I have suffered from chronic mental illness for over 15 years and with chronic physical illness for over 5. I have OCD, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Fibromyalgia; and now that lockdown is coming to an end, i’ve been reflecting a lot on how Coronavirus and it’s associated restrictions have had an effect on my symptoms and on the support I have been able to access. It also prompted me to talk with some other bloggers with chronic illnesses about this too.
With my OCD, it is generally managed by medication. It minimises the complusions and the need for checking and reassurance. It also stops anxieties from becoming obsessions. However, I still have many difficult, anxiety-filled days brought on by change or stress in my life. The levels of my anxiety change every day and sometimes I can’t even pinpoint what is making me so anxious.
What I do know is that keeping my mind busy and having some responsibility and pride in my job keeps me ticking over the healthiest. This can either be my job in TV or my work as a blogger and influencer. Being out of the house and mixing with other people during the week tends to be when I feel the best mentally. Obviously, with Coronavirus, it brought my TV work to a dramatic halt and I was suddenly forced to spend all my days at home working on my blog and social media. I love being at home and i’d love to be able to be able to work at home full-time, but it’s just not good for my health. That’s the main reason I stopped working as a freelance journalist and went back into TV production – to give me that outside perspective and stimulus.What I found once lockdown set in, and the novelty of the new situation wore off, was that my mind had more time and space to wander. I started waking and and going to bed with the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety, even if I actually had nothing fundamental to be anxious about. All my small work or life problems were just magnified by the fact that I didn’t have anything much else in my life going on since we were quarantined. Things that I would shrug off if I was out at work, suddenly got out of perspective when I was sat at home. Luckily I have my fiance who knows how to make me feel better, give my brain stimulation, soothe me with essential oils and keep my thoughts in perspective. For someone who doesn’t have that however, the situation would be very different. Even with my fiance I still struggled without the input and the time with my Mum. Those battling mental illness during Coronavirus were cut off suddenly from their family and had their mental health NHS services reduced. If they were in the middle of a treatment plan for OCD or Agoraphobia, the effects of Coronavirus would have been even worse. I just had to speak to other bloggers with chronic mental illness to see how lockdown has affected them.
Similarly, I have Fibromyalgia – a chronic physical illness that manifests itself in me with at-night leg, toe, hand and finger pain as well as extreme tiredness. Coronavirus lockdown also had a great effect on my physically too. I can stuggle to exercise a lot as i’m always so tired, but at least when I am out at work during the day, I am at least moving about a bit more even if most of it is sitting at a desk. With lockdown, I wasn’t doing much exercise at all and so my Fibromyalgia symptoms worsened. My Fibromyalgia also worsens with spells of bad anxiety, so a pandemic (and my upcoming wedding maybe needing to be cancelled because of it), was also worsening my symptoms quite dramatically. I was in a lot of pain at night and was struggling to stay in bed because my mattress was so soft. When I don’t have Fibromyalgia symptoms, I love a soft mattress I can sink in to. When it’s that bad I need to lie somewhere that gives me more support – because of businesses and delivery services closing, I was unable to get a new firm mattress quickly to help me stay in bed. Alternatively, instead of sitting in the living room on a soft couch, I would have preferred a structured fireside chair in the dark, quiet bedroom to encourage me to fall asleep; but it was difficult to get one as quickly as normal. Now that lockdown is easing, my symptoms are easing and I am also able to now access the products I would need quickly.I wanted to speak to other chronic illness bloggers to hear their experiences of Coronavirus lockdown on their situations and their stories are very interesting –
I’m Evan, I’m 24 and I have mild-moderate ME, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. At the beginning of lockdown, I felt that the pause on normal life would give me a fast tack to normality pre-diagnosis. The reality was though, that 2 months into lockdown, I experienced my first neuropathy relapse that resulted in immobility & medication being needed. I believe this was a result of not being able to access my massage therapy that usually supports me in having a normal life without major symptoms. I’ve also had been delayed for having a B12 injection too – an important part of my treatment plan. The lack of other NHS services & treatments available due to the overwhelming effect lockdown has interrupted my treatment and my recovery process.
I have lived with health anxiety and general anxiety for a lot of my adult life. Just before lockdown initially happened, my anxiety was through the roof worrying about Coronavirus and the ‘what ifs’ – what if I caught it, what if my family caught it? It’s the unknown that I struggle with. Then, as lockdown happened and I found a routine for my family, I was more relaxed than I’d been for years. The anxiety dropped away and I felt safe in our bubble. Unfortunately that was short lived. I started to get a bit anxious about not having the usual “access” to health care. Being in lockdown also meant that my usual go-to coping strategies of talking my fears out with a friend over a cuppa, or heading for a long walk, haven’t been an option either due to me having my children home 24/7. I think all-in-all I’ve coped pretty well. Better than I thought I would at the start – which is what my anxiety is really. It’s the fear of change and the unknown.
I have found that my lupus symptoms have worsened since the pandemic due to the overwhelming stress it has caused. Being a high-risk person during this time has been a new and scary experience for all of us. The uncertainty of how to manage our day-to-day lives during various levels of re-opening has been really hard for me. I found there was very little support or guidance for those with chronic illnesses having to re-enter the workforce and/or resume medical care. This stress has contributed to more flares for me in the last few months and I have had to increase my Prednisone dosage. I have also started focusing on self-care and yoga to help reduce stress and ease any anxiety.
I think that for most people, COVID has had a negative impact on their mental health due to the financial and health-related worries it has created. Surprisingly, I have personally had the opposite effect. Being able to stay in the comfort of my home and not needing to run around all day long has actually improved my anxiety disorder symptoms rather than worsened them. I’m actually not surprised, considering most of my triggers – such as socializing, running from class to class, commuting, being in crowds, etc – don’t exist when I’m in my house. So while yes, I am worried about the future and my health, and yes I haven’t seen people in months, but I still find my anxiety better now than in the “Pre-Covid” era.
Having Crohn’s during lockdown, I have found my symptoms have actually got a bit better over time. I think the change of pace and less everyday stress and less running around has helped. Don’t get me wrong I’m still stressed, but it’s a different kind of stress isn’t it? I’ve been shielding as I am immunocompromised so I didn’t leave the house at all for over 12 weeks, apart from for my treatment which has continued albeit at a private hospital. I also have arthritis and a fistula which I think has improved due to less movement too. Not leaving the house has left me anxious though.
I have ulcerative colitis, which is a chronic autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks your digestive system. It flares up every few months and has to be treated with medication, usually steroids or immunosuppressants. I suffered a flare-up right in the middle of lockdown. It’s been really difficult to get the right medication. The doctors and nurses that usually treat me have been very busy, so getting hold of them has been harder than usual. More mistakes (incorrect prescriptions, missed appointments) have been made because they’re more pressed for time. It’s not their fault at all, they’ve just been under so much pressure. So a flare-up, that would probably have got under control much quicker in normal times, has dragged on. It’s possible that I’ve been more stressed too, which tends to have a big effect on how bad the flare-up is. Additionally, taking steroids and immunosuppressants means that technically I should be shielding, but it’s practically impossible with two kids!!
Covid-19 has made all of my medical problems, physical and mental, worse. Stress is a big trigger for both of them. I am constantly worried about all of the different changes to our world now. I am also high-risk, so I am afraid of catching Covid-19. Although I have been hospitalized a few times because of my physical health, I have been able to protect myself from contacting Covid-19 and will continue to practice the safety guidelines that were suggested to us by the medical profession.
Prior to lockdown, I found myself in somewhat of a dark hole. I had just started back to work after a year of anorexia nervosa recovery, and I was struggling to keep up with the daily grind. My medication was ineffective and I felt myself spiraling. Then COVID-19 hit and I was asked to shield due to my weakened immune system. For many, the idea of isolation would be awful, but for me, it was just another week. My family lives 20 minutes away and so I’m well used to going for days without seeing anyone except my partner and colleagues. However, despite being an old hand at isolation, I was not expecting the feeling of guilt I had about being signed-off work. As I write this, I’ve been off for 5 months now and the guilt of putting my health above my work continues to wreck my brain. But, despite the feeling of dread and guilt, lockdown actually benefitted not only me, but also my partner in ways that I never thought possible. We managed to reconnect with each other, and our relationship is now better than it has been in years because we have had the time to spend together without the daily grind. Although I found it difficult to maintain my recovery, my weight has been fairly stable although still below acceptable. The anxiety and depression I was feeling prior to lockdown has all but disappeared. In fact, since lockdown, I can count on one hand the amount of ‘bad days’ I’ve gone through. Due to my mental illnesses, I often struggle with passive suicidal thoughts and have done for years, but now I actually feel like I’m able to face the world again. I’m anxious and cautious about returning to ‘normal’, but I feel that the break COVID-19 has allowed both me and my partner has significantly impacted my mental health in a positive way.
I think we will all now prepare ourselves and our homes better, so that if this unprecedented situation ever returns again, we will be able to do what is best for us much more quickly.
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