I’ve lied and said that I was busy; but not in a way most people understand.
I was busy taking deeper breaths
I was busy silencing irrational thoughts
I was busy calming a racing heart
I was busy telling myself that I am okay
Sometimes this has been my busy – and I will not apologize for it.
If you told me at the start of the year that I could have over 8 weeks without social anxiety, I would have bitten your hand off at the thought. Little did I know the cause would be due to a national lockdown.
I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which makes some situations fearful for me, however please note that I am a (fairly!) normal person and go about my business as normal as you do. To know me, you probably wouldn’t think that my thought process isn’t any different from yours (a little talent of mine). However, just because someone carries a problem well, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.
Anxiety is usually the state of being afraid where there is nothing to be afraid of, catastrophizing outcomes and over estimating danger. Yes ok, until you throw a world health pandemic into the mix!
When lockdown was announced, all of those weeks ago, the negative part of my brain went into overdrive worrying about childcare, money, the extra stress I would be under, the thought of loneliness, but worst of all was my entire strict schedule being interrupted. I’m a very structural, habitual person, so the thought of my routine being disrupted was nerve-wracking. I adapted the best way that I could and created a ‘new’ weekly structure, consisting of home workouts as I’ve found exercise increases my self esteem, as it provides a sense of achievement.
I also decided at the start of lockdown to create a diary which would force me to look for the positive memories in this situation, as the aim was to let my children read it when they grow up and discover how we adapted in these circumstances and to be proud of how we as a family managed this unique situation.
I’ve been practising mindfulness for a few years now, to teach me to focus on the present moment, as the alternative is letting my mind wander into a state of panic, and a panic attack is utterly terrifying, with all rational thoughts swept away. This new thought process has made it a lot easier to adapt ‘during this time’. I’m grateful that I get to go to work, and I get to have a busy day.
As the weeks have gone on, I have realised that I am not opposed to this ‘new normal’. I have always lived my life in the fast lane, working, going to the gym, running after children so it’s been enjoyable for a big pause button to be pressed to allow me a chance to recuperate, gather my thoughts and start again.
A defining moment during lockdown for me was entering Tesco for the first time. Something as simple as going for the shopping was now a regimental procedure. At the best of times, supermarkets bring out anxiety in so many individuals (hence so many abandoned trolleys) and now that I had to follow a designated route, queue in the store for longer than normal alarmed me. If I felt panic rising, I couldn’t just skip aisles and rush to the checkout as I have previously done. I have continued to go to the supermarket (mainly because my family still need to eat), but also because I have learnt that avoidance maintains anxiety.
Facing up to anxieties, insecurities and fears, taking them on and interrogating them is very empowering. For me, attending meetings and going out in crowded places such as restaurants are my triggers so I make a conscious effort to try to not avoid them, however I’m also very aware that having over 8 weeks in my ‘safe space’ could cause havoc when lockdown is no more. But for now I’m not letting those thoughts consume my head. What is important is the here and now.
It’s very easy to feel judged by society, especially with the rise of social media, however I feel that it’s important to not be ashamed if you have any psychological distress. We are all human, and we all react differently to situations. There is no right or wrong way to feel when a lockdown is implemented. There is no handbook for this. I’m not going to feel guilty that I’m gutted my holiday was cancelled this year. That mattered to me. There will always be someone worse off than you are, but comparisons will only serve to make you unhappy. During lockdown how many times have you heard “it’s the same for everyone just now”? We are all experiencing change; however everyone’s story is different. Every single one of us is struggling with something, whether it is being furloughed, being deployed, having no income, missing family, grieving, loss, loneliness, working more hours, the list is extensive. We can only focus on what matters to us, and providing kindness to others.
Being at home more during lockdown has made many individuals realise that work and other aspects of their life have previously been used as an emotional anaesthetic. Lockdown has produced a different sense of identity for many asking what truly matters during a pandemic. While we can be busy digging in the garden, the house is burning down. Pay attention to the house, which in this case is your mind. You will never speak to anyone as much as you speak to yourself in your head.
I’ve learned to accept that I am a work in progress, whilst being kind to myself. It’s been really really hard, but everyone has been so brave and I’m proud of how everyone has dealt with lockdown. Go and give yourself a hug, when was the last time you did that?
I was going to submit this blog anonymously, and then I thought, no, I’m proud of me and I own this.
Hannah Green is Personal Assistant to Julie White, Chief Operating Officer at NHS D&G