Monday, 6 April 2020

FIVE THINGS THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC HAS TAUGHT ME


You may have read Martin Baker’s guest post on his five things? The actual plan was to publish a post with both of ours, but Martin’s was finished sooner so I decided to post it alone and before my own.


I was recently in A&E (Accident and Emergency) with suspected liver failure but it – thankfully – turned out to be a really bad bout of gastroenteritis(!) and I was talking to one of the Doctors about the pandemic. She asked why I’d self-harmed a little while ago and my reason was something that’s actually stopped happening because of the UK lockdown! We laughed about how there’s been positives (is that the right word?) to the entire Pandemic and all the consequences that have come from it. And this inspired these posts... I’m definitely one of those ‘look-on-the-bright-side’ type of people and I’m definitely a ‘glass-half-full’ girl so for me, I find it helpful to look for positives and benefits from difficult situations in order to make them more bearable and easier to cope with.


After over a week of the UK lockdown, I received a letter telling me that because of my Asthma, I’m in the ‘extremely vulnerable’ category and am more likely to be admitted to Hospital if I contracted the Coronavirus. The letter instructed me to isolate for a further twelve weeks from the day of receiving the letter! This meant that whilst a lot of people are probably on Week Two or longer by now, I’m only just onto Week One (I only received the letter on Tuesday 31st March)! So, I really do need something positive to think about and thought that finally writing this post might be a good idea...




1.    The company my pets give me is irreplaceable


Initially, I was going to write that I’ve learn to appreciate my bunny; Pixie, and kitten; Emmy, more but that’s not true because it’s just not possible for me to appreciate or to love my pets any more than I already do! What has been possible though, is to realize that their company – having the ability to talk to them – is so helpful and could never be replaced by someone or something else! Since the lockdown started, I’ve been saying how lucky I am to have pets because there are so many people out there who have their own home and no pets and are going through overwhelming feelings of isolation and loneliness. Both can be potentially dangerous and unsafe emotions to experience; especially where you already have mental health problems. I think that the cause of these feelings is mostly down to losing the ability to speak and hear your own voice; and for me, I find it comforting to know that I’m communicating with someone else.



I know there’s been a lot of jokes going around about how people who are introverts and anti-social, are actually flourishing in the lockdown and lapping up the lack of contact with the outside world! And that may be true to an extent, but surely no one can enjoy this level of isolation?! I mean, I enjoy spending time by myself and just having the time to do what I love – to read, and write, play on The Sims, and watch TV – and to get in as much sleep as possible(!) but I still find reassurance in having company and someone to talk to. I guess that after two and a half years in a psychiatric hospital – having people around me 24/7 – I got used to not being alone and always having support available.


I got Pixie in 2017 (you can read my first post about her here) because the visual hallucinations I had of rabbits had returned and I thought that having a real bunny in my home might be a reassurance and a way to ground myself when I was hallucinating. It helped to be able to look at Pixie and see how she was less blurry than the hallucinations and that I could actually touch her and feel her fur on my fingertips! Then, a week after my first cat; Dolly, passed away, in October 2018, I got Emmy (whose arrival you can read more about here). Dolly had been my recovery goal when I lost sight of why I was working so hard at learning Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) in hospital so losing her really knocked me backwards. It made me so sad that she’d never get to see me continue to succeed and for my recovery to progress and it might sound silly but Pixie was also sad because she’d grown up having a cat around (I got Dolly first). So, in a desperate bid to fill the cat-shaped hole in our home/life, I adopted Emmy! So, getting both of my pets in such overwhelming circumstances has meant that I’ve always had a very special bond with them, and the lockdown hasn’t waivered that. There’s been a lot of stories about people abandoning their pets at fear of them contracting the Coronavirus and cases of animal abuse have risen because people are getting frustrated being in the house so much and they’re taking it out on their pets. I couldn’t imagine either of these things from happening to my little family.


I’ve enjoyed having the time to just sit and play with a new toy I got Emmy from my local food superstore and being able to spend hours taking photos with/of Pixie! Their company has been so beneficial to me and I’m eternally grateful to them for that.




2.    I’m really good at my DBT skills


When I learnt the Distress Tolerance DBT skill of distraction, I absolutely loved it immediately – something that I can’t say about any other DBT coping skill! Distraction, seemed to be a healthier version of the avoidance I’d been doing for years and I believed it had helped, so I was all for trying out something safer! I very quickly learnt the things that I already did which I could put in my distraction toolbox; reading, writing, watching TV, listening to music, doing arts and crafts projects... I found distraction so helpful because it allowed me the opportunity to spend some time doing something that took my mind off all the hallucinations and the memories of the rape and abuse. Sometimes, it was hard to do because when I was at my worst, I thought that I deserved the mental pain that the memories brought and that I wasn’t deserving of peace and ‘time out.’ Mostly, though, I thought that distraction was a good idea and through this lockdown, I’ve really been using this skill to cope with not being able to see my mental health team or my Mum and friends. I see it as a form of escapism and my most recent methods of it have been reading my new book; The Dark Side Of The Mind by Kerry Daynes, and watching the brand new Disney Plus!


Another skill from Distress Tolerance which I use a lot is self-soothe which was something I originally really struggled to do because I felt that I didn’t deserve to be soothed and to feel good about myself. Through psychology sessions, I learnt that the abuse hadn’t been my fault and I hadn’t done anything wrong to have ‘earned’ it. This new-found knowledge helped me to learn self-soothing skills that I could use like doing my nails and my makeup or wearing comfy clothes and getting cosy in bed or on a settee with a blanket and my pets. The lockdown has meant that I can’t leave the house or see anyone so it’s incredibly easy to just stop doing my makeup and other efforts to change my appearance but because I’ve found these things so helpful for my mental health, I’ve continued to do them when I’ve needed to tolerate distress.


The final Distress Tolerance skill that I like to use is ‘pros and cons’ which is all about either literally or mentally, creating a list of benefits and drawbacks to a certain action, behaviour, response, thought, emotion, experience... The hope is that one side will be either longer than the other or that it will hold more weight than the other and that it will encourage and promote that you take a safe and healthy next step in life. I guess that this blog post is the ultimate list of ‘pros’ for the lockdown and the Coronavirus because in listing the lessons it’s helped me learn, I’m better placed to manage things in a safer way. The ‘best’ time to use pros and cons is when you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide because taking the time to sit and think of all these benefits and consequences allows time for the feeling to pass. If it doesn’t pass, then the hope is that your lists will enable you to see that hurting yourself may only be ‘beneficial’ in the short-term and that those benefits aren’t worth all of the negatives you’d have to go through like, attending A&E and getting stitches, or having to sit through mental health and mental capacity assessments. 


Finally, the one skill I hated the thought of when I first heard about it though, was Mindfulness, because I was so worried that being completely ‘in the moment,’ would mean allowing myself to think about the abuse and actually experience the memories rather than avoid and run from them; as I had spent years doing! I won’t lie, it took a good few years for me to learn that you could use Mindfulness in the complete opposite way – that rather than use it to put all of my attention onto current thoughts and feelings, I could use it to focus on something else; like one of my distraction tools - I could Mindfully read a book or watch a film. 




3.    My Mum’s hugs are The Best Medicine!


 I can’t even begin to put into words how much I miss my Mum right now! For pretty much my entire life, my Mum has really been my only parent – I say ‘only’ but I don’t mean that as a bad thing! I’m actually very grateful to have barely had my Dad in my life after seeing what sort of person he is for myself in 2011! So, my Mum has been my greatest supporter and her love for me has never waivered throughout my mental ill health, so I’ve learnt so much about unconditional love from her. I’ve always said that if I could be half the mother she is, I’d be damn good for my babies – and maybe I’ve seen an inkling of this with Pixie and Emmy! Maybe the fact that I love them and have protected them so fiercely, is testament to just how good my Mum’s parenting is?!


Now, I say ‘best medicine’ but obviously I’m still taking all of my medication, and it’s still working really well for me! It’s just that my Mum’s hugs are so much more powerful - and have so many less side effects! When I’m in my Mum’s arms I feel at my absolute safest; it’s like the entire world disappears and it’s just our love and support for one another. She’s my rock and hugging her reminds me of this and that she’s always there for me to lean on. I honestly think that if I was hallucinating and she hugged me, the voices would stop just for that moment – that’s how powerful and helpful my Mum’s hugs are!


I do think, though, that this lockdown has brought us even closer together – if that’s at all possible! We talk on the phone more often and for a hell of a lot longer (I think our record is almost two hours now!) and we’ve had a few video chats so that we could actually see each other and each other’s pets (my Mum has a cat too). I say that I could ‘see’ her but really all I can see is a bit of her face while she tries all of the stupid Facebook filters! It’s not the same though – and even when we were just self-isolating and weren’t in lockdown and she’d come over to mine and stand at the bottom of the path to talk, it wasn’t the same as having a hug from her. Obviously I still feel her love and it’s just as strong as it is when we hug, but I’d like the reassurance I get from our hugs and I’d like that physical closeness again. 




4.    There are so many great technological advances!


As a Blogger, it was sort of inevitable that I’d talk about something like this, wasn’t it?!

I’ve never really been one for using video chat on Facebook messenger but since the lockdown began, I’ve chatted with one of my best-friend’s and my Mum on it a few times! Usually, I just can’t be bothered and feel the pressure to do my makeup before I video chat so that I don’t look an absolute mess but with the lockdown, I’ve kind of stopped caring because I’ve been more bothered about making that connection and communication with the people I love and care about the most. I’ve gotten my priorities straight and realized that my appearance isn’t what’s important.


In keeping with Facebook video chat, social media in general has also come a long way! Especially since the whole TikTok craze (and no, I don’t have one!)! One of my inspirations – Victoria from www.inthefrow.com was talking on her Instagram stories the other day about how she’s noticed that since TikTok, more and more people are posting video content on their Instagram – which was originally a purely visual/image only platform. I think that a common misconception with social media is that each platform is meant for a different purpose; but actually, they’re evolving every day. I do like to keep some sort of order to my social media though in using Twitter the most often, Instagram every few days and my Facebook is private so that I only have friends and family on it. With the lockdown, social media has become a perfect way for people to still communicate with one another and the power that the hashtag has to unite like-minded people has really shone through at a time when so many individuals are feeling alone and isolated.


Then there’s blogging! After maintaining I’m NOT Disordered for over seven years, I think it’s obvious that I enjoy blogging and creating content and ads in collaboration with individuals and organizations. I’ve always enjoyed writing so having the ability to use my writing in a way that has the potential to reach so many people all around the world is something that I find so fascinating and incredible. I’m so passionate about blogging and how much it can benefit your own mental health and well-being. I really think that it saved my life and that it’s massively helping me through the lockdown with aiding me in still being able to talk about what I’d like to be saying to the professionals on my mental health team. Obviously, it isn’t the same as having someone who can respond to what I’m saying but it helps to just be able to get it out and work through it myself.


The final thing that I’m appreciating about technology because of the lockdown is online learning. I completed my online Feline Behaviour and Psychology Diploma with Centre of Excellence a little while ago and passing it with a distinction was a really proud moment which boosted my confidence a lot. I enjoyed it so much that I enrolled/bought two more courses with the site; Forensic Psychology and Novel Writing Diploma, they’re both very different subjects but are both something that I’m interested in learning more about. The Forensic Psychology course is a lot more academic than the Feline and Novel ones, but I guess that’s to be expected considering the subject matter and I like it because it’s different and it gives my brain more of a challenge – something that’s helpful when the lockdown is leaving so many people completely bored. Then the Novel Writing Diploma is more time-consuming which is also good because with the lockdown, I seem to have an abundance of time on my hands! 




5.    How much respect, admiration, and appreciation I have for the NHS

When my mental health was at its most poorly, I absolutely despised all of the NHS staff because in my mind, they were stopping me from doing what I thought was the right thing; self-harming or attempting suicide. I felt that they were punishing me by keeping me chained to a life I didn’t enjoy and didn’t want. The hallucinations and memories of the abuse left me constantly either angry or sad or both; and in repeatedly saving my life, I thought that the NHS staff were ensuring that I would continue to feel that way. 


I now know different. I know that they not only saved my life because they had a duty to do so, but also because they had the faith and the hope that I could recover and that I could make something of my life. They thought me worthy of their time, services, and care. It was hard to see this when I felt so terrible and suicidal though, and I showed staff absolutely no gratitude at the time. So, I feel as though I need to make up for all of those years that I wasn’t thankful for them. I can attribute the fact that I’m still alive to several different things/people and the NHS is definitely one of those; and whilst I may still have difficult days and feel less grateful to them for saving me, I’m mostly happy and appreciative that they took the time to believe in me when I didn’t believe in myself.


It’s no secret that through this Pandemic the NHS staff (and many other professionals!) are working absolutely flat-out to protect people and save lives and that is often at great personal cost. A lot of the staff are without the protective equipment they need to safely treat Coronavirus patients, and this puts their own lives at risk whenever they have contact with someone. There’s also a huge mental health aspect to this in that their work can be extremely draining (mentally and physically) and seeing so many people die in such a painful and lonely way must be so upsetting.




I hope that this post has left you considering any positives you can find in this horrible situation and I hope that in doing so, it gives you hope and appreciation for these small rays of light at this very dark time.