It was only a matter of time before I would blog about the Pandemic, wasn’t it? I mean, if you aren’t talking about the Coronavirus are you even on the planet? The subject has been trending on social media for a while now and every time I flick through Twitter or Facebook there’s another service/organization being closed or putting special measures in place. Still, it seems that no one can make a decision that absolutely everyone is ‘happy’ with; whether that means the government handing out recommendations on ‘social-distancing,’ McDonalds ‘taking too long’ to close their doors, or your best-friend not following guidelines and taking precautions!

Having a bit of a moan about how the Coronavirus Pandemic is affecting me is difficult because I’m fully aware that the impact is probably quite insignificant compared to the devastating consequences it has had on others; but if we aren’t able to talk about our own experiences for fear of them being compared to those of another, then how can we move forward and support one another? So, please don’t be afraid to talk on social media about how the Pandemic is affecting you – your experiences are as important as anyone else’s. Sharing what you’re going through might just help someone else who can relate to your story to feel less alone and forgotten.

It’d be unfair though, to not shed light on the fact that there’s also a lot of good going on in the world with so many companies offering freebies and discounts to NHS staff and supermarkets opening early for the elderly. It seems though, that people are either jumping down one another’s throat and accusing them of being careless, or they’re making purchases from a stranger’s Amazon Wishlist’s (you can see my Self-Care Wishlist here) and promoting that others do the same!

The kindness is so important, especially now that so many mental health services are closing or changing their way of working… My Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust Community Mental Health Team and the organization who provide my Support Worker; Richmond Fellowship, are cancelling face-to-face appointments and contact. It’s ironic that – at a time when we may need mental health support more than ever – it’s being scaled back! I understand that they’re still providing telephone support and some services are even doing emergency shop runs for Service Users who are self-isolating and running out of essential supplies, but this isn’t helpful for everyone. Personally, I’ve never benefited from support via a phone call because to me – as someone who has experienced auditory hallucinations - it isn’t real if I can’t see the person that the voice belongs to. 

Purely for this reason, I find that even if I want to, I can’t be so open and honest over the phone as I may be in person. I can write with – perhaps at times – too much honesty, but in writing and blogging, I don’t have to hear a person’s direct response to what I’m saying in my ear like a niggling piece of paranoia. 

With the lack of mental health support from professionals, I think it’s more essential than ever that we all share tips and advice that we’ve learnt over the years/months/days to help one another cope safely. Here’s five of my tips to coping with the stress, panic, and anxiety of the Coronavirus:

1.    Communicate
Probably one of the most crucial tips when self-isolation and social distancing are becoming buzzwords! I’ve seen a lot of jokes about what a great time this is for introverts and the anti-social but I’d be surprised to hear of someone completely isolating and not speaking to another human being for the recommended (at the time of writing!) twelve weeks! Whether it’s communicating through social media, text, phone calls, e’mail etc. it’s important that you keep in contact with others to remind yourself that at a time when you feel so distant from those you love, you actually aren’t alone in the world.

2.    Medicate
Whilst most pharmacies are staying open (at the time of writing!), don’t be afraid to use any PRN (when required) medication if it’ll help your mental health. I always try to be super careful because my PRN medication (Diazepam) can become addictive, but at a time like this, GPs and other healthcare services are so much more understanding that you might need extra medication at the minute and with mental health services cracking down on appointments, it’s even more understandable that you need a bit of additional support.

3.    Self-soothe
After almost six years in my own home, I’m only just getting sick of not having a bath in my wet-room! It’s a popular joke among mental health service users that professionals are constantly advising that we ‘take a nice hot bath’ to ‘relax’ when we’re struggling with our mental health and I’m starting to wish I was actually able to do that! But there’s other ways of self-soothing; lighting candles, wearing comfy clothes, snuggling in a blanket, eating something nice, having a hot drink… Everyone is different and so it’s important to find whatever works for you and to not be afraid of judgment on what that thing is.

4.    Distract
Distraction is probably one of my favourite coping skills when my thoughts and feelings are difficult/unbearable. I find it really helpful to take my mind off the troubling experiences – even just for a minute(!) by watching Netflix, Amazon Prime, reading a book, or playing on The Sims Freeplay. I have learnt, however, that it’s important that you find a balance between distracting from the difficulty and avoiding it completely. One is healthy and the other is not! Using distraction can be a form of escapism too and I think that’s something that everyone needs at least once in a while.

5.    Stay grounded
The consequences of the Coronavirus can be triggering of memories too. I mean, spending Mother’s Day away from my Mum was so hard and a definite reminder of all the Mother’s Days I spent in a psychiatric hospital or hooked up to drips in a medical hospital. But hearing from her and seeing her on video chat meant the world and it was a grateful reminder that this time, it’s different. I also saw a tweet the other day by someone comparing self-isolation to being sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act and that hit home; the thought that your comings and goings are being regulated by an external factor and not your own choice can be reminding of that powerless feeling you get when you’re sectioned. It’s important to use healthy coping mechanisms like grounding techniques to keep yourself reminded of the fact that these things are not happening to you right now.

Because of my mental health, I don’t work full-time so I’m slightly fortunate in that I don’t have to tackle staying focused on ‘work’ whilst at home. However, finding something to do whilst you can’t leave the house can be equally tricky, so here’s four tips on ways to keep yourself busy while at home:

Online courses
There are so many websites facilitating online qualifications and short courses. The greatest I’ve found have been Centre of Excellence and Bradford College’s distance learning. I’ve just completed a Centre of Excellence Diploma online called Feline Behaviour And Psychology and now I have two more; one in Freelance Journalism and another in Forensic Psychology. Not only is online learning fairly easy to do, but it’s also a way to stay productive and distract yourself at the same time! It might not be right for a lot of people; some don’t like education and learning… I love it but don’t like classrooms so for me, this is perfect and has worked a treat in keeping my mind too occupied to have time to constantly worry about the Coronavirus!

Spend time with pets
I feel even more lucky to have my bunny; Pixie, and kitten; Emmy, right now! I don’t think I could a day without at least hearing my own voice and there’s no one else in my home to talk to! We’re also equally lucky that so far, the Coronavirus hasn’t affected animals so at least some of the loved ones in our lives are definitely safe! Cats are known to be independent and aloof sometimes but Emmy is so friendly and needy – I think she’s that way because she’s a rescue cat so she’s known being unloved and uncared for and it makes her more appreciative of attention and kindness. Pixie also loves playtime – which may sound silly that you can play with a bunny but she loves chasing me up and down the long corridor in my home, walking on her back legs for treats, and giving me lots of licks! I wondered whether I appreciate them more when I don’t see them so often but actually, they’re the only ones I could spend 24/7 with and not struggle!

Hit Netflix/Amazon Prime Video
My favourite TV series to binge-watch are Pretty Little Liars on Netflix and Greys Anatomy on Amazon! Films? The Pitch Perfect series or – most recently – the good old Mary-Kate and Ashley films (some of which are in my Amazon Self-Care Wishlist). Netflix is so affordable and you could go in for the multi-screen package and split the cost with a friend!

So, I know that it’s probably closed, but The Works have an incredible range of books that are on offer for 3 for £5 on the off-chance your local one is still open! Other than that… Libraries are closed… Get downloading the Kindle app and buy some of your favourites for much less than they are paperback and hardcover! There’s also Audible doing some great offers at the moment for those who are finding themselves with lots more free-time!

So, I’ll finish this post by saying that my thoughts in this go to the Emergency Services and Healthcare staff, those who have lost loved ones to the Coronavirus, and those whose mental health has taken a serious beating from the Pandemic…

Stay strong.

For medical advice and support in the UK please call 111 or 999 in an emergency

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