I have suffered from mental health issues for a long time, although due to what I perceived as the stigma associated with these issues I did not admit either to myself or others that I was really struggling to cope. Instead I thought I was able to go it alone, BOY WAS I WRONG! Not only have I attempted suicide on numerous occasions, I found I was also increasingly self-medicating with alcohol to alleviate my pain and depression.
Things finally became too much for me in the summer 2018, when I finally realised I could not cope with things by myself and sought help both from my GP and my family. I was put on a course of anti-depressants and went to live with my sister, during which time I was also signed off from work whilst I was able to “get better”. This was extremely difficult for me as I had just gone back to both a job and company where I loved working.
Although I had given up drinking alcohol, I was then left to address the issues surrounding my mental health and severe depression. Things were not easy for a long while and I often felt my anxiety and depression slipping back to those dark days. I started attending regular one to one counselling sessions and also went back to work, where I was having regular well-being meetings with my team leader. With time I found it increasingly easier to talk with others who were willing to listen and help me navigate through both the good and bad days. With time I was able to function normally and eventually even managed to move back into my own home.
I was doing really well and had progressed into group therapy sessions just once a week and felt like I was finally me again.
Then came the virus and subsequently lockdown in March 2020. This was a bit of shock, as I’m sure it was for everyone else. I believe I have always been a solitary person by nature and am lucky enough to enjoy spending time on my own. However, what I am not able to cope with is being alone for too long with my thoughts, this can be a very dangerous place for me to be.
My first initial reaction to lockdown was to feel like I was going to have a total meltdown and end up back to where I was a couple of years earlier. In simple terms I panicked, big time.
What was I going to do? Firstly my counselling sessions were cancelled – I would be on my own 24/7 with no other human contact.
I needn’t have worried, although my physically counselling had been cancelled a friend contacted me and gave me details of various zoom sessions that were being made available, albeit this took a few weeks to actually put together.
In the meantime, I had to think of a way I could cope with living on my own but keeping in touch with the outside world. Of course I had the usual phone and video calls with family, but I wanted to ensure I kept in contact with close friends. I therefore made a conscious effort to either text or call a different friend every day during the first month of lockdown. It was so lovely hearing from some friends with whom I had not spoken with in a while. I hoped that not only would this be good for my mental wellbeing but that it may cheer them up too, a random message just to check in to see how they were keeping and coping with the situation with the lockdown.
Thankfully I was also very lucky enough to adopt the most adorable dog towards the end of 2019, a very lovable (but not lap friendly) Staffordshire bull terrier called Rocky. As true to his name, Rocky really has been my rock during lockdown. Without him I would have been alone 24/7, which for me I felt could have been disastrous. Having Rocky also ensures that I have a reason to get up each and every morning, it has also meant that due to having no garden I was one of the lucky few that were exempt and allowed to go out for longer than just one hour for exercising in the early days of lockdown.
Rocky has been with me every step of the way, from knowing when I’m starting to feel down, he will come and sit next to me and either given me his paw or nudging my arm to fuss him or give him a good belly rub. He has now even started to creep further and further onto my lap, which for a 24kg dog is not a mean feat.
Once restrictions were slightly lifted I was able to enjoy forming a “bubble” with my niece and her family. It was great, we met for walks once a week which I hope was as beneficial with my niece as it was for me. In time the restrictions of lockdown were gradually lifted, I believe the main turning point for me was when we were able to meet friends outside for the first time, albeit with social distancing still in mind. It meant I had yet another reason to get out in the fresh air, particularly given the beautiful weather we have enjoyed during the summer. I was arranging walks with various friends and families at least 3 times a week, which was in addition to the walks I was enjoying with Rocky. This has had the added bonus of improving not only my mental health but also physical health too.
Talking of using physical exercise to help with mental health, I also signed up to various challenges during lockdown. These have ranged from Facebook live exercise classes, which have lasted between 2 and 4 weeks and culminated in me signing up to run 100 miles in August for the Teenage Cancer Trust charity.
Not everything has been a bed of roses during lockdown, unfortunately we received news that my mum may have suspected ovarian cancer. This was a bit of a shock but we have all pulled together as a family and kept in regular contact with each other and of course be there as a support for not only mum, but dad as well. We are still awaiting for a new date for mum’s operation, the first one unfortunately having been cancelled, but I’m currently staying with mum and dad by way of support. This does of course mean Rocky has moved in with my sister around the corner, so I am missing him terribly but visit at least twice a day so get in lots of cuddles and walks.
It has definitely been a very bizarre six months or so, and with things as they stand I think things will continue to be that way for a little while longer. But if anything lockdown has given me a new sense of appreciation for those that you hold close and dear to you. It has given the strength to get through the tough early days of Covid-19; and to realise what is most important in life and those that are most precious.
I had panicked at the start of lockdown but just writing this article it has made me realise just how lucky I am, for one to be alive and second for all those loved ones that are there to help me through the tough times, and for me to be there to return the favour.