Given the new measures put in place and the advice given by the government this afternoon it is clear that many of us will have to self-isolate in the coming weeks and months. As someone who struggles with depression, the idea of ‘self-isolation’ isn’t such a foreign concept. However, to me self-isolation would usually mean an unhelpful cycle of social retreat, anxiety and inaction, leading me to isolate myself. It would begin with the intention of only doing what I am able to and of not pushing myself too far, but would only lead me to feel lonelier and more depressed than before. Self-isolation is something that I would usually try to fight against as it only serves to worsen my mental health and make it harder to achieve anything active or social. So what happens when something like COVID-19 hits and self-isolation becomes a necessity. How does someone struggling from depression or any other mental illness keep themselves from spiralling in the loneliness and anxiety that we will inevitably face?
Whilst I haven’t yet been required to self-isolate, I decided that it would be worth preparing myself. Therefore this blog is partly for my own benefit, but I hope that it might be helpful to anyone else who would face the same struggles when confronted with self-isolation. Here are seven quick (or not so quick) things to consider:
Follow advice. The advice given to us by the World Health Organisation, the NHS and our government will not have been without thorough consideration. We may disagree with some of the measures being taken or may think that not enough is being done, but it is important that we respect the decisions that have been made. If you are showing symptoms it is important that you and your household follow the advice to self-isolate for 14 days.
Nevertheless it is important to realise that mental health issues can make following this advice harder and to understand the struggles that many individuals will face. Touching our faces may sound like an easy thing to stop, but for people struggling with dermatillomania and trichotillomania, skin picking and hair pulling disorders, its a compulsion, stopping just isn’t that easy. With events and social gatherings being cancelled and plans completely up in the air it can be incredibly difficult for those struggling with anxiety not to hold on to routine and certainty. A lack of self care can cause someone with depression to neglect their physical health and personal hygiene. And on the other side of the spectrum, the constant reminders to wash our hands can add to the heavy burden carried by those who struggle with health and hygiene related OCD. Please try to be understanding of the difficulties that these measures, though necessary, will bring
A number of very helpful articles have been written on how to protect our mental health whilst we face the constant influx of news and information. This one, written by the BBC gives important insight and advice for those facing anxiety: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-51873799.
Celebrate small victories. Being able to leave the house has been an important part of fighting my depression and for those struggling with OCD and agoraphobia it is an important part of recovery. Therefore being housebound can cause the opposite, When I’m housebound or have no reason to leave the house I find it easy to lose routine, to neglect simple everyday things. That’s why I find it important on days when I’m lacking motivation to celebrate small victories: getting changed, having a shower, eating three meals, making your bed. Depending on how ill you are when self-isolating, some of these things may become even harder to do, but if you struggle in the same why I do, challenge yourself to keep fighting. And celebrate each small thing you manage to do. You could even write down each thing that you’ve done at the end of the day. Be encouraged by the small things that you’ve been able to do.
Find things that you enjoy. One symptom of depression is a loss interest in things that you used to enjoy. Occupying yourself when stuck in the house can become difficult when you can’t find anything that brings you joy. But don’t let that stop you trying, whether its the distraction of watching tv, the productivity of sewing, writing, scrapbooking, journalling or the peacefulness of doing a jigsaw or colouring something in, having just one thing that you remotely enjoy can really help with getting through each day. Try to make a goal to do that one thing each day, even if its just for five minutes
Don’t neglect your physical health. Struggling with my mental health often causes me to ignore my physical health, whether that means comfort eating or complete inactivity. Self-isolation further takes away from our ability to resist this. But we can take small steps to counter act this. If you feel able and are physically well enough you could try and go for a walk, if you have a garden (not that many do) you could take a stroll around it, if these are too much you could simply open a window and breathe in some fresh air. Don’t be too hard on yourself, I’ve already noticed myself stress eating numerous times even today. This is a challenging time, be kind to yourself.
Find a balance. Whilst it is important to be aware of the developments regarding COVID-19, I have found that consuming the vast amount of new information about the corona virus has quickly led to anxiety. Distractions rarely bring healing, but it times like these they can be very helpful. When my depression is particularly bad, I have found that distractions can bring a welcome relief and can keep my mind from spiralling. I think that the same applies here and that it is ok and perhaps even good to switch off the news and put an episode of your favourite TV programme on. Yet there is a balance, it is easier to try and ignore the problem than to face it. But how do we face such an overwhelming issue as this? As a Christian, I think that the most helpful thing I can do right now is to fix my eyes on God, our loving creator, the one who is in control and the one who loves us so much that he, in the person of Jesus Christ, came into this messy broken world, giving his own in our place to defeat the biggest human problem: sin. And he rose to life, defeating death itself that we may live forever with him. COVID-19 is not stronger than him. He will overcome.
Fight the loneliness. I think that one of the hardest things that we will face in social distancing and self isolation is the loneliness that these things bring. That is why it is important to draw together, even if we can’t do so physically, in these times. Send a message to a friend when you’re feeling lonely or anxious. Organise a time to call those that you would usually see in person. Video call those who are far away. As we are required to withdraw from those nearby, celebrate that we are now just as close to our loved ones on the other side of the world. Fight the temptation to truly isolate yourself. Reach out to your friends and family. And if those are few, perhaps you could reach out to a local church, in times like these they are longing to love and serve you. And when the loneliness overwhelms you, remember that this isn’t forever. Yes, it may last a while, and it may be devastating, but this too shall pass. And as a Christian, I believe that there is an even greater hope than this temporary relief. I believe that there will come a day when all pain and suffering and grief will cease as the God of the Bible makes all things new.
Ask for help. Don’t suffer alone. Those of us struggling with mental illness are bound to face many challenges in the coming weeks and months and it is important to ask for help. Just because the virus is a physical disease that is not a cause to ignore the emotional and psychological difficulties we face. Again, reach out to your loved ones. Reach out to mental health services. And if you believe in the God of the Bible, reach out to him in prayer. He is a loving Father who cares deeply for his children. A friend recently sent a message saying that they were praying that I would know God’s presence as I fight mental illness. How amazing it is that when we must isolate ourselves from those around us, there is nothing that can separate us from God. He may not physically be walking beside us, but know that does not for one second mean that he is not near. Turn to him. Rely on him. Trust in him.