Coping with mental health conditions during lockdown

Georgia Tilley
Georgia Tilley
July 10, 2020
Take me back to the blog

We spoke to residents of Nunhead and Peckham about what living with a mental health condition during lockdown has been like and how they coped. 

“After giving birth, I cried every day for a month”

Lucy has lived in Nunhead for two years with her husband. After giving birth to twins last October, Lucy experienced postnatal depression, which continued during lockdown.

“I’ve had depression ever since I was a teenager and, after years of effort, it had gotten to the point where it was under control. However, having the twins triggered it again. Firstly, I underestimated how much a cesarean would affect me physically, and I was in a lot of pain and it took a long time to recover. Having two babies also meant getting out of the house was incredibly difficult, so I felt lonely and utterly overwhelmed. I didn’t feel capable of looking after them but knew no-one else was going to do it. It was terrifying and I cried every day for a month.

“I was referred to Southwark’s Parental Mental Health by my GP and went on a 12-week group workshop where I could explore the challenges I was facing with other new mothers. I also was supported by Home-Start, who organised for a lovely volunteer to visit every week for a couple of hours and keep me company.

“When lockdown started, these face-to-face support systems stopped. Although the Parental Mental Health Team started providing telephone support, it wasn’t the same as being in a group and meeting people in person. I also had to face not being able to see friends and family anymore and, over time, I started to feel increasingly isolated and lonely. The days bled into each other as my world became narrower and narrower, and I felt frustrated with trying to find ways of entertaining the twins when there was nowhere to go and no-one to see.

“To cope, I got in touch with a couple of other mums I met at the workshop and we've been talking every couple of weeks. I’ve also been attending some online baby classes through Facebook Live. Even though you’re not physically there, it allows you to connect and communicate with other people.

“I’ve now gone back to my work as a charity fundraiser and my husband is on paternity leave. Having a link with the outside world has been helpful and, as lockdown has gradually lifted, being able to see family and friends has made a huge difference. However, I am worried about what will happen if we have to go into lockdown again as nurseries and childminders will no longer be available. There was a period of time during lockdown when me and my husband were both working while looking after the twins, and there was no room to breathe whatsoever.”

“Slowing down during lockdown has allowed me to reassess my relationship with food”

Jen moved from Canada to the UK a year ago and has lived in Nunhead since last September. As a theatre artist who also works in hospitality, Jen has not been able to work since the start of lockdown which has allowed her to focus on recovering from an eating disorder.

“Eating disorders exist on a spectrum which goes all the way from normal eating, to disordered eating, to a full-blown eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. I’m now 40 and have been on that spectrum since I was 10 and my disorder has morphed in form and severity over the years.

“My cycles of food restriction would often manifest as orthorexia or extreme healthism. I gave myself strict rules over what I could or couldn’t eat, categorising foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  This meant that I restricted my food intake to such an extreme extent that I wasn’t getting essential dietary requirements, including enough carbohydrates, leading to episodes of binging on, for example, ten doughnuts in one sitting. This process of restricting and binging disrupted my hormones and blood sugar levels, causing periods of depression. Plus, the shame of my eating disorder meant I’d avoid going out to dinner with friends and isolate myself. 

“Lockdown has been a blessing in the sense that I’ve been able to slow down and have time to focus on recovery and reassess my relationship with food, physical activity and health. We live in a society entrenched in diet culture that stigmatises mental health issues, including eating disorders, and glorifies being busy which makes it hard to carve out time for self-care and recovery. For example, I’ve had space to prepare meals with care and eat them with intention. I’ve also been going for regular walks where I listen to podcasts about intuitive eating (Food Pysch has been particularly helpful) and spend time catching up with friends, including many in Canada.

“On the other hand, there have been many triggering aspects of lockdown, particularly trends I’ve noticed on social media. Lots of people are talking about gaining their ‘lockdown 15’ (or 15lbs) which feels really fatphobic. I’ve also seen many well-meaning people putting fitness classes online and, while exercise is part of recovery and improves mental health, I think these classes can also contribute to societal pressure to lose weight. Also, the practicality of trying to nourish myself while trying to avoid shopping regularly means my fridge has fluctuated between being really full and really empty, so I’ve had to negotiate instincts to restrict and binge.

“Now lockdown is being lifted, it feels quite scary to dive back into normal life. I was recently made redundant so I’m currently looking for a job, which is posing some challenges. For example, working in bars and restaurants contributed to my eating disorder as there often isn’t time to stop for proper meal breaks. You can become completely ravenous then really quickly shove whatever food you can down in whatever brief moments you can find, feeding into the restrict/binge cycle. Now I need to decide how to balance working with recovery. I know working in hospitality may disrupt my recovery, but I won’t be returning to theatre work anytime soon, so do I need to find something completely different that may not be as triggering? However, I’m now much better equipped than I was four months ago and can hopefully set up boundaries to avoid destructive eating patterns."

“I took learnings from therapy and shone a cold hard light on the facts of COVID-19”

Tom is in his mid-30s and has lived in Peckham for two and half years. He has experienced anxiety since childhood and, to manage his mental health condition during lockdown, Tom has focused on supporting the community and taking time to understand the pandemic. 

“I can trace my first experiences with anxiety back to the age of 14, but if I’m completely honest, they probably go way back into my childhood. I’ve made huge strides towards improving my mental health through therapy, but I’m still prone to a wobble here and there. So, as someone whose condition mostly revolves around health anxiety, you can imagine the initial panic that a full-blown pandemic was likely to have.

“However, with that being said, I took all my learnings from the past few years of therapy and shone a cold hard light on the facts. Instead of burying my head in the sand, I got involved in supporting the community and spent time reading about what was happening and more importantly, HOW it was happening. Generally, I’ve discovered that understanding things makes me feel calmer and as a result, I haven’t struggled anywhere near as much as I thought I might. That’s not to say I haven’t had the occasional panic attack or bouts of depression, more that it’s been significantly more manageable.

“Leaving lockdown is a different story. I have a lot of concerns about this. A byproduct of being more aware of what’s happening in the wider world has made me concerned for what I see in the government. I worry that science isn’t leading the decisions that need to be made. I worry that a lot of the problems we face at current were due to mismanagement at the top level. I worry that no one is willing to take accountability and what that means for the long-term health of our country.

“However, I did get a haircut for the first time in months this week and I was impressed by the diligence businesses are putting to stay COVID-safe. What I thought would be an anxiety-inducing 30 minutes, was actually pretty sedate. So whilst I’m exceptionally worried about a second spike, I feel renewed hope that most businesses are doing everything they can to protect the rest of us as best as they can.”

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