Mental Health – during (and after) the Pandemic

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I never used to talk about my Mental Health – primarily due to my lack of understanding about what my brain was actually doing, but also because of the stigma associated to it. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week – and I wanted to take a look about what’s changed for me during the Pandemic, in relation to my mental health and wellness.

I posted about my own experience with mental illness this time last year – you can read that here if you’re interested. In this post, I just wanted to think about about the past 18 months, what’s changed for me, and what it means as we (thankfully, hopefully) come out of the pandemic.

The fear

We all remember March 2020. Hearing the news that we’d have to stay at home – not go to the office, not see our friends, family, colleagues. For an unknown period of time. For me, this wasn’t so much of a worry to begin with – I work from home anyway, so that side of things wasn’t so much of a struggle to get my head around.

What did start to happen, though, especially as lockdown went on from weeks to months, was that I’d start to have an overwhelming feeling of “what if this never ends”. I’m sure we’ve all had that feeling now, but for me, it really got to me on a level that I hadn’t really experienced before (let’s be honest, none of us have experienced a pandemic, hopefully we never will again!). I could feel my Mental Health swaying towards an unknown for me.

I had the fear for Graysons childhood – he was already quite shy, but things like Parent and Baby clubs, soft play etc, were an absolute godsend for this confidence. Also, him spending time with Nanny and Grandad, Granny and Grandad, seeing Aunties and Uncles, Cousins – all that social interaction, taken away. The implications on our children’s mental health must not be overlooked – yes, children are resilient and will forget these times, but we need to ensure that the effect of being stuck indoors, not seeing people, the over zealous hand washing etc, doesn’t leave lasting traits.

Of course, when we were allowed out, it was very much (as my friend said) a case of “treating everyone and everything like raw chicken” – washing hands, keeping distanced, stopping to let people past. Normality felt a million miles away, and I really struggled to get over that feeling. Even things like a trip to the shop would raise my anxiety levels enough to make me really not want to go out at all.

What hit me more than I expected though, was not seeing my friends. I have a small, close group of friends from University – and we’re spread across the UK. 4 or 5 times a year, we’ll meet up at someones house, or somewhere, and have a weekend away. That stopped. I sat there watching my mountain bike gather dust, my overnight bag chucked in the loft with no use! I wasn’t really aware of how much my mental health was affected by not seeing the people that I really just took for granted.

These things really hit me, but, I think they made me stronger in the long run, and better prepared for the 2nd wave for sure.

The acceptance

I think it took me maybe 3 months, right up to the restrictions easing, before I started to accept that this is only temporary, and that we will be ok in a few months time. I wasn’t really expecting the following lockdowns, once restrictions eased in June, but of course without a vaccine, we knew it was possible.

I spent a bit of money on my own wellbeing – I had started a good gym routine prior to Covid, and this had to stop. Knowing how much exercise is good for my own mental health and wellbeing, I purchased a turbo trainer, and a new bike. Along with some uni friends, we’d use Zwift and have some weekly rides together. It was a win win, we had the exercise, and the social side of the build up / analysis of our rides.

There were some days where I could feel my mindset slipping – it’s difficult to remain positive about things all the time isn’t it? So when the rain was pouring, or it was cold and windy, I was ok with being stuck inside. But when the sun was out, or it was a special occasion (family birthday etc), I could feel myself falling in to a bit of a depressive mood. Thankfully, with a good stint on the exercise bike, or a film on the sofa with Ash, or playtime with G, I was (and am) normally able to just get myself back up. But if I can’t, I’m totally ok with feeling a bit low for a while – even for no reason. There doesn’t always have to be a reason, and it’s absolutely ok to just feel low – look at the world, we’re all struggling here – we’re all clutching for better days. And they’re nearly here!

Another thing I’ve done is to take up an old hobby – Photography. I’ve really enjoyed our family walks in the Woods, or to the beach. Finding new places to explore together has really sparked my enthusiasm for it again. I’ve moved my personal Instagram over to be a photography-only page, so you can check out some of my pictures there.

The understanding

I’ve been involved with Dadvengers for months now (probably over a year, actually). It’s a great community. Having our Friday night chats during lock down really reinforced how I was feeling about things. Seeing people from all over the country (and sometimes, all over the world), share their views on things, their feelings, their attitudes – it was a nice bit of human connection that I needed outside of the four walls. And it really helped me to understand that we’re simply all in this together.

I’ve also been amazed at how much more I’ve seen people, compared to “normal”. I’ve had weekly (ish) Zoom calls with my friends, escape rooms, xBox sessions, Quizzes (yeah, I built an app to run quizzes) – just lots of social things, without being able to be with each other. It’s crazy, really, the pandemic has bought us all closer together, when being close together is the one thing we’ve not been allowed to experience. I’ve seen people more over the past 18 months than I ever would have done under normal circumstances

The future

Who knows?! I got the call to have my vaccine, I’m booked in for this Saturday. I can’t wait. Honestly I feel like a kid at Christmas. How amazing is it that our incredible scientists have made something that can help us all get back to normal?

What I do know for sure, though, is that this Pandemic has made me a stronger person, mentally. I know a lot of people have struggled throughout it, and I can sympathise with that for sure. But personally, I feel like I’m better equipped to simply be myself, to spend more time in my own head, instead of preoccupying my mind and time with other people. I’ve spent so much time picking apart the things I truly value, and enjoy, that I’m much happier in my mind than I’ve been for a long time.

I know I’m lucky to be able to say that – but that’s all part of it – being able to appreciate and understand your own mental wellbeing is a crucial way of improving it. It’s ok to have bad days, and it’s absolutely ok to be pleased about the good ones!

As we come out of lockdown, and aim for June 21st for normality (yes yes, my “birthday“, too), we should do so with an immense sense of pride, when we look back at what we’ve had to tackle for the past 18 months.

We talk a fair bit about mental health and wellbeing on our blog – you can read our other posts here. Also, follow @TheStevensonLife on Instagram.

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