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Pen and paper helped me through the pandemic

Friday, 13 August 2021 Madeline

The loneliness of lockdown exacerbated Madeline’s mental health problems. Then she started to write about her feelings.

There are some days I do not think about my EUPD diagnosis (emotionally unstable personality disorder), but not a moment when I don’t feel it.

EUPD has many difficult symptoms and one is feeling things very intensely. Everything is amplified and raw. If I am sad it becomes more than sadness, I feel complete despair, almost physical pain that can leave me unable to do simple tasks. On the other side when I am happy I feel pure joy, love and warmth. I also have bipolar disorder to add fuel to the fire. My friends and family have watched my hectic, changing emotions and the consequences that follow every day and they’ve supported me throughout.

Pre-pandemic I managed my symptoms and masked difficult thoughts by keeping active. I would go to work, hit the gym and have days out with my friends. I had strong relationships I could depend on. Although things were sometimes tough, emotions overwhelming me regularly, those social connections brought me out of myself instead of being alone with my thoughts.  I was living with my illness.

Until lockdown

“I lived by myself and although I knew I would struggle I was not prepared for what was to come.”

The day I received the letter telling me to shield because I was clinically vulnerable was the first day I felt the anxiety. Everyone was so scared and watching the news scared me too. I had asthma. I did not want to die. I did not want my family to die. I lived by myself and although I knew I would struggle I was not prepared for what was to come. The first few days I tried to read and draw but I became very aware how I was alone.

The quietness seemed to drown my concentration out. Everything I was thinking and feeling was bottled up with nowhere to go. An internal energy I couldn’t burn off.  As the days went by my health quickly declined. My intrusive, negative thoughts weighed me down and nothing I did made them disappear. I couldn’t wear myself out during the day.  I stopped sleeping. I cried instead. I scrolled down social media for solace but all I saw was bad news and the activities of people spending lockdown together. It only increased my loneliness and destructive thoughts. When I started to contemplate suicide, I reached out for help.

 Feeling abandoned

I first tried to contact my community psychiatric nurse and found she was not available due to Covid. Nobody was available to speak to me due to services being overwhelmed and face-to-face appointments were no longer an option. I felt so abandoned, as if all of my relationships had broken down. Everything that triggers my poor mental health was happening to me all at once. All I wanted was a hug and all I had was seclusion.

Without access to outpatient services, and isolated and unable to use my day-to-day coping mechanisms I had fallen into a crisis.

“I had so much in my head I felt like it was going to burn until one day I picked up a pen and paper.”

I know I am not alone with these feelings. The segregation of lockdown has not just touched me. It’s spread like a virus in itself. People with existing conditions have had their support networks crumble and health deteriorate. People who have never experienced ill mental health are now battling something new and desperately need support. People who have contracted the illness now have to face it alone and are scared. People are grieving with no shoulder to cry on.

The loneliness caused by lockdown has created a mental health epidemic in itself.

I had so much in my head I felt like it was going to burn until one day I picked up a pen and paper. I wrote everything down. How I was feeling, hopes and fears and goals. There wasn’t any plan I just wrote whatever thought dropped in. By pulling the damaging thoughts from inside my head to the outside I felt the pressure start to lift, toxic thoughts draining like a tap. I even began to write poems and short stories that transported me to somewhere beyond the walls of my flat.

Things are better out than in

If you are feeling overwhelmed, holding it all inside is hurtful. It’s like poison that builds and erodes you from the inside. However, sharing your problems with someone can be difficult and lockdown has proved it is not always viable. If seeing a loved one is not an option then please try and write down what you are feeling and say what you need. Things are far better out than in.

Now things are opening back up again and restrictions lifting I am hopeful that I can get back to the life I had before, but it is still a long road back to normality. Services are still yet to fully resume and there is still uncertainty about the future. Although it’s not a cure, writing has given me the creative outlet I need to help me cope and manage my illness when I’m alone. I hope with all my heart we do not have another lockdown but for now I will keep my notepad and pen by my side just in case.

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