve had to cancel, optimism about still being able to get abroad and choosing UK based alternative like it’s a second rate option to flying away somewhere.

Granted, you’re not going to get 40 degree sunshine and sandy beaches but as a girl who grew up going to the Peak District and feeling inferior to my friend’s holidays abroad, I’m trying to remind myself that there are so many parts of the UK that I haven’t seen and the weather doesn’t make it any less exciting! Just different.

Next week my boyfriend and I are going away with my dad – he lives alone so it’s all legal within the social bubble thing. We were going to go to the same place we always used to go in the Peak District because I’m so fond of it and I’m desperate to show my favourite person one of my favourite places. But then there was a whole palaver with the website my dad booked it through accepting the booking when the holiday site wasn’t actually open and trying to rearrange around my boyfriend’s work but then we found a little cottage that was available and now the holiday is back on!

I do feel a bit weird about going on holiday in a pandemic – it’s all legal, we’ve double triple checked, but I’ve only just braved going to the unessential shops two weeks after they opened and however important I know wearing a mask is, having to wonder round without my glasses on because they keep fogging up is equal parts annoying and really funny.

Obviously we’re going to be as safe as we can be – making sure we have masks and antibacterial gel and we’ll make sure everywhere we want to go is safe and stay socially distanced… but it just feels weird.

I’m so excited to see my dad and spend some time with him knowing he hasn’t seen anyone properly in months. I’m going to see my mum and sister as well for the first time in four months and it’s going to be so nice but so surreal to know I’ll be driving home again next weekend and I have no idea when I’ll next see them.

Lockdown conditions are easing and hopefully the rest of the country is being more careful than the people in my area (they make me so cross and every time I go for a walk or to Asda it baffles me how people can’t seem to understand arrows?) and things will continue to ease as we control this virus but it will definitely be a very strange experience going on holiday this time.

To anyone feeling like they have to ‘compromise’ on a British holiday instead of an international one this year – keep your mind open, although at times it doesn’t feel like it, we do actually live in a beautiful country and there’s lots of amazing places to see.

Also stop using the phrase ‘Staycation’ – just because you’re not leaving the country doesn’t mean it doesn’t count as a holiday.

Thank you for reading – I hope you and your loved ones are happy, healthy and staying safe!

Sophie xx

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bad mental health in quarantine

2020, mental health

Hello,

I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who’s felt their mental health plummet whilst the world has been consumed by this pandemic.

Even within the realm of mental health, I still appreciate that I’m incredibly fortunate to not have to be working, to live in a (mostly) financially stable household, not being isolated alone and to not know anyone who’s suffered with the virus, but that doesn’t make the feelings in my head any less valid.

My boyfriend pointed out near the beginning of lockdown that any ‘setbacks’ in my mental health aren’t a true reflection of my mental health – of course my anxiety’s going to get worse when the whole world is changing, that doesn’t mean I’ve done something to make my anxiety worse or had a step back in my ‘journey’, it’s just a natural response.

Managing it has been difficult – the longer we’re restricted, the harder I find it to motivate myself to do anything. At the beginning I flourished on actually having time to do all the work I needed to do and now I’m down to my last deadline before my dissertation project, I should be super motivated to get the last one done, right?

But I’ve not been taught anything I need to do to finish this assignment, the longer we’re in quarantine the less point I can see in doing anything and the more my anxiety makes me feel like I’m trying to walk through water just to do anything… And suddenly it’s three days to hand in and I have a mountain to climb to finish and it’s even worse!

Uni work aside, I’m a very self aware person – I can look almost objectively and my ‘symptoms’ (though it feels weird to call them that) and I know I need to do X, Y and Z to feel better. Objectively, that seems simple enough. In practice? It’s really hard to implement.

For example, I know that the easiest way for me to get anything done (from uni work to the washing up) is to take out every element of decision making that I can – making to do lists, deciding what order I’m going to do the things on the list and even scheduling every hour of my day are all things I’ve done before to help me work. However, the ‘ill’ part of my brain (again, feels weird to use that terminology) makes me feel like I don’t have enough processing power in my brain to actually do anything and reminds me that my self-set schedule doesn’t have any consequences… No one’s going to tell me off for not doing a workout first thing in the morning, nothing will happen if I don’t do my self-set writing challenge, the only ‘consequence’ to anything in my life at the moment is my uni work…

But even then the whole course has been a mess and if I don’t hand in I’ll fail one assignment in one unit and do badly on the module and it’ll bring down my overall grade but… what impact will that really have on my life?

Obviously I’m really trying not to have this approach and I want to do as well in my masters as I can… but the point still stands, consequences are minimal! Which obviously really doesn’t help with the whole mental health malarky.

I’ve tried making the most of schedules and lists – I’ve made a morning routine list, I’ve got my daily to do lists, an evening routine list, a list of creative things to do in quarantine if I find myself with nothing to do (slash… procrastinating…). It’s got past the point of helping though.

I wish I could say I’ve found this amazing cure all that’s going to help everyone struggling with their mental health as if everyone experiences mental health issues in the same way… But I haven’t (and that’s obviously not how mental illness works). At this point, I’m just trying to get through this last deadline I’ve got for uni and then trying to take each day as it comes.

On Friday (22nd May), my boyfriend and I will have been in isolation for 10 weeks, leaving the house once a week for food shopping and occasionally going for walks (but the people in our area don’t seem to be familiar with the concept of social distancing and that really helps my anxiety…). We’re finding new areas to walk in and there’s a woods not too far from our house where everyone is really considerate and kind. We’re trying to make the effort to walk every day because it’s good for both of us both from an exercise and mental point of view.

No one knows how much longer lockdown is going to go on for – if people keep disregarding social distancing rules, then it’ll go on for longer, if cases continue to go down then things might be allowed to start reopening soon. There’s no way to put a date on when things might be able to start going back to normal.

But we all have to prioritise what’s best for us – trying to listen to our own needs as much as possible; taking things slow and stepping back or even keeping up a routine and any sense of normalcy. Things are hard but we will get through this – you’ve survived 100% of your bad days and you will make it through this.

Thank you for reading,

Sophie xx

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