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Isolation and Mental Health

A personal account by our team member, Julia Livesley

After 14 days of house arrest (this is what it felt like to me) I decided to tell my story.

Why was I on house arrest?   I went to Turkey when the travel corridor was removed to visit my 10-year-old niece and family!   I couldn’t bear to tell my niece that I couldn’t visit as it was a year since I had seen her.  On my return this meant 14 days of self-isolation at home and I could not leave the house.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my own company most of the time, but the thought of 14 days without spending any time with family or friends was daunting.  It was already a difficult year with no physical contact at all and dancing which had been a new hobby.

During the first week, I missed my Mum’s 80th birthday celebrations.  I had to pay for additional people to walk my dog.  Meals got left on my doorstep and I started to feel like a leper.  I kept myself busy and concentrated on a small work project.  I had a couple of visits from family where we had a coffee in the garden, but the weather was cold and it was getting uncomfortable. I just could not get used to giving my shopping list to others, being so independent, it was normally me shopping for others.  Overall, the week was reasonable and I remained positive.  I would class myself as having a reasonable level of good mental health.

During the 2nd week, that’s when the reality of self-isolation started to take it toll.

My physical health started to deteriorate due to a lack of exercise and fresh air.  I felt ill on and off and it felt like a was getting a cold.  My moods were up and down like a roller coaster and it didn’t take much to make me feel like the world was coming to an end.  Handing over the dog for others to walk him just made me feel resentful when I longed for the exercise and fresh air.

I was worrying about my own mum who I have seen frequently this year, and how she was going to manage as her world had changed dramatically since March.

I started to become quite insular, ignored social media and achieved very little for work. When it came to the 2nd weekend on my own, every hour just dragged, I couldn’t seem to motivate myself to do anything.   I was really negative and didn’t want to call any family or friends.

Eventually the 14 days were over and it should have been back to the new normal except there was now a second lockdown looming within a few days.  After visiting my Mum, I went straight down to the local supermarket for a really big shop.  There I was in the queue and I saw a group of 13-14 year old’s making a racket at the checkout and not wearing masks.  I think this was the point were I really lost it.  At the top of my voice, started shouting at them about social distancing and masks and they got the whole works.   One by one the masks went on and they quietly disappeared.

I guess the reason for writing this is it really shocked me to see how my own behaviour rapidly changed quite quickly.   I kept telling myself its only 14 days for goodness sake.

I then started to think about the first lockdown and the isolation for those who live on their own and those who could not leave the house.   Then, those who had lost jobs or were not at work and did not have the interaction with others.

I think that most of us have missed the companionship of others and realise how important it is to be with other people.

Will I do it again?   Well, I might have to under similar circumstances.  Seeing my family out in Turkey is important and if the travel corridor does not exist, then I don’t have an option.  It’s a small price to pay to see my niece growing up.  What will I do differently?    Well, having experienced it, I will probably be more organised and plan the 2 weeks differently.

One of my work colleagues Laura Capell-Abra from Stress Matters has given me some ideas which I would like to share with you.

  1. Connection – create a list of people you consider part of your support circle – those people that listen to you and make you feel happy.  Whilst you can’t see them, reach out to them daily if you need to.  Speak to at least one of them a day so you can feel connected to those that you love.
  2. Movement – Many of us have seen the impact that lack of movement can have on our mental health over lockdown and how it easy it is to not leave the house at all.  When you’re not able to leave the house due to quarantine, give yourself basic fitness challenges around the house to keep your body moving.  It doesn’t have to be a HiiT workout each day, maybe you want to see yourself a challenge of doing 10 pushups, 10 star jumps or even taking up something like yoga.  Movement helps us also to feel free.
  3. Kindness – Be kind to yourself, many of us have experienced situations in the last 9 months that we never have before.  Don’t trick yourself into believing you should be able to cope in a certain way.  Take each day as a new day and do one thing that brings you joy each day.  Listening to a piece of music, watching your favourite comedian, taking a bath or re-reading your favourite book.
  4. Energy – Many people have realised how much energy they get from other people when they’ve had to spend time on their own.  If we get energy from others, not seeing others can make us feel really lethargic and we then feel less inclined to do nice things for ourselves.  Think about where you get your energy from and what time of the day you have energy; don’t force yourself to act in a certain way.
  5. Rhythm – We live to certain rhythms and routines but when we are in quarantine, naturally it impacts this routine.  Try to create a routine that works for you by creating boundaries throughout your day so we can feel that there are separate parts of the day to stop the days feel like they are merging.

I am now off to see a good friend who has dementia, she is lovely and I will make more of an effort to see her on a regular basis. We can’t change the world and help everyone, but if we take time to help a few then that makes a massive difference to their world.

Be kind, stay safe and think of others.