What were your initial thoughts about how lockdown would affect you (back in March last year)?
Even back in March when there was still talk of ‘it’ being quick and we all had the energy for community-minded events, the world was a doorstep disco, I knew none of this would be helpful for me. I am diagnosed with schizophrenia, although that is now an outdated term the name never played a huge role for me as the symptoms were always the same, a rose by any other name as they say. Having lived with this since I was a teenager, now a woman firmly in her 40s I am acutely aware of triggers and warning signs.
I was immediately panicked by the thought of lockdown. My partner and I discussed this and one very real fear was the changes that have been made under the corona act to safeguard the rights of people with mental illness, especially around sectioning. As all mothers know our voice is often lost, as a woman with a mental illness, continually having justified normal emotions about a given situation not given validation and medical staff addressing my partner instead of me I was terrified. I felt like I was caught in a dystopian nightmare. One day I hit my head repeatedly with the cupboard, desperate to make the voices stop. Those anchor points, those routines of behaviour that may appear inconsequential to most are the difference between my functioning and spiralling.
What was the reality of the first lockdown for you? Before giving birth to my, recently 7 year old I had suffered multiple miscarriages and a stillbirth. Before Sebastian was born I worked hard to come off all my medication. Medical staff had said there was no correlation but I wanted to try anything. Antipsychotic medication is highly soporific, causes emotions to flatline, has even changed my handwriting, syntax, the way I paint in the past so it was important for me not to be medicated as a parent.
By mid April I was suffering from severe anxiety, and my psychotic episodes were unmanageable. Getting through to any healthcare professionals on the phone was nearly impossible, there has been no management of any of my chronic illnesses or my disability. When we eventually spoke to the GP they simply prescribed an antipsychotic after talking with the psychiatrist, at no point had the psychiatrist spoken with me. My symptoms were not improving and I was sleeping for a few hours. Between trying to make things fun and normal for my children, manage symptoms and manage the pain from Arthritis and EDS I was running on empty and I imploded.
Getting up in the night to sob in the toilet was a regular occurrence. In May I ran a hot bath and I sat in it with a razor with the intention of making it all stop. I didn’t, I sat until I was in freezing water. I had not attempted suicide in 20 years and I had not even had a suicidal thought since having children. I will never forgive myself for going to that place for getting so close and almost leaving the two most perfect things in my life.
Have things changed over time for you as the restrictions have been eased and toughened? As the restrictions started to ease my then 6 year old really began to struggle, “Why can grown ups sit outside the pub Mummy, but kids cannot play?” I did not have those answers for him. I will not go into the details of how he was coping at this stage or the degree he suffered mentally as that is his life and I can be open but still respect their boundaries.
I was not able to go anywhere without Joe as I was still very delusional and paranoid, the world being different has a very profound impact on my psyche. When leaving the house I feel socially profiled wearing a badge and have had abuse from strangers for wearing the badge calling me selfish and a snowflake in front of my children. Humphrey, who is 3 thought is was a fantastic name because he said snowflakes are really cool like Mummy.
Slowly I was able to meet with friends outside and when that was permitted and was starting to feel really hopeful. Then we were put into tier 3, then back in lockdown and the constant rollercoaster took its toll. All of this time we were desperately trying to talk with the mental health team. Mid December I was called by a community psychiatric nurse who told me they could not help as I had a chronic and severe issue and the GP had referred me to depression and anxiety. I broke down on the phone and sobbed and sobbed because I had been asking for help for months.
Have there been easy/positive aspects of lockdown? Having my husband home all the time has been the miracle keeping me alive but it has also been nice to spend more time together. Last year Humphrey really made the transition from a toddler who simply followed and observed big brother to a little boy himself and they are such a really close little team right now.
I also totally nailed my sourdough, which given the previous responses feels inconsequential but I am proud and am really embracing the little wins.
We also made the most epic box house painted wonder, and the kids got into showtunes in a big way after watching Wind In The Willows.
Have there been difficult/negative aspects of lockdown? The lack of access to healthcare. In January this year I eventually got a CPN from the correct team. I am on medication, but so far it has not caused the soporific negative aspects and the intervention team are aware that the ball was dropped and are monitoring things closely.
What makes my heart ache is that there will have been so many others in my position who did not have the great advocate I have in Joe and it should not be that those who get help are those who can fight for it, it should be all those who need it.
I have felt really isolated, I do not do well with zoom, although globally everyone feels a little zoomed out.
Has your work been affected? I am a freelancer and by the end of March I had 9k of cancelled work. At year end I had taken 22K less than the previous year. My lack of earning also means that we have lost the financial help with nursery costs. I have no idea what this next year will bring financially. I slipped through every single net of money that was offered during Covid like so many others did. I am luckier than so many others as Joe has kept his income but financial independence is important to my identity.
What has helped you get through lockdown? I want to say screaming into pillows and an ability to find small joy on the hardest of days. In reality, I will let you know when we get there.
Have you learnt anything, during lockdown, that you will want carry forward as it is eased? Are there things that you might even miss? Well, the sourdough. That I am stronger than I ever gave myself credit for, not that I want to regularly test that strength. Having Joe working from home will be something we all miss. We always had a very slow-living cottage-core lifestyle and joked when we could not find lentils and flour in the shops as people were stealing our lifestyle, so in that respect we had no epiphanies. We bought some great new board games.