Self-Isolation: Welcome to our World

Thursday 28 October 2021

There is a quote I’ve been familiar with many times throughout my life: “You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.” Over the last twenty months, almost two years, I don’t think this quote has been used more or could ring truer. Even now, as we start to see a bit more freedom and start to acclimatise ourselves to life again, for many of us the effects of COVID-19 still linger and we still need to keep finding new strength.

The whole world got a very small window into the lives of the chronically ill in lockdown; they saw what it was like to live in the same four walls because of an illness they never asked for. As well as the symptoms for millions, people have also felt the effects of this devasting illness as we do with chronic illness: they lost their work life or it changed significantly, they lost their social life, the ability to be able to go to the gym, their favourite restaurant, the hairdressers, the nail salon. For a long time, they couldn’t exercise as often as they’d like to and for some, anxiety kicked in hard and fast and it may still be present now. They found out how it feels to be trapped like a caged animal. It made them crave nothing more than their “normal life”. Unlike the chronically ill, however, they have gotten their lives back.

We “Spoonies” are still here dealing with all of this every day: the constant feeling of loss and grieving a life we miss terribly while trying to do all we can with the life we now have as well as dealing with the symptoms our illnesses throw at us every day.

I feel though that perhaps, upon reflection, there are positive things to take away from this horrific time we’ve experienced. A time unlike any other. For me personally, it has brought into focus the importance of taking care of yourself and shown what truly matters in this life. I would like to think that it was a time to show everyone how beautiful life can be when we start to simplify it, when we stop the hustle and bustle and remind ourselves to just be. Most importantly, I feel it has definitely shone a light on how important it is to look after your mental health, and this is something I hope is kept at the forefront of people’s minds. Here are some of the key things I think COVID-19 has highlighted in regard to looking after our mental health going forward.

  1. Self-care is a Must

    This, for me, has to be the first point, as it is crucial to any other part of coping with anything life throws at you. You must find time to build your resilience and this can only be done if you decide to not be too hard on yourself, not expect too much from yourself each day and realise you are important. Self-care comes in many shapes and forms, whether it is a fifteen-minute face mask, time to indulge in a good book, doing some baking, relaxing in a bath, listening to your favourite music or watching a good movie. Whatever it is you like to do to chill out and whatever activity makes you happy, do that. I know it’s difficult to get time to yourself sometimes, especially if you have a family around, but even ten minutes by yourself could be all the difference between you coping and you going into a complete meltdown.
  2. Write it Down

    In difficult situations, especially if one thing after another has been coming at you, a lot of negative emotions are going to come to the surface. You may feel angry, annoyed, frustrated, ignored, and it’s not good to carry those types of emotions around. Now is a good time to write down how you feel in the moment; it gets the emotion out and allows you to make the raw emotion known and then allows you to start rationalising it and processing it. It also means you can come back to it later and start trying to work through it or even have it there for the future in case the same issue comes back. It doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming, it can be as simple as writing a note on your phone.
  3. Make a Future Plan

    I think now more than ever, we almost feel privileged, or at least I would hope there is an air of more gratitude, to be able to start looking to the future and planning days out and events. I know even though COVID-19 may be looking like it won’t stop people as much any more, we still have our daily battle with chronic illness, but planning our time and having events to look forward to is still a must for us. There are countdown apps that can be used for really exciting events on your phone or go old school and creative and make a “Dream Board” with lots of positive messages for the coming days and goals you want to achieve.
  4. Spend Quality Time Together

    This has to be one of the main learning areas from COVID-19 and it really gave us great opportunities to finally slow down, turn off the TV, tablets and laptops, and re-connect with family, significant others, our children and, again, ourselves. It’s been a time to remind ourselves to get back to the basics of family board games, card games, a picnic in the living room and really get back to childhood! There is nothing more uplifting in our home than listening to music and dancing in the kitchen or on my bed, just letting ourselves be happy in the moment. Some may say it’s silly but it’s moments like these that we should be creating and appreciating, especially after all we’ve gone through. This also applies to those who are just by themselves at home or with their animal companions!
  5. Exercise Your Mind and Body

    This one is one of caution in terms of the chronically ill. It’s not always easy for us to exercise daily, our symptoms vary in intensity day to day and one day we may be able to do light exercise. Yoga, t’ai-chi and Pilates are all great for body and mind and if you do have some mobility issues or joint issues these may help to ease any issues and strains as well as get the body a little bit more mobile.

    There are apps that give you help with mindfulness and help with meditation and quietening your mind which, with all the added stress, can really help to give you balance and focus. I myself find Insight Timer very useful for all levels of meditation and best of all it’s free to use. Briony Gunson is one of the teachers on this app and she is a remarkable lady. She offers free weekly breathwork sessions online in the evening and has so many wonderful ideas and tools to help with quietening your mind and feeling better within yourself.
  6. Community and Communications

    During COVID-19 we all missed people and once again, it became clear who was really there for us. In chronic illness terms, this is something we are used to; we often get isolated by friends and family as we can’t make gatherings and it can be hard to keep up communications. We are fortunate that there are ample messaging services that are free and allow video call with them too. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Skype and Facetime: these are all great ways to keep you connected with friends and family and join in any kind of celebrations like birthdays that mean the family can still see each other. There are a lot of communities online; for example, the M.E Support Facebook Page, where people can tell their stories, ask questions and support each other.

It may seem a bit idealistic, but I was really hoping that the last twenty months would show a much kinder and accepting side to society. I thought that having a killer virus in every single country on our beautiful planet that didn’t discriminate would make the human race realise a little more that we are all built the same, no matter what is on the outside. In my experience, however, generally, I have seen the darkest side of humanity throughout this life-changing period and it has deeply saddened me. People complaining about materialistic things, people only thinking about themselves and how they are being affected, the deepest selfishness and arrogance I think I’ve ever seen in our species. Some of the horrific comments I’ve seen people making about each other online and the way people are still engaging with one another with such disdain and entitlement. It really makes you wonder, if a global pandemic doesn’t bring people closer together and make them realise how grateful you should be for the simple things in life, what will?

Perhaps it’s because, as part of the chronically ill community and having already experienced this side of life before it was governed, I’m more apathetic in my approach? Perhaps it’s because I, like you reading this, know how hard it is when you are thrown life-changing events and you have to learn to adapt to a life you never thought was ahead for you. I’m not sure why I seem to feel a part of a small minority these days who seem to have taken heed of what we experienced and seen life in a much bigger, bolder and stronger way. All I can say for sure is that I, for one, won’t ever be the same and I am so grateful for every lesson and experience that I’ve been shown in the time that our world stood still the past twenty months. How about you?