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Ruth Durkin: Before COVID, I Had All My Ducks in a Row

The pandemic has affected all of us, regardless of the state of our mental health before. Here Ruth Durkin relates a friend’s account of how coronavirus has impacted on the different aspects of her life.

Ducks in a row swimming on a lake

I (Ruth) have suffered with my mental health as a result of the coronavirus situation, which isn’t surprising because I struggle with maintaining my mental health most of the time. But what about people without mental health problems who are suffering because of coronavirus? How are these new feelings such as anxiety and depression affecting them?

I spoke to a close friend of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous. Here are her honest and insightful words:

My mental health is usually alright, I do experience health anxiety, but to be honest it’s quite hard to remember how it was before this time.

At the beginning of lockdown, my anxiety was really bad. Every contact that I had with the outside world made me worried that I was going to contract Covid, and that my loved ones were going to contract it. As time went on and restrictions were eased, I started to feel less anxious.

At the moment, I’m leaning towards more depressive feelings. Concerns about the economy and the ‘second wave’ are starting to seep in. Also, mourning the life that I did have, doing the things that I enjoyed and seeing loved ones. I really miss going to the gym. Exercise is a huge part of how I manage my mental health and makes me feel good. I know I can exercise at home but it’s just not the same. I also know I can go to the gym but for me personally it just doesn’t feel safe.

Pre-Covid, I could usually commute, manage a full working day and then some social activity and/or going to the gym with no problems. Now, I’m just exhausted once I finish work. Despite this I find it hard to get to sleep at night.

With regards to work, it has become hard to think creatively and long-term plan. I find myself going from virtual meeting to virtual meeting and not really being present in them. The meetings are happening around me or to me, not with me. Everything has become a meeting! And that doesn’t really give me time to plan and carry out actions between them. The downtime that comes from travelling isn’t there either. I miss getting in my car and sticking the radio on!

With regards to relationships, I think they’re alright. I have virtual meetings with my very close friends and my dad frequently although I do really miss seeing them in person and doing the things we used to do. My ability to communicate varies. Sometimes I’m really active and engaged, other times I just don’t want to speak to anyone as I find it too overwhelming and have depleted all my energy just getting through the working day.

Me and my partner are getting on fine. We’ve always been able to say when we need time and space by ourselves. For us, it’s not about having time and space away from each other, it’s having time and space alone. That framing has been helpful in avoiding hurt feelings. On a Saturday we cook a new meal and then watch a movie. It’s been fun and gives us both something to look forward to at the weekend.

With the new COVID restrictions I’m just fed-up I guess. I knew it was coming but that doesn’t make it any easier. We’re constantly being told that we have to live with the ‘new normal’ but it takes mental energy to keep adjusting to this. The level of chaos is unsustainable. We’re not used to this, we’re used to short-lived chaos, and (eventually) adjusting to it and accepting it.

I do however know that my situation isn’t as bad as it could be – in a relative sense I’m very lucky and I’m aware of that. The awareness helps but I’m mindful that it doesn’t diminish from how I’m experiencing it on a subjective level and not making myself feeling guilty for the bad moments that I do have.

Prior to lockdown I was having counselling due to my health anxiety following an incident that I had. I have continued with this and that’s helped a lot. It’s given me the safe space that I need to get everything out that I was feeling that I didn’t want to share with other people.

Work has been pretty good as well. They’re very aware that we’re working from home and have increased the amount of resources available to us to promote wellbeing. The door is very much open for support and that’s good.

Support is there from my friends and family if I need it but I’m a quite closed and reflective person. I like to sit with my feelings and articulate them before I let people see what’s really going on. By that point I’ve usually worked through it or have saved it for my counsellor. I journal most days – that’s helped a lot with processing.

Here’s some advice for others in my situation: you are living and surviving through a worldwide pandemic, if you’re ever giving yourself a hard time for how you’re feeling, remember that. This is new territory and your emotional response to it is going to be a rollercoaster ride and that’s alright.

As a person, I like to have my ‘ducks in a row’ (hence the picture). When they’re not in a row, I find myself getting overwhelmed and then the other ones start to swim off because I’m distracted by coaxing the escapee back. I would like to use this time to build my resilience by getting to know what works for me and what doesn’t, so that when one of them does swim off I have the tools in place to maintain the ones that remain as well as getting the other one back. I would also like to stop describing my goals using tenuous metaphors and pictures that I like!

The picture is of some ducks in a row which I took at a local pond on a walk with my partner.

Ruth Durkin

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