Updated: Apr 15, 2020
As I write this to you, I am sitting in my office; the back of my Landrover looking over the South Downs, watching the thrashing sea and witnessing the sunset break over a million sheep, because of COVID-19. Previously my office used to be in various Brighton cafes dependant on mood eating £12 eggs bene. Ironically before today, I hadn’t written in a while because I’d been in several of the Asian countries that swiftly became unvisitable. So, I thought it may be pertinent to talk about some of the unexpected cheer I have found from lockdown.
Don't get me wrong, as a Freelancer, I have been shafted (again) by the government, my single life has shriveled like a prune (that isn't a metaphor – yet), I cannot see my nearest and dearest because I am a risk to them, I fell prey to Tiger King, I cannot go to the pub and obviously, there is the fact we are living with nearly the deadliest flu this century has seen (Spanish Flu has so far won that title).
But, I’ve never been calmer.
Those that I love and patients whom I support with poor mental health are oddly ok.
So, this got me to thinking about why the apocalypse has not caused me and others to react in the way I would have expected - if I had been asked. Which would have been unlikely as predicting deadly flu which will put us in war style lockdown would have seemed delusional or at least overly anxious a few months ago.
Well here is the thing, since isolation I have frequented green spaces much more often, I have actually connected more with those I do not usually (albeit virtually), I have had no pressure to 'do' and therefore have felt ok just 'being' for the first time in a long time. I have read books, I have had time to go for long motorbike rides and hallelujah I have even spent less dollar (although I admit I have wandered through the pound shop and been overzealous).
When we look at the simple life this situation forces us into it echoes the message, we in mental health have been encouraging (and not following) for over a decade. The Five Ways to Wellbeing tells us to Connect, Give, Keep Learning, Be Active, Take Notice (a version of being in the moment, which is particularly useful in green spaces). I hazard a guess we have ALL done a bit more of each recently. I have been participating in group dinners at home, I've learned new things through the books I have finally finished, I’ve been lapping up the moments outside walking (despite usually having an aversion to movement) and nature has become my zen.
The other interesting thing to consider, contrary to popular belief, is that those who battle with mental ill-health often do cope in times of chaos, in fact, they cope WELL, perhaps because their daily battle offers them resilience. Those of us that experience unhelpful thoughts of particularly worry or concern such as with anxiety are often not battling with logical thoughts (this does not mean they aren’t extremely powerful or real for the person), but thoughts that are un-conquerable. Therefore, oddly in times of chaos, we find calm. Obviously, this is not true for all, but it is an interesting phenomenon.
There is already research showing us that those with mental illness often tend to be more creative (1). In fact, the frontal lobe is shown to be more active in those with mental illness and those who have a natural ability towards the arts. Many of our ‘Big thinkers’ have experienced mental health problems; Churchill, Stephen Fry, Princess Diana, Virginia Woolfe to name not even a handful. Many of those of us who live and experience mental health problems are labeled as 'high functioning' a slightly demeaning term that suggests we should be permanently bedridden but are actually managing to wash and have a full-time job. So, is it a much further stretch to consider we are well equipped for a reality of uncertainty?
“For someone with anxiety, dramatic situations are, in a way, more comfortable than the mundane…In dramatic situations, the world rises to meet your anxiety.” (Broder, 2016) (2).
The other thing to consider is that this time is giving us all a moment to reap the benefits of stepping out from our over-stimulated world. Have you noticed how quiet it is when you open the window, how the streets and shops are less crowded and overwhelming, how you have missed a few zoom calls because actually you're doing ok and are quite settled in your book, that you don't care your phone ran out of battery because you don't need to make your next plans and suddenly your plants are flourishing because you are talking to them a lot more (just me?).
This is before we mention that nature is thriving; deer are taking to London’s streets, mountain sheep have taken over welsh towns, the Himalayas are visible from parts of India that haven’t been in a decade, fish have come back to the Venetian canals and the Chinese can see the sky – surely not even Trump can deny the impact of pollution after this.
So, to finish, I invite you to find some alacrity (brisk and cheerful readiness) in this otherwise doomful situation and to go away and create a *gratitude list of some of the things you will take with you when this is all over, which it will be.
All My Love,
*Gratitude Journaling is a well-researched tool that is shown to improve wellbeing, each evening try to list three things you are grateful for from the day. They needn't be life-changing they could be as simple as 'finding loo roll in Co-op’.
1 Andreasen N. C. (2008). The relationship between creativity and mood disorders.Dialogues in clinical neuroscience,10(2), 251–255.
2 So sad today : personal essays Author:Melissa Broder, Publisher:New York : Grand Central Publishing, 2016