My name is Dov and I am a doctor with a lived experience of bipolar disorder. Usually, when we are going through tough times, we rely on our family and friends for love and support. This unprecedented pandemic has resulted in a fractured society and we have never felt more alone. It may seem even harder to reach out for help currently given we are all suffering in one way or another. I have been reflecting lately on what the lockdowns can teach us and how we can best survive the despair and isolation. I hope this article helps to lift your spirits and provide some guidance on how to navigate this surreal reality we now find ourselves in.
Mental wellness is difficult to maintain at the best of times but this pandemic has thrown us all a curveball. Life is completely surreal, as though we are living in an alternate universe. And it looks as though this new normal is here to stay. Everyone has a story at the moment and the hardships are innumerable including financial stressors, separation from loved ones, anxiety about becoming infected as well as frustration, boredom and Zoom fatigue. This blog article is a mini-survival guide about ways that we can look after ourselves during such unprecedented and difficult times.
Let go of control
One of the most important sources of strength in surviving the relentless lockdowns is the serenity prayer – ‘grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference’. In this lockdown, we have lost control over many of our privileges and freedoms. These losses are not within our control and resisting the changes will only give rise to feelings of frustration and disempowerment. However, if we choose to focus on the things which are directly within our control, we can maximise our enjoyment and enhance our quality of life. By learning to surrender to the things that are not within our power to change, we flow more naturally with the current flow of life through acceptance of the present moment.
Gratitude is another powerful antidote to the despair of lockdown. What things are you grateful for? Your family and friends? Having a roof over your head? A functioning and healthy body? Cultivate gratitude by focusing on the things that you have rather than what you do not have. Go out for a walk in nature. Enjoy the sunshine on your face. Through appreciation of the simple pleasures, you can reshift your intention away from all the things which have been taken away during this difficult period. This virus has taught us the value of ‘carpe diem’ or living for the moment. Freedom and travel will taste so much sweeter one day when the borders eventually open up again. In the meantime, think of ways you can live for the moment during lockdown, even if they seem small by comparison. COVID also teaches us about delayed gratification. Rather than feeling sad about cancelled and missed opportunities, project those exciting memories into the future. Imagine a time when those exciting events and plans will be possible again one day.
Sharing and connecting is invaluable during tough times. It is easy to bury your distress because others are also facing difficult times. Be authentic and do not minimise what you are going through. Share these feelings. Allow the grief to surface and express these painful emotions. It does not matter if your friend is also in a bad way, you can still support each other by listening and empathising together. Humanity has survived world wars and other natural disasters by unifying together and supporting one another. This pandemic is no exception. Surround yourself with people you trust and who will cause you minimal hassle. If you are finding someone too difficult or ‘high maintenance’ during this period, it is perfectly ok to step back from the relationship. Self-compassion is about prioritising yourself and protecting your boundaries.
Take the pressure off
Do not apply undue pressure to yourself during this stressful time. Perhaps you are experiencing feelings of languishing or lack of motivation. That is perfectly ok and completely understandable. Be kind to yourself. We are like animals in captivity right now. You do not need to be super productive at the moment or have large goals. This is not necessarily the time to be learning a language, finding a hobby or living your best life (but if you want to, go for it!). Sometimes, surviving the day alone is sufficient.
Avoid triggers that might destabilise you such as watching the daily news. Take time out for yourself without feeling guilty. If you need a break from work, then take it. No-one can prioritise your mental health right now except for you. Nurture yourself excessively in whatever ways you can, for example, take baths, go for nature walks, meditate and workout at home. Routine can be really useful such as going to bed and waking up at set times and creating regular habits for yourself each day. Although it is tempting, try not to fall into addictive behaviours such as drinking excessive alcohol which may worsen your mood.
Humour is another powerful way to help us stay afloat. There are plenty of social media videos out there making light of the pandemic and lockdown, such as ‘sooshimango’ and ‘jimmy rees’. Use these tools to laugh at the ridiculous situation that we find ourselves in. Share memes with your friends. Keeping a light spirit can help combat the heaviness of the current crisis we find ourselves in.
This is temporary
Finally, it is important to remember the Buddhist philosophy of impermanence. Everything in life is transient. In each moment, stars are being born while others are going supernova. Nothing in life is forever. Along the same line, life will not remain as difficult as it is right now. We may have a fight left ahead of us, but please remember the age-old concept of ‘this too shall pass’. There will come a day where we look back on this difficult period in retrospect. Please remember, you are so much more than this lockdown. You are so much more than this virus. The resilience of the human spirit is one of the most powerful forces of nature. You will survive. You will triumph. You will soar again.
Explore professional mental health support
If you have an NDIS plan that includes Recovery Coaching, One Good* Day can assist you to reach your goals and support you to get one good day in lockdown and beyond. And if you’re struggling, there’s support available via other organisations like Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus website and Lifeline.
Dov is of of our OG*D Thinkers & content contributor. A practising medical specialist with lived experience of mental illness, Dov volunteers as a mental health advocate for SANE Australia and Beyond Blue. With a passion for de-stigmatising mental illness both within the medical community and wider society, he brings a unique and empathetic perspective to the OG*D team having experienced both sides of the fence as a medical practitioner and as a patient.