I am Carys, I am a Young Champion and I live with mental illnesses, including very bad anxiety. You probably wouldn’t notice it too much if you saw me out and about living my normal life because being busy and staying out of the house is how I learnt to manage my mental health difficulties.
You’re now probably thinking ‘But I thought people with mental illness loved being at home?’ It is true that some people find that their anxiety or other symptoms are easier to cope with at home when they are working and living on their own terms and not being watched by others. But for me, being at home makes things worse, because it is when I am alone that the bad thoughts creep in and the panic starts. I have no distractions or escape from the negative thoughts, so I become overwhelmed easily.
In the past, I have felt like people do not believe my difficulties because I come across as outgoing, lively and constantly busy.
So much so, I often feel like I have to vocalise how I am feeling if I am struggling, instead of being able to rely on people noticing the common signs of mental health problems and reaching out to me. Even my own self-stigma plays a role: I enjoy public speaking, yet each time I do an event my own mind is telling me I am a fraud for not being in such a state beforehand, despite living with chronic anxiety. I worry a lot that people think the same way as me and may not believe my story, because what I say about having an anxiety disorder and their perceptions of anxiety disorders may clash with how they see me act every day.
When I am out the house, I am constantly busy. I spend long days at university working in the library, attending class, playing sport or doing voluntary work in the evenings and at the weekends. I’d rather take on too much and have to cancel than find myself with nothing to do. Being in public helps me to focus on my work. Seeing friends or talking with other people distracts me from my negative thinking. I struggle with insomnia too but being out makes me more tired, so I am more likely to sleep at night or be too exhausted when I get home to do much thinking before I fall asleep.
So, I am sure you can now imagine that when the first UK went into lockdown, I spiraled straight into my longest depressive episode yet, after being mentally stable for almost a year! All of my coping mechanisms disappeared overnight as I was forced to sit inside with my dark thoughts every day for four months.
I moved home from university in March to do lockdown with my family because at least then I had them for company. I made sure I got out for the one hour of exercise a day, but that was nothing compared to my usual walking commute and competitive sport. I continued to study from home, but with my ugly webcam image glaring back at me the whole time, I was hardly focused on class. I was also extremely tired from the depression and panic attacks and lost all motivation and desire to learn.
Four months later, the restrictions began to slowly ease, and I found my mood improved along with it as I could get outside and do more activities to distract myself. I could go back to studying in the library and meet my friends in bars. I felt like I had purpose and structure back in my life. This relapse wasn’t just a coincidence and it was most definitely triggered by the circumstances. I am pleased I was able to recognise this.
Now that the autumn flu season has arrived, and Covid-19 still hasn’t gone away, I am worried about a second national lockdown. This time I know what is coming, which makes me more anxious to have to do it all over again, but at least I can now plan coping mechanisms to manage.
I live in Leeds and was able to get out and about. However, with the news of a second lockdown, the anxiety about how long it will last is making me feel quite hopeless and uncertain for the future. But I believe that things happen for a reason, and that one day I will realise why my journey through the pandemic was an important stage in my life purpose.
My message to anyone reading this blog is that not all people with mental illnesses are relieved and happy about working from home and isolation. We aren’t all anxious about society reopening. Some of us – like me – feel the opposite!
So please remember that everyone experiences mental illnesses differently and to check in on anyone you know who may be struggling mentally in lockdown.