Sorry I've been away for a month - COVID-19 has taken over my day job as well as my evenings. I thought I'd pop back with a blog post on how to keep yourself well at the moment.
I don't know about you, but I'm feeling the pressure right now. We've been in lockdown (mostly) for about a week, which has either felt completely do-able or like hell on earth depending on what kind of person you are. If you have a pre-existing mental health difficulty, you might be so anxious you can barely function, or so low you can't get out of bed. You might be fine - all that panic and worry giving way to a sense of calm that is in some ways more worrying than the anxiety itself. However you're feeling, it's tempting to believe that there's nothing at all to do at the moment, so there's no point in trying to do anything.
This is wrong.
At the moment, you have a few jobs to do - and they're possibly the most important jobs on the planet, so don't mess them up! (Okay, I'm using humour to disguise the fact that I'm actually really serious about this - it's been a long week, give me a break).
The most important thing you have to do throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is stay alive. There will be days you don't want to, when you don't see the point in continuing. Come back to this post. Breathe, and remember this: there are people who want you to stay alive. I want you to stay alive. One day we'll come out of this, blinking into the light like newborns, and the people who love you will want you to be there for that. The people in your community will need you to be there for that. I want you to be there for that. Please, do what you need to do to stay alive.
For some people, that might be biscuits and Animal Crossing. For some people, it's long 3am conversations with the Samaritans, or Shout if you prefer to text, or your best friend who you haven't seen for far too long, or people on the internet. I love people on the internet, if you find your group of people they're often the most loving and kind individuals, even if they've never actually met you. Once you come out of that tiny black hole of despair, you need to keep making sure that you don't go back there. It's a lot of work, but it is worth it.
You need a routine. I know, people have said this before, and there will be days when you don't feel like getting up at 7am and getting in the shower. On these days you will feel worse, and you won't know why. I know this because this is the kind of day I'm having today, where everything feels like wading through treacle and you're bone-tired. You get up and get in the shower anyway. When you're done, you eat a biscuit. You do what you need to do to keep the routine that you've had before, and find some space for joy, and for hope, because without those things it's much harder to stay alive and motivated. And that's the most important thing to do right now.
Protect other people
Part of that routine can be focused on other people. There are a lot of vulnerable people in your community, and they need help. They need help with things that you can help with, even if you're feeling low, even if you're so anxious that the thought of them calling you makes you want to fall back into that hole of despair. You can do things. You can write a letter to your local MP, making sure that they know that you want them to look after the vulnerable people. You can donate to your local foodbank. You can send your sister a card in the post, even though she sometimes forgets your birthday. You can post kind things online. You can stay at home - this is important and is the thing that is protecting people most of all, and it's something you're incredibly good at. Stay at home, stick to your routine, and know that you're saving lives.
Find some space
Again, something that other people have said, and it's hard to know what it means. If you're lucky enough to have a home with a garden, use it. Get into diaphragmatic breathing, then into relaxation, even if you feel like it's not doing anything - it is. Watch the birds from your window. Count the colours on their wings. Go for a walk (only one a day) and notice the flowers are starting to bloom - do this really early in the morning if you don't want to meet other people. Spend an hour staring at the wall in your kitchen before you remember what you went in there for - forgive yourself for that one. You don't have to be doing anything in particular, you don't have to be productive. It's great if you're feeling energetic, and can learn a new language or paint a masterpiece. It's fine if you manage to do your daily work from home and cook yourself a meal. It's okay if you get up at seven, get in the shower and eat a biscuit. You're being kind to other people by staying at home - be kind to yourself too. Be as kind to yourself as you're being to everyone else, you deserve it just as much as they do.
Know that your brain is lying to you if you don't believe that.
Know that your brain is going to keep lying to you throughout this period of physical distancing. The anxiety that comes in waves at four in the morning, the sleeplessness, the feeling of the crushing weight of the world on your shoulders. You don't have to take it all on. You just need to stay alive, and be kind, and find some space.
That's all any of us are trying to do.
Dr Sarah Blackshaw: Clinical Psychologist, blogger, tea drinker, interested in dinosaurs and shiny objects