Self-Care During a Global Pandemic
By Sinéad Keating
“When I initially thought about writing something for Green Ribbon 2020 I had presumed it would be centred around being pregnant with twins while having bipolar disorder. That experience alone has been overwhelming in a way I never could have imagined. But having that same experience in the middle of a global pandemic is another thing entirely and, just like everyone else, I have no idea how to handle it or what to expect. Living with a mental illness isn’t something I ever look on as an advantage. I’m sure those of us who live with any mental illness can agree that it’s mostly crap and a general pain in the ass to have to manage, alongside the shame and blame that can be thrown around by other people. But 12 years on from my diagnosis it turns out that all the self care I’ve learned to prioritise is exactly what I need right now.
I know the term ‘self care‘ can be annoying. It makes it sound as though looking after ourselves is simple and straightforward, whereas it is, in fact, the hardest thing I’ve ever learned to do. To say it’s counter intuitive is an understatement. And in a world that values overwork, productivity, and putting others before ourselves, I think that will be familiar to most, not just anyone living with a mental health issue. However, at a time of uncertainty like none of us has ever known, there’s no better time to start or continue on the self care train. If you have any form of social media you’ve probably read all of these already but sure look, they’re obviously worth being repeated.
Social Media & News Consumption
Limit your news consumption. Yes we need to know what the latest restrictions are but does it help you to know what today’s death count is? Disconnecting from the news doesn’t mean you don’t care, it means you’re managing your own fear level and minding your mental health. That’s how we’ll all get through to the other side. I’d love to think it goes without saying that we should cut out and completely ignore all facebook posts, whatsapp forwarded messages or unconfirmed ‘information’ about the c word.
Take the word ‘should’ completely out of your vocabulary and out of your head. ‘Should’ has no place anywhere at anytime, let alone during a global pandemic. No, you don’t need to think about writing the next great novel, learning a new skill, or sanding and repainting your kitchen. Did you get out of bed today and have a wash? Fair play. And if you didn’t manage either of those, you still got through the day. That’s enough.
Time for yourself
Have lots of time for play, whatever your version of play is. Pot a plant, bake, play Cluedo, watch something appalling on Netflix. Absolutely anything that makes you remotely happy. There’s no reason on earth not to play at any time, and at the moment we need extra play time to keep us going. Even if it’s the odd five minutes here and there when the kids are distracted. You deserve any time you can give yourself.
Adjust your expectations. Maybe the house will be the most untidy it’s ever been even though you’re now there 24/7. Who cares. We’re all going through something that’s traumatic and will probably change us in ways we can’t predict. Our routines are gone, perhaps our job, we can’t see family or friends, we can barely go outside, and when we do there’s a lot of new worry involved. I was warned by a friend that a trip to the shop would leave me needing a cry afterwards and he was right. And I didn’t even go in, I watched from the car as my husband ran in for our first week’s worth of nappies. It’s a horrible time. Just let yourself be.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone. Sure isn’t it great for your mam’s friend’s cousin who’s keeping up her pilates class online and is using this time to get super healthy because she can spend all her time in her vegetable garden. It is totally irrelevant what anyone else is doing. The only thing we can all do is our best for ourselves, whatever form that takes. Eating habits, exercise levels, and productivity can go out the window. Your best is enough. Equally, there are always going to be those who are in a worse position than you but that doesn’t mean you have no right to feel worried, stressed, or upset. Reminding me that there are people living in much poorer countries who don’t have the ability to isolate or receive basic healthcare doesn’t make me feel any less anxious about giving birth to twins in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s valid to feel how we feel.
Be kind to your body. I don’t necessarily mean exercise, unless this is something you can manage right now and that helps you. At 35 weeks pregnant my level of exercise is getting from the couch to the bathroom all by myself. Looking after your body can mean eating something that brings you pleasure, burning oil or a candle with a scent that helps you relax, using your favourite smelling shower gel, wrapping a soft blanket around your shoulders if you feel sad or anxious. Little things that you can taste or touch or feel can be a real act of self kindness especially if you’re finding it hard to be kind to yourself in your own head.
Manage your boundaries with other people. You don’t have to do that zoom catch up if you don’t want to. Likewise, ask family and friends for a regular chat if you need it. The same goes for people you might be sharing a house with. Figure out time you need together and alone. Learning to manage boundaries and contact with others can be so important for our mental health. It is for mine anyway. Now we might feel as though we’re navigating boundaries all over again. It’s ok to do whatever feels best for you.
Lastly, try to remember that everyone’s doing their best (well, except for people who went to their holiday homes over the long weekend). It’s hard to be patient when we’re worried, but being kind to ourselves and others might just help getting through this bizarre time a little bit easier.”
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following