A bittersweet trade off

Written on
Contribution by
Hayley White

All I can say my experience of being in lockdown has been one hell of a ride. I will be brutally honest. When I first started to accept that as a country, we would potentially be in a situation, where some of our usual freedoms would be restricted, I had one thought. My thought was, “this will either make me or break me”.

Three months later, I still have no idea of which way I will go with that statement. I myself have struggled with my mental health for many years. 2019 was one of the worst I have ever experienced.

I started 2020, perhaps in a better place. Not majorly, but there were some positives. I was by no means stable and was experiencing very upsetting situations. I wasn’t receiving much support and was mainly fending for myself.

Being someone who is always on the lookout for threat or danger, I was concerned about how devasting the COVID 19 virus could end up being. I wasn’t overwhelmed with this. I was just being pragmatic. I can’t talk for others, but I would guess, when there was an uptake in panic, the main focus was on having enough food and household essentials.

I was fully aware of my concern about my mental health and how I would manage, with not being able to keep to my normal routine. My day to day routine was not very exciting and never involved much social contact. From the end of 2019 until the week of lockdown, my main face to face contact was with my GP.

For some it could be questionable whether losing that face to face contact is a major fear, but from my perspective, I had a genuine unease, fearful of perhaps being back in a place that I was in last year. A place I wouldn’t wish on anyone or for myself to go back to.

Sitting here now writing this, I can say my fear didn’t come true, yes it has been an absolute struggle to fight to keep myself safe, Ninety percent of my time during lockdown, I have been distressed, I have probably only had at an estimate seven or so days, where I haven’t cried. For me that is something new. Up until last year, I had such a wall up, that I couldn’t even cry when I was by myself at home. I was unable to express my feelings through crying, even when I desperately felt I wanted to. I needed to.

This has been a bittersweet trade off from experiencing a year in lockdown. I have been able to connect to my emotions, which in a very weird way, I am grateful for. The other side of this is, that my breaking down in tears, has been very distressing. To be sat alone in your own home, totally overwhelmed and not being able to be comforted. To know that even if you express to another person, that you are feeling very distressed, the words don’t seem enough to capture the depth of it.

Connected to this experience of being seen and acknowledged, is that during 2019, I for the first time in my life, was able to let someone comfort me through physical touch. That experience is something that will always stay with me, but being in lockdown, made me feel cheated. I had waited my whole to experience letting someone in, in the way I did and to have it taken away without a choice in the matter. I can logically understand that we are going through an experience that we may never imagined would happen. We all will have been impacted in someone way, not all the same, but I don’t believe there will be anyone who will have gone through this time unscathed.

Aside from being distressed with the emotional pain, I have also struggled with the unknown. There are a few people that have been in my life, through various means, but when the lockdown happened, the contact was cut at the click of a finger. Due to circumstances, I have no idea at all if they are ok. That not knowing has driven me crazy. We have heard a lot of conversations happening about being able to finally see those we care about or getting back to some normality. For myself, I would just be happy to know they are ok.

I have also experienced the realisation of what I feel is important in my life. What is it that I want for myself? Are the things I once thought what crucial to be healthy the same now or has this changed?

To some degree there has been change, but not to a grand scale. I am very much the same person before lockdown. I still hold the same values. I still am passionate about the same things. The difference I have found, is that I feel much happier about myself as a person. I have very rarely talked as negatively towards myself, compared to the last twenty plus years. I have begun to take away the responsibility I took on for things that were out of my control and wasn’t down to me. The pain that comes with that is again very distressing.

I have put boundaries in place that will help me manage my mental health. I am now in a place where I can put myself first. I have been able to stand up for myself a lot more. My diet has improved. It wasn’t awful to begin with, but it is much better. I have challenged my anxieties around various situations and didn’t hold back from trying something new.

I am well known for finding any reason for not speaking on the phone. Prior to lockdown I had friends who I had only communicated with via text. Spanning almost twenty years. It seems life in lockdown has meant I have now stepped up a level. I have had online video calls, regular phone calls and used various social media platforms. I feel I owe it to myself to make sure, that this becomes my new normal. If I revert back once lockdown hopefully is fully lifted, I would feel it is a disservice to the struggles I have faced and the journey I have been on.

I also think about all those who have lost someone during the lockdown. Not just through the COVID 19 virus, but in any circumstance. I personally haven’t experienced losing anyone due the COVID 19 virus, but I have lost a number of people in the lead up to the lockdown and I also have people close to me who lost people close to them, one of which was someone who had taken their own life. I will never know the stories and who all these people are, but I would hope if anything, something can come of from this. I found it hard every day listening the figures rising. I was angry, because these deaths were being reported in numbers. People are not numbers, they are someone’s parents, grandparents, children, siblings, extended family, colleagues etc. There were only a few background details of those who had died, that were published.

What I am trying to express is, I feel like as individuals, again can’t talk for everyone, my hope would be, that we don’t waste what we have learnt, to not be complacent or to think life will go back to normal.

Life as it is, won’t be the same. We as people won’t be the same. It’s neither good nor bad. We will adapt, as we have been for the last three months. The journey will not end, when lockdown is officially over, it will be with us for years to come.

It is hard sit here and say how I am very grateful for being in lockdown. It is hard when there has been so much suffering. I don’t want to be dismissive of the struggles we have all been through. But if the past three months hadn’t occurred, I perhaps would have never learnt the things I have about myself and others.

In many years I hope I can look back and say “2020 was the year that made me”.

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