Strangely, in some ways my mental health has improved due to the pandemic. I am in my 40s and have lived with general, and social, anxiety for most of my life. Every day, going to work, or to the supermarket, or getting on a bus, I have to take a deep breath and prepare myself as if I’m about to go into battle. Every conversation fills me with fear and dread, and is something I overanalyse afterwards, and there’s absolutely no chance I’d go to a real social event – birthday parties, leaving dos, family weddings have all been skipped.
In March 2020, when my entire organisation was either furloughed, or asked to work at home, suddenly a huge weight was lifted. I worked at home throughout 2020, before being furloughed in January 2021, and although we were living in a global pandemic, and I was home schooling my children, it was a wonderful relief. No more attempting to make conversation in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil. No more inability to keep up with office ‘banter’ and being the one who never gets the joke. No more dreading the phone ringing in an open plan office. No more girding my loins, putting on a bright smile and getting through the day with gritted teeth.
Lifting the anxiety I feel every day, just stepping outside the door, has shown me just how much of a burden it has been. I’ve been more productive work-wise when I can sit at home quietly with no anxiety fogging up my brain. I’ve had more time with my children (even if, as teenagers, they probably don’t want time with me!). I took up walking and then running, because suddenly I was able to get through a work day without feeling so drained by anxiety that I had energy left to spare. While I’m grateful that there’s hope in sight for the pandemic, with the vaccine developments, I can feel the anxiety looming again that I’ll have to go back to work. I don’t sleep well now, and I envisage terrible situations looming ahead of me. My energy levels are dropping as work approaches again.
That’s not to say that the pandemic has been all positive of course. Like everyone, I have felt the anxiety of living in a pandemic. I am a single parent, so I have been living with fear that if I get ill – mild or serious – then I have nobody to help out. My children could go to their Dad’s house but there is no one in the world to look after me. As a result, we shut ourselves off completely, for fear of catching Covid. I have been living under the rules from the first lockdown, throughout – I have no bubble, I haven’t seen anyone, and the only place I’ve been is the supermarket, if I couldn’t get a home delivery. This also has done wonders for my social anxiety – I’ve had the perfect excuse to go nowhere and see no-one, but it’s also highlighted just how isolated I am, and the impact this has had on my mental health has been dire.
I have no family within hundreds of miles, and I have no friends. When single parents were allowed to have support bubbles, I looked around and realised that the only people I knew were my parents, my sibling, and my colleagues – who are nice people, but not friends, not going to be the kind of person who rings up and says, ‘I’d love to use my one bubble on you’.
Lockdown has given me a lot of space and time to think about my life and it has not been positive. I am aware now of just how bad my anxiety is – and despite well over 30 years of therapists, counsellors, hypnotherapists, and various drugs, I’ve never found any way through it, and no longer believe there is one. I have realised I have no one in the world outside my family who I matter to. No one to talk to, no one who cares. As spring lightens up the world and the vaccines open it up again, I am left in a very dark place with little hope for a bright future.