Advice for Surviving Lockdown from Someone Who’s Overcome Severe Depression

#MentallySound: tips for managing coronavirus panic and isolation, from someone’s who’s survived their own mental hell

Written by Sarah Williams. Gratuitous cat photos by Cold Front Photography

As stricter rules have been imposed by government in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, my anxious friends and I have joked that ‘normies’ will suddenly know what it’s like to feel mad all the time.

Anxiety: sweats, shakes, racing thoughts, imagining impending catastrophe. Depression: solitude, sadness and worthlessness. We’re being told that if we don’t wash out hands well enough, it might kill our Nan. We’re scared to leave the house. There’s an omnipresent, invisible threat, lurking around waiting to take us out. Coronavirus panic has an awful lot in common with good ol’ run-of-the-mill depression.

I’ve not shied away from talking about my past episodes of severe depression, and how I took control to dig myself out of the cavernous pit I’d created in my head. In troubled times such as these, I feel better equipped to handle the loneliness, worry and uncertainty set upon us, because I’ve done it all before… the only difference this time is that it’s not something I’ve brought on myself.

For what it’s worth, here is my advice on keeping yourself relatively sane when you’re stuck at home:

Live in the now, man

Reminiscing about the great times you’ve had in the pub and at gigs will not help. Fantasising about the wild parties and imagining a summer of festivals will not help. The adage ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ is absolutely true in isolation and it is guaranteed to make you feel like a turd, missing out on all the things you could be doing.

Instead, enjoy what you have right now. Revel in finally having time to yourself. Gaze at the tree growing outside your window, with its first leaf shoots pushing through. Luxuriate in your comfortable bed, survey the vast array of online TV available to you, get giddy whilst cleaning out a drawer stuffed with old crap. Enjoy cooking, reading, finally having some time off work. 

If you’re struggling to appreciate the basics, or finding all that a bit ‘wishy washy’ for your hardcore tastes… I highly recommend embracing a gratitude practice. Just before you to to bed, write down three or more things you’ve been grateful for that day. You can do it old school paper-and-ink or on an app like Happy Not Perfect. Sounds like a crock, but it’s scientifically proven to lower symptoms of depression over time. And I’m telling you it works.

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Top tip: LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL MY CAT IS. SHE IS SO SPECIAL.

 

Don’t feel obliged to socialise

Oh no, we’re trapped indoors! I’m never going to see my friends again! I can’t go the pub! I can’t go to gigs! I can’t go to grab coffee, or visit my family or go for that hike!

Let’s face it, you weren’t doing any of this stuff in the first place. How many of us have planned to go to a gig, then guiltily bailed and lazed on the sofa instead? How many of us have gotten the deepest satisfaction from cancelling a plan? Sure my mates are in the pub and they’re having a lovely time… that doesn’t mean I need to be there too, if I’m not in the mood for it.

An analogy too often used is that of the ‘social battery’: a limited supply of friendly energy that we deplete if we don’t get time to ourselves. The sudden order to stay inside hasn’t increased my social battery. It’s fine to still want to be alone – you don’t need to be on a video chat, in a virtual pub or thumbing a Whatsapp group. 

The concept of a pub quiz hosted remotely via a video app that cuts in and out, with people talking over each other, tinny robot voices, ‘greenscreen’ background and a half-arsed drinking game shoehorned in for ‘fun’ is my idea of A Literal Hell. I don’t need an incentive to drink: I’m perfectly capable of getting pissed on the sofa without a fucking social obligation to do so.

If you’re struggling with keeping in constant contact, having extra phone calls from family and friends, and the endless thrum of voices over laptop speakers… remember it’s absolutely fine to just chill out by yourself.

Don’t get pissed on the sofa

Once more for the people in the back: alcohol is a depressant.

The more booze your pour onto the flames of your boredom, the shitter you are going to feel. It’s not just the hangover: after the dry mouth and the pounding head have subsided, you’ll be left with an almost-imperceptible hole within. Over time, that hole erodes into a gaping chasm where your serotonin used to be. 

If you’re waiting until 5pm before your crack your first can, or joining a video call so you’re not alone with your room-temperature sauvignon, good on ya, but controlled drinking is still drinking. With each pint you’re stacking up, you’re slowly leeching away your own happiness. When you’re stuck inside with your own thoughts, drinking is a dangerous game.

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Seriously, just look at her. It will make you feel better.

 

Get yourself a killer playlist

When I was in a major slump, I made myself a playlist of boss bitches: Cardi B, Destiny’s Child, Kelis. I needed those women to tell me that my pussy’s worth a million dollars, I’m a strong independent woman, and my milkshake’s a major threat to social distancing.

The unfortunate side effect is that I’ve come out of my depression with an insatiable love for pop-rap, but that’s a price worth paying.

Your mind hears everything your mouth says. If your rhetoric is that you’re sad, trapped in the house and waiting for the apocalypse to end, that is how you will feel. If you’re dancing round the kitchen, singing about what a badass you are, air-guitaring and smashing out gunfingers, you’ll feel like a rockstar. Let’s be rockstars: make yourself a rockstar playlist to blast. 

Don’t feel pressured to do anything

Let’s face it: we’re not going to learn Mandarin, become amazing violinists or suddenly create madly successful side-hustles. When social distancing measures were first announced, it was a natural response to daydream of ways to utilise all the extra time we’ve suddenly found ourselves with. It’s fun to consider the possibilities.

Alas, we’re not going to bloody do any of that. We’re going to sit in our pants on the sofa, racing to complete Netflix and shovelling crisps into our mouths. And THAT’S FINE. You deserve some time off. 

How many of us would kill for a bit of time to ourselves? Before all this happened, I was desperately yearning for some time off work that I couldn’t afford to take. Now, I’m suddenly ‘furloughed’ with no idea when or how much I’ll be paid from the government’s handouts, with all the time in the world. Sure, I have some spiralling mental peril about my nonexistent income, but it’s not so bad: the pleasure I get from a lie-in, time spent reading a whodunnit, and a general absence of tasks is the purest joy there this.

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She’s well happy about being indoors, why aren’t you?

 

Distract thyself

If you feel yourself descending into a mental spiral, you need to snap yourself out of that mindset as quickly as you can. Recognise that it’s happening and give yourself a jolt, before you hurtle too far down the helter-skelter.

Head starting to cave? Have a shower. Have a wank. Both guaranteed to reset your brain.

If you’ve not got time for that, splash some cold water on your face, go outside the house. Changing the scent in your room can also give you a quick scenery change: open a window, or light some incense. 

In the longer term, give yourself some distractions. Find a recipe to cook, with instructions you can follow. Start a frivolous craft project that you can do in front of the TV – it helps your mind to stay in focus. Play a video game. Watch all the cartoons you like. 

Put your phone down

Staring at screens all the time is absolutely mind-numbing. All the other ‘mental health in isolation’ articles will tell you to limit your time on social media… and they’re damn right. I’m not going to repeat them.  

However, I do have some further advice, from someone who hates Facebook with a passion:

  • Feeling the urge to share a viral quiz post? DON’T
  • Desperate to pick up an acoustic guitar and record a bad Wonderwall cover? DON’T
  • Longing to complete a listicle of things you like, dislike or can barely remember? DON’T
  • Fancying sharing some sensational information about coronavirus from a questionable source? DON’T
  • Considering posting a status update about your woes, in a tone that suggests that you’re the only person suffering in all the world; woe is you? YOU ARE A MASSIVE DOUCHE CANOE

“Well, I didn’t have anything better to do!” you cry. YES YOU DO. You always have something better to do that sharing inane, repetitive shite with the rest of us. The flood of useless information is truly making social media even more of a depression gauntlet than it is usually. 

While we’re at it, social distanced Tinder-ing is inevitably going to make you feel like a bag of rabid, sexually-frustrated squirrels. Chatting to horny randoms online will not help with your dwindling self-esteem. Turns out you can still be ghosted for after a video chat date – what a waste of your valuable brain power. Write your Jane Austen novel for yourself, not in your DMs. 

Written by Sarah Williams.

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