As food was pulled from the shelves, and exercise was limited outside, I was afraid

Written on
Contribution by
Hope Virgo

Life as we know it has completely changed and we have seen so much change, turmoil and uncertainty over the last few months. We have seen an increase in the number of people struggling, the negative effects of the pandemic on so many, grief, loneliness amongst debt and employment issues. People who perhaps have been highly functioning with a mental illness for years and the virus and life changing brought it in to a place where things were just too much. But you all know this and we can all think about it like this. Thinking someone else has it worse so we shouldn’t be talking. Thinking not about ourselves but about the impact it has had on those around us, whilst knowing deep down things have been hard.

As I sit here and write I feel slightly guilty that I am taking this time to think about me and my wellbeing in this all. It sounds ridiculous as I work full time campaigning on mental health, talking about it and encouraging others to speak up. For me the lockdown can be broken down in to parts, none of them have beaten me and I know I will get through them all stronger but they have been challenging.

I heard a talk by Rick Warren at the start of lockdown and he summed it up perfectly “We are all in the same storm but in different boats”, so right now I want to invite into my boat.

I live in a small one bed flat with my boyfriend. We have a small garden and a fair amount of green space close by. And as lockdown began I felt lucky that I had this space but what I didn’t realise were for the first few weeks, cracks were about to come out in my recovery.

Part 1: The First Few Weeks

I came out of hospital 12 years ago and have been managing my recovery from anorexia in a really good way. I know what I need to do stay well, I know what my coping mechanisms are, but what they don’t prepare you for how to deal with a pandemic. Probably quite understandable in hindsight but as the food was pulled from the shelves, as our exercise was limited outside, as the number of people sharing their home workouts on Instagram increased, and as my work slowly stopped I was afraid. I hated the pandemic, I hated how it was making me feel and I hated how out of control I felt. I was stuck feeling trapped, and then the trauma re-emerged. I was angry so much at those around me, fearful of getting sick again and trying so hard to not let the eating disorder suck me back in. She told me that she would give me that control, numb those feelings that I hadn’t felt for ages and that I didn’t want to feel. I knew I had to act fast to stop these feelings, to get rid of them from my head! I wrote lists for each day of what I was going to do, I limited my time on social media, and I made sure my therapy was able to go remote. Back to the basics felt hard but it was okay and I kept telling myself it’s fine as I am in a pandemic. I began to speak up about this too, one of the reasons I did this, I think, looking back, was because I wanted others to know how hard it was. How difficult it felt for not just me but for other people with eating disorders. Life was tough but there were things we could all do to help alleviate that pressure.

Part 2: Going into full on fixing mode and settling in to lockdown

I decided I needed some projects to do to help keep me busy so set up some groups online to offer support to others who were struggling. This allowed me to take my mind off things a bit, whilst at the same time selfishly served a purpose for me reminding me that I had to stay well.

The weeks turned in to months, and life was strange but continued. Different crazes swept the internet, new things for people to stress about or dare I say it “moan” about. It was okay, and getting easier as I settled in to the day to day of life. I made sure I was getting up at the same time each day, moving because I wanted not to punish myself and talking about how I felt.

The zoom calls got to me though! I have never found it easy looking in the mirror and when you are faced with zoom calls all day and then zoom parties in the evening, the pressure to look a certain way was mounting. The reality was I would spend my zoom calls looking at myself. Sound vain or like a first world problem? But for me identifying this was so important as it allowed me to move forward again, readjusting my coping mechanisms.

I know I haven’t always been the easiest during lockdown and have had a few days where I have cried, shouted and been so intensely angry at my boyfriend. It has been hard for him seeing that side of me, one which for me felt so out of control but together we have grown in it.

Part 3: Lockdown easing

And now as lockdown eases things start to feel maybe slightly easier in some places, the long walks down the River Thames, to sitting in restaurants again. My mood feels more level at times, but hard at others. I feel guilty for those who are still shielding and for those who feel afraid to go out. I have re-thought my priorities but am still processing and grieving for things that I lost this year. The pressure that I put on going to Australia to spend time with my Godmother to walk and talk, realising that I have lost opportunities but at the same time realising I am learning to grow and learning to find more about myself.

I am nervous about the aftermath that when things settle and life restores that there will be people lost in this never ending trauma. People who have tried to be strong for so long but perhaps now are lost and feeling alone.

I am juggling the throwaway comments about weight and diet culture. I know that the anorexia is lurking trying to pounce on me. She is there in the diet programs on the TV at the forefront of the Government’s obesity strategy, jumping for joy at their fixation on calorie counting. But it isn’t just me I am worried about – it’s the millions of others around the world and it is this that frustrates me the most at the moment. But for me it still feels hard at times. I have put this pressure on myself to be strong and to be okay, occasionally letting people see another side of me, but right now it is about staying well and focusing on those positive things. Focussing on actually how proud I am of myself that I survived lockdown, that I didn’t go to a gym for months.

Maybe as a nation we will never be the same and I still don’t know if people will be better for what has happened. I know for me, I am fearful of the judgment, not just in appearance but when I am on a train travelling, looking at those around me who have no mask on, and yes some people have their reasons but the fear still grips me.

Life as we know it has changed, and as we start to go back to the new normal I can’t help but feel nervous. I have enjoyed my gym re-opening but have this fear that things will shut down again. I am struggling to realise I cannot fix everyone who may have felt some sort of pain in this time but will continue to speak up and I urge you to do the same because these conversations could be the lifeline for someone else.

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