Dele, who has schizophrenia, reached a low in lockdown. As part of our Christmas appeal he blogs about how writing helped him through the pandemic.
The pandemic has been a war for me. Initially, I thought I’d be able to deal with it, but I couldn’t. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia around three decades ago, and have been living with the condition ever since.
"The pandemic allowed the voices to get out of control because there was nothing or nobody to challenge them."
During the pandemic my anxiety level has risen drastically. Sometimes I would hit a dark wall and felt I couldn’t continue. But then I found hope, and held on to it. With the help of medication, friends, and family, and the mental health charity Mind, my writing and I have come through in one piece.
I struggle with voices in my head. The pandemic allowed the voices to get out of control because there was nothing or nobody to challenge them. If you haven’t got a person with the ability to do so, they keep coming back to you, louder and louder. So it’s like a whirlwind. There’s just no escape. It burns inside your head and your heart and your conscience. Those voices make it even more difficult to live with a mental health condition.
The voices in my head will keep coming back if they have the opportunity to do so. And the pandemic, and lockdown in particular, gave them just the opportunity they needed. The only way I can get away from the voices is to have an outlet, a space I can go into and just relax and be free. But during the various lockdowns, there was no outlet. So the voices took advantage of the vacuum, day in day out, banging on inside my head. The darkness gushed into my mind, making every day so stressful. But I was determined not to let it devour me.
And this is where my writing came to the rescue. I am a poet and have been published by a lovely Liverpool publishing house called Erbacce- Press, and through the pandemic I set myself the task of writing at least one poem every single day. I’ve also been writing a lot about mental health and well-being. I worked with a lovely theatre company called Cardboard Citizens and wrote a play to do with homelessness and mental health about people who were living normal lifestyles but found themselves in a difficult situation. I’ve also written for the NHS in the pandemic about mental health and recovery, and have been involved with the Tower Hamlets Recovery College Book Club. The book club used one of my books to support people, which was really inspiring. I find myself writing a lot more about what I’m going through on a daily basis than I would normally.
Before the pandemic, I’d write mainly at night. But since March 2020, I’ve found that difficult because my mind goes to so many places. So I started to write in the day, early in the morning for two hours or so, and that keeps me going.
Pre-pandemic, I would go to my local Starbucks every day, which is where I found solace and peace. I’d have a coffee, read, and even do some daytime writing. Then everything changed with lockdown. Actually, I found March 2021 much harder to cope with than March 2020. I felt so dark this year because I found myself living a life that was alien to me. I’m an outdoor person. I love going out and sitting in cool places and having a coffee, or going to the cinema with my 24-year-old son. And not being able to do all those things was an added pressure on my mental health.
"I belong to a creative writing group at my local Mind, and have published poems on their website."
Thankfully, my writing came to my rescue. Other things have also helped me – meeting up with my son for a meal and having a chat, exercising, and my medication. I’ve also had lots of support from my local Mind in Tower Hamlets, East London. I belong to a Creative Writing group there, and have published poems on their website.
I’ve also done Art Therapy with them, which has been very useful. We go in and do painting or some artwork about how we’re feeling, and then we discuss it at the end of the day. I’ve now got a collection of my paintings created during the Art Therapy sessions.
The pandemic has affected the mental health of so many people, including those who didn’t have problems before. The positive side is that people now seem to have more understanding of mental health problems and how they can affect anyone of us. So the stigma for someone like myself is easing off because people can now relate to mental health more easily. And because so many people have found themselves alone and lonely, the world now seems to understand the relationship between loneliness and mental health better than they did.
Mind has helped me so much, especially over the past couple of years. At Mind in Tower Hamlets, I have had a wonderful time. They have always made me feel wanted and, even better, needed. To continue to be able to do the beautiful work it does, Mind needs money to be donated to enable it to meet the growing needs of a country struggling with a mental health crisis. Mind helped me in my process of recovery, and has transformed my life in the process. If enough of you donate this Christmas, it will enable so many more people with mental health problems hit their road to recovery.
Read about Information and support
When you’re living with a mental health problem, or supporting someone who is, having access to the right information - about a condition, treatment options, or practical issues - is vital. Visit our information pages to find out more.
Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.