This month, as part of the Chronic Voice Linkup, I’m sharing some thoughts on the reality of coping with uncertainty during lockdown.
Have you noticed how our social media feeds are literally buzzing about the easing of lockdown? Maybe you’ve felt conflicted about a possible return to the simple pleasures we once took for granted? If you’ve been nervous about tentative discussions concerning the ease of lockdown, you are not alone.
In this month’s Chronic Voice Linkup, I’ll be looking at the prompts from the perspective of coping with lockdown uncertainty when you have depression (or any other chronic illness). This month’s prompts are –– Unlocking, Limiting, Studying, Watching and Healing
The unlocking of lockdown measures might worsen things for people with depression
The gradual easing of lockdown measures has been an “unlocking” of sorts. But for those of us living with mental health concerns, the current situation is cause for concern. Why? Because alarmingly the debate is still live about just how safe it is to be coming out of lockdown at this time.
The Mental Health Foundation (UK) tells us “we should be prepared for the fact that the end of lockdown might be as hard for us as the start was”.
Unfortunately when you have depression, self-isolation is a common coping mechanism. That’s why when when we all had to adhere to lockdown, I felt less alone in my struggle. I derived a certain amount of comfort in this new shared experience. Surprisingly, the enormity of what we were all facing gave me a sense of solidarity and empathy towards those who, through no fault of their own, had been forced to self-isolate. Which brings us to our next point.
Uncertainty tends to heighten the self limiting aspects of depression
As we begin to take steps towards a return to the longed for opportunities we’ve missed during lockdown, I don’t feel the same elation as those on social media dreaming of a “new normal”. For me the feeling is a bit more subdued.
While it’s true the easing of lockdown will be well received by the majority of the population, some of us will actually feel limited by the reality of the situation.
The science is worryingly unclear about the validity of easing lockdown. When faced with the day-to-day reality of living with depression (or any other chronic illness),you become acutely aware of the increased risks we face. For those of us who have faced issues of isolation and/or uncertainty in the past, these new measures can play upon existing fears around our health and ability to cope.
Studying healthy ways to manage post-lockdown stress may help
In recent days, I’ve been consciously delving into ways to better understand myself and the world in which we live.
As we come to terms with exactly what a “new normal” might mean for us, both individually and collectively – we need to take our personal power back. We need to know that it’s okay to feel apprehensive and not mentally beat ourselves up over it.
I believe taking the time to really listen to your body (and mind) is empowering, but not easy. Depression has the devastating effect of stripping your self-worth, by mentally baiting you. My therapist calls this the “trick and trap” effect. Left unchecked, these mental trip wires can leave you feeling utterly helpless.
Right now I’m feeling sad and angry, not so much with my body, but with myself. Like many people, I’ve put on weight during lockdown. Over the years I’ve watched in horror as depression systematically took away my ability to enjoy finding new ways to keep fit. Actually just before my diagnosis, I had been working towards becoming self-employed as a personal fitness trainer. There was nothing I loved more than the find and share new health “hacks”. People would comment on my state of wellbeing because they couldn’t believe how bright and happy I was.
I miss that woman. But she’s still here, holding a sacred vigil for me. Patiently waiting for me to see the true impact of believing the awful lies spun by depression.
A couple of weeks ago I summoned the courage to finally weigh myself. My rage was instant and directed at all the ways depression has negatively impacted my life. I made a decision there and then to take small steps each day to focus on rebuilding my fitness. I joined a really awesome free platform called SparkPeople which has some simple habit-changing tools to help you make small, healthy changes ( if you would like to follow my journey you can do so here).
Watching your thoughts can help keep things in perspective
The voice of depression says, “I can’t”, but slowly, I’m learning to question the facts around the thoughts depression throws at me.
The facts are, I have a body and I have mental health challenges that sometimes impact on my ability to function.
But these facts become distorted by automatic negative thoughts, or ANT’s. While it’s true depression sometimes makes it difficult to function, the limiting thoughts triggered by depression have pushed me into believing I can no longer do the things I once loved.
Finally weighing myself forced me to question my thoughts. Why? Because I now weigh the same as I did when I was caught in the clutches of food and alcohol addition.
As timing would have it, I came across the work of fellow spoonie, Lorrie Gray. Lorrie teaches a process of Self Coaching, which is based on the model created by Brooke Castillo. Going through her process, I began to question the particular thoughts coming up around my physical health. Lorrie describes the power of looking at your thoughts in a factual way. The intention is to become aware of your thoughts around certain emotional triggers – so you can determine the factual validity of them.
By being honest and really questioning my thought process, I’ve come to the stunning realisation — I’ve been habitually blaming myself/the depression for my physical decline. Blame has weirdly become a source of comfort.
Lorrie explains that this is the point we need to take great care not to judge ourselves. She goes on to say we don’t need to make ourselves wrong. This is a breakthrough moment because you are not trying to change the thought, or create a double-positive. You are simply observing the thought process and determining the impact it is having on you.
DISCOVERING THE TRUTH ABOUT A THOUGHT IS INCREDIBLY HEALING
Discovering the truth about my thought process continues to be incredibly healing.
Observing the thoughts that come up around my symptoms continues to shine a light onto how much our feelings play into our thoughts. When overwhelm comes, I see how my mind takes a very subjective experience and turns it into an apparent fact.And when this happens I fall into the trap of believing depression has rendered me unable to work-out or do the things I once loved.
Isn’t that remarkable? No doubt it will take some time to open to new ways of thinking around my experience of overwhelm. Exploring my thoughts enables me to really question: am I completely unable to do those things? What tiny thing can I do today to support my health values? Questioning the facts opens a space. Breaking through the cycle of pain, blame and apprehension, I can use my energy to explore new ways to support myself through the uncertainty.
uncertainty is a chance to take your power back
I believe the uncertainty around the current easing of lockdown can potentially be an opportunity to recalibrate the way we think and feel about living with chronic illness.
Looking at the facts, my depression isn’t going to go away anytime soon. But I can change the way I think about the impact depression is having on my ability to function.
While it’s natural to want to turn away from or suppress unpleasant feelings, bear in mind that when your health is compromised it’s very likely your mind will tend to spew out all kinds of limiting thoughts.
Out of the uncertainty thoughts will come, but ultimately I get to decide how I wish to think about the decline of my physical health: not anyone else, and not depression. Depression lies, it will convince you why you can’t do the things you once loved. The truth is you can – the way you do these things may not look the same as before, but you have it in you.
The global impact and response to Covid-19 has brought to the fore the harsh reality we really don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But it has also shown us that at the core, we are all incredibly resilient. When we stop trying to avoid uncertainty, we open to our vulnerability and create a space for our true strength to shine through.
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You are not alone sweet friend, take joy in the little things and let life hold you close.
How are you coping with the uncertainty of living with the daily challenges of chronic illness? If you liked this article, be sure to check out other bloggers in this linkup. The monthly link-up is an opportunity for chronic illness bloggers to share their thoughts on a list of prompts.
And now it’s over to you dear reader, what are your thoughts on this “new normal” we are all facing?