How I’m managing my mental illness during Covid 19

The call came in.

Him: “How’s your day going?”

Me: “Fine.”

Him: “Everything good?”

Me: “What’s going on?”

Him: “We’ve just been told we’ll be working from home.”

Me: “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. (Deep breath.) Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”

Of course I want my family to be safe. Of course I know I’m lucky to have an amazing spouse who has a job he can do from home. But I also have bipolar and am a recovering agoraphobe. Him coming home to work meant more than just a whole lot of togetherness. It meant

(1) this is serious (read: time to freak out!)

(2) I will have zero time alone, which I need a lot of, and

(3) it meant not leaving the house.

On number three, we’re all doing it. Also on number three, it is part of my treatment plan to leave the house and be around other people if not daily then at least 3-4 times a week. Daily rarely happens. But the longer I go without leaving the house, the more anxiety-provoking and panic attack-inducing it becomes.

So far, because we are not under shelter-in-place where I am, I’ve left the house more days than not, usually to go for a drive, sometimes to pick up take away. This seems to be doing the trick since I don’t fear going out any more now than when this started. (Going into places is, understandably I think, a different issue.)

From the get-go we’ve been placing bets on when (not if) the stress will trigger a bipolar episode. When this first started there was a lot of talk on social media about how much writing we could get done, how this was the perfect time to get in shape, how now we could finally finish all those projects.

Okay, y’all can fuck right off with that bullshit. What I don’t need right now is more pressure. There’s enough stress with all the uncertainty, sickness, and death. My word count counts for jack shit right now.

But still, I do have ongoing projects. And still, I do want to keep my brain busy enough not to spiral out of control. That balance is tough for me under regular circumstances, so it’s been tricky. I’m driven to do both more and less at the same time.

There’s no way to avoid stress right now, only to minimize it. Here’s how I’ve been doing that:

  • maintaining a soft daily routine
  • limiting exposure to the news
  • knowing when I’ve had enough social media
  • going outside every few hours, usually to play fetch with the dog (which, because she’s bad at it, counts as exercise)
  • trying to keep a good sense of humor and stay flexible when things don’t go according to plan
  • remembering that I am smart and resourceful
  • watching a shit ton of movies (or doing whatever is going to take my mind off things)

Turns out, if you’ve ever had to manage mental illness, every one of those coping mechanisms will already be familiar. The only thing that’s new is that now a whole lot more people can benefit from them.

Of course that’s not all I’m doing to keep my head on straight. Here are a few more that are somewhat more targeted for those of us with DSM diagnoses:

  • being open with my loved ones about how I’m doing
  • maintaining communication channels with my therapist and psychiatrist
  • accepting my limitations
  • taking my medications and not taking anything that will interfere with them
  • being aware of and diverting from irrational and excessively negative thoughts

No one knows how bad things are going to get or how long this is going to last. That’s not catastrophic thinking, that’s just how it is. The most important thing we can do right now is take care of ourselves. As harsh as it may sound, it’s the least we can do to avoid putting more strain on the already over-burdened medical infrastructure. And in the best of circumstances, if we take good care of ourselves, we can help take care of others.

Do you have other coping skills that you’re finding super helpful right now? I’d love to hear about them.

690px-Anxiety_Denoument

By Mccxlvv, CC BY-SA 4.0

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