Same sea, different boats

Like many people, I am in self-isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic that has gripped society the world over. As a Belgian resident, the first ‘lockdown’ measures were implemented on Friday 13th March, and resulted in the immediate suspension of group sports and leisure activities, working from home, and minimised social contact. For me this meant my twice weekly rugby practice was cancelled indefinitely, which saw a premature end to the season, as well as no gym or walking commute to work – about 40 minutes each way.

Despite starting a near immediate ‘new’ workout routine consisting of regular runs in the nearby park where I try my best to exercise the instructed social distance of 1.5m from others but inevitably have numerous people walk or run directly into my path, despite the wide berth, along with HIIT workouts almost daily, this disruption to my regular in routine has been difficult for me. Particularly as regular exercise and maintaining a routine are both coping mechanism from my mental health and without it I’ve been struggling.

I’ve been told numerous times over the past four weeks and rising, since all of this came to head, that ‘we are all in the same boat,’ and we just need to, well, ‘keep calm and carry on,’ but we’re not in the same boat. Sure we’re in similar boats but some of our boats are fashioning patchwork fixes, some have the hull waterlogged with only a rusty bucket to rectify the situation, and for others still, well their boats are in the driveway and have never seen the water.

For me, my boat has anxiety and depression, for the first week of self-isolation this made my boat a pretty solid vessel. As someone who is anxious about everyday life, the out of the ordinary was something I felt I could weather as the echoing memory of numerous CBT sessions guided me through uncharted waters. However, as the week went on and the situation around me spiralled further out of control, I realised my boat wasn’t so solid after all.

Beginning with a trip to the supermarket for my weekly food shop, despite a sparsely occupied Carrefour, I could feel my anxiety rising as I made my way through the aisles, the increasing weight of my shopping basket mirroring the intensity of my fight or flight receptors. As I was reminded of why my early 20s were so frequented by panic attacks whenever I entered a public space that I deemed too noisy, busy, or crowded, as I witnessed a man let out an audible sneeze over the bell peppers, which sent my heart rate into a frenzy and ticked my receptors firmly into flight, and rendering me unable to leave the house, even for exercise, for the three days that followed.

Adding to this, the lack of social contact with my friends, or anyone really, even though replaced with; more regular WhatsApps, Instagram DMs, Houseparty video chats and games, and group home workout challenges has taken its toll. Even with the three or four instances where I physically saw a friend, the inability to embrace them or stand in close proximity, was and is painful.

“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Virginia Satir.

Even as someone with introverted tendencies, I am dependable on other people, especially my friends, and family, who have been my shoulder to lean on over the years when I haven’t been strong enough to stand on my own, but in self-isolation even with the use of social media to stay connected, and housemates – who I’ve briefly interacted with over the three and a bit months living in my current house, the impact has been noticeable on my mental well-being.

With the feeling of loneliness translating in my increasingly anxious mind, exasperated by depression, as alone, I’ve noticed myself reverting to early diagnosis habits and coping mechanisms:

  • Monitoring my food intake, due to it being one of the few things I am able to control
  • Eating only ‘safe foods,’ similar to what a small child would eat i.e. fish fingers with baked beans or otherwise plain pasta with cheddar cheese
  • Panic attacks; my ingrained and involuntary coping mechanism in response to heightened anxiety
  • The placement of sentimental weight on seemingly everyday objects i.e. my tea mug
  • Crying, or wanting to cry
  • Sleeping too much or not enough

These habits, acting as warning signs for me that I’m not okay, a personal alarm bell or red flag that I need to get out of the situation I’m in, but the problem here is that I can’t leave the situation. I’m trapped in it without any say in when and how it will end.

Of course, I understand the importance of the social distancing measures to flatten the curve of the coronavirus spread, which if not perform will cause catastrophic consequences on our public health services, but I don’t understand the need to be okay with it. I’m in no way suggesting mass panic, but I am asking for a bit more human kindness.

As the working world sees a shift from the traditional office environments to working from home, our mental and internet bandwidths are being put under immense stress, whereby the mentality of supposed business as usual, despite the suspension of regular life, echoes the same notion – ‘we’re all in the same boat.’ The concerns and worries of the individual being brushed under the carpet.

As someone who lives with chronic mental health issues that make ‘regular’ life unbearable at times, coping with the uncertainty and irregularity of the present situation is an even more monumental task. As support services are cut, both professionally and personally, the repeated notion of ‘we’re all in the same boat’ and that we have to toughen up is unhelpful and untrue.

Though I am trying to focus on the small windows of light when they appear, it is hard not to pay mind to the looming uncertainty that we are faced with. We’re not all in the same boat, we’re in similar boats on the same rough sea. Even though we are facing the same crisis, the impact on the individual will differ.

Simply put in this uncertain time, it’s okay not to be okay, so let’s stop penalising those among us that are struggling, by marring our experience of the unprecedented with the same brush.