for better mental health

Coping with anxiety after getting Covid-19: a nurse's story

Tuesday, 19 May 2020 Jess

Jess never had mental health problems, until she caught Covid-19 when working in intensive care. Here she blogs about the impact it has had on her life.

I’ve, been lucky enough up until this point to never personally experience any mental health problems. I’m quite a happy go lucky person by nature and my friends would probably describe me as being so laid back I’m borderline horizontal! For some strange reason I thought that made me immune to suffering from any kind of mental health condition.

That’s why I started my paediatric nursing degree two and a half years ago. I figured a calm and patient person, who can always cope well under pressure would make solid foundations for becoming a good children’s nurse. The pressures of the last few weeks however have been a new level for all of us and the truth is, I am absolutely not coping.

I had visions of leaving my two children to grow up without me and I couldn’t sleep through fear of not waking up

I was working on an intensive care unit in March, thoroughly loving it and looking forward to my qualification in September, when I came down with Coronavirus. The first week of the illness was bearable but when I suffered with intense shortness of breath the two weeks following that, I struggled to hold it together. Suddenly I had visions of leaving my two children to grow up without me and I couldn’t sleep through fear of not waking up. Climbing into an ambulance alone one night when it was particularly bad, genuinely feeling like there was a chance I wasn’t coming home brought me stomach churning feelings I still can’t shake from my mind.

I’m, slowly getting better physically with just the ongoing shortness of breath remaining, however mentally it’s taking much longer to recover. I don’t know how to explain it other than I constantly feel on edge. I’m so aware of my every breath that I’m most probably over breathing in my panic. I used to be able to sleep through the night with no problems much to the jealousy of many people I know, but I can’t remember the last full night’s sleep I had. If I’m not awake checking my oxygen saturations, I’m either watching comedic programmes to distract myself from unravelling into a panic attack or going to check both my children are breathing multiple times throughout the night.

This crippling anxiety and the panic attacks that come with it are totally uncharted territory for me

The panic attacks are coming slightly less frequently, but every now and again my chest still goes tight, my heart starts beating like it’s going to burst out of my chest and it takes most of my strength to keep it together and just breathe through it until it passes. This crippling anxiety and the panic attacks that come with it are totally uncharted territory for me.

I have people close to me who have suffered and I’m ashamed to say I was one of those people who thought if they’d get out of the house a little, try to enjoy life and just relax then they’d probably feel better. I was always understanding, but only now can I really empathise with them and appreciate the extent of the battles they’ve been fighting daily.

The isolation I’m feeling through being kept apart from those I care about isn’t helping the situation, and I can imagine there are so many other people struggling with their mental health right now because of that same reason. What I wouldn’t give for a cuddle and a cuppa with my mum or a catch up with my best friend!

It’s OK to admit we’re struggling – especially during times like these when our whole world has been turned upside down.

Anyone can suffer with mental health issues and I’ve come to learn through lots of reading up (mostly in the early hours) that it’s not our fault and it doesn’t mean we’re worth any less than any other person. We aren’t weak and we aren’t broken, we’re just human. It’s OK to not be OK and it’s OK to admit that we’re struggling – especially during times like these when for most of us our whole world has been turned upside down. If you’re feeling a similar way or you’re struggling with any other kind of mental health problems then I hope you hear me when I say that there are so many places you can turn. You absolutely are not alone.

If you don’t want to reach out to someone you know, reach out through an online community or using one of the many mental health helplines available. There are a variety to choose from that all offer support for different things. Don’t suffer in silence. I’ve used a mental health helpline, and I’d recommend it to anyone who was going through a similar period in their life. Sometimes all it takes is to just talk to someone who really understands.

I’ve also found a lot of relief in doing meditation and breathing exercises I find on YouTube. If I’m feeling hugely anxious there are meditation exercises specific to trying to bring you down from panic attacks that I can’t recommend enough. I try to complete at least 10 minutes of breathing exercises every morning and then whenever I feel like I need to throughout the day. They really help and I tend to leave that quiet time during those videos feeling less anxious and more motivated and empowered than when I started.

Another coping mechanism for me is to remember all of the reasons I’m blessed. I then write them in a notebook next to my bed every night before I go to sleep. Sometimes a simple “I’m alive and I’m breathing” or “I live in the most beautiful pocket of countryside” is enough for me to read back and realise that everything will be OK.

Everyone has different coping mechanisms and there’s no quick fix to mental health problems sadly, but I’m doing my best to ride it out and I’m certain that I will come out of the other side stronger for it. I’ve just started back at work in the hospital part time since falling ill which is a huge thing for me.

Ultimately, at work and nursing children is one of my happy places so despite what I’ve been through I felt like the first step to finding myself again was to start with the places that are familiar and positive for me. I will say though that it’s all about the baby steps – you can’t force inner peace and I’ve learned on my own journey that sometimes it takes a lot of self-coaching and perseverance.

Let go of that pressure to rush your inner healing, and just ride this out like a wave. It may be big and scary, but ultimately the more willing you are to flow with it the more likely you’ll ride it out until it settles into one calm ocean. If you’re reading this and you’re struggling too, just know that you have absolutely got this whether you ride it out alone or you need a little help to get you there.

Read about Information and support

For more information on coping with the coronavirus crisis see our Coronavirus info page

If you’re a frontline worker visit Our Frontline for 24-hour support.

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Anxiety and panic attacks

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