Covid has seen my life whirlwind. I’ve gone from living in Liverpool, to moving back to Leeds; being in my student house, to returning to my childhood home; having a job lined up, to scouring Indeed for something that remotely interests me; grinning at my reflection as I try on my graduation gown, to not even having a date for the ceremony. I submitted my last piece of university work and sat on my sofa dumbfound, that was it. Three years led up to that, just me turning to my mum to tell her I had finished, with her being as taken aback by me at the weirdness of the situation. My fantasised post-uni life was shattered, and my bitterness became anger as I absorbed myself in news articles, becoming more and more frustrated at the situation and my lack of control over it.
I’ve struggled to find balance in this new normal. Not only have I returned to my childhood home, but I’ve returned to an area that is associated with negative moments in my life. From bullying to loss, these buried memories have flooded back and for the first time in years I was unable to run from them. So, what did I do? I rescued a cat. A toothless, arthritis-riddled cat that limps, drools and sometimes wakes me up staring into my soul. I love her.
But whilst she has been the security blanket and purpose I needed, she can’t talk back and sometimes, just sometimes, you need them to. That’s where The Marketplace came into play. I booked an appointment online and got a phone call the next day. They sat and listened, impartial but not passive. It was such a weight off of my shoulders to make that first step in opening up and enabled me to open up to those closer to me.
Reaching out for support
Opening up is really difficult but the hardest part is always admitting to yourself that there’s a problem. I went to the doctors to reregister and it was one of the hardest things I’ve done during lockdown. Not only was it another reminder that I would not be moving back to Liverpool any time soon, but it reminded me of all of the fighting I had to do to be taken seriously as a young person battling with mental illness. I remember a medical professional once telling me I’d been mismanaged by the system and here I was signing my name on the dotted line that reregistered me to the very place that had failed to catch me when I’d fallen. My first appointment with them, I picked the name of a doctor I’d never seen or heard of before, praying she would be different from all of the rest. And she was. She took her time to listen and for once, I was not second guessed. Whilst she didn’t offer the miracle fix that I always hope for, she signposted me in the right direction in terms of finding help and support and looking after myself. My guess is that now, as an adult, I’m finally believed, or it could just be the excessive doctors notes and medication history that comes up when they search my name. It was a relief that history did not repeat itself, but it just made my heart break for younger me all over again.
The advice I have been given and the self-help tips I’ve followed have been a god send, especially considering the free time I have right now. I have been able to research mental illness in an attempt to understand my own brain and its workings, giving myself time to accept what I have previously been diagnosed with, but also to explore how flaws in the system may have led to a misdiagnosis and reinstate the mantra I’ve repeated since I was 13: “you are not your illness”. One of the books I have absolutely loved over lockdown is Rock Steady by Ellen Forney and I cannot recommend it more. The combination of illustration and words has meant that even on my worst days, I am able to read the book and take in the lessons Forney has recorded. Her acronym SMEDMERTS has been my go-to when I feel low, as I’ve usually missed something from the list. I’ve also made sure that every day I’m taking a moment for myself, whether it’s an episode of a tv programme I love, taking a cup of tea outside or buying myself something cute from an independent business, it’s really made me feel important and cared for.
The pandemic was my worst-case-scenario coming into fruition. I had to move home, I lost my dream post-grad job, and felt completely out of control. But I’ve dealt with it all and I continue to do so. I have days where I feel sick with stress, unable to see a positive future and I have days where everything clicks into place and I feel unbelievably happy and grateful. My support system has been my rock, from my family to my friends, they’ve made sure I haven’t slipped back into my old habits. Me and my friends celebrated me finishing university with cheap prosecco in the park, whilst my family ordered in a takeaway. I’ve video-called and traded letters and presents with those that aren’t within walking distance and I’ve cried more in the past couple months than I have in the past two years. But what I keep reminding myself is that this is an unprecedented time and the middle of a pandemic is not the time to get your life together. It’s okay to be a bit of a mess right now.
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Image ref ‘SMEDMERTS’ by Ellen Forney (2017).