Since I moved the focus of this blog away from fashion and more on to mental health, I’ve tried to create work that might be useful; by sharing my own expereince with bipolar I hope to make others feel less alone. However, I’m unsure of what I could add to the conversation that would be of value. Most of my friends work in the arts, be it fashion, TV, film, theatre, music, beauty or publishing and now the economic implications of Covid-19 are really hitting home. People are losing their livelihoods and it seems like every day someone I know has been laid off, closed their business or has slipped through the government financial support net. The UK has now suffered more deaths than any other European country. The personal and economic scale of this disaster is staggering, the more I attempt to get my head around the enormity of the devastation, the less I understand.
I suppose all I have to offer are the techniques I used in the past that have got me through challenging times. Specifically, when my dad died and the time I spent in a psychiatric hospital. Although neither of these bear too much resemblance to the current challenges of living through a pandemic, the coping strategies might apply.
This sounds obvious, but it’s important to let it all out. Give yourself the space to cry for everything you’ve lost and grieve for the future you had hoped for. When my dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I cried not only because he was sick and I knew that we would loose him within a couple of years, but also for the grandchildren I wanted him to meet. I cried for the missed opportunities to make him proud, for the unmade memories that were to be stolen. The fact is that there is nothing anyone can do to alter an unfurling tragedy, but I found this almost impossible to accept. Complete powerlessness did not sit well with my control-freakery. I railed at the cold and unjust universe, I tried to negotiate and find coping mechanisms to make loosing him slowly, piece by piece, somehow bearable. I found myself drinking too much and becoming embroiled in destructive behaviour patterns. Of course, all this did was worsen and complicate the situation. But it was all in vain; in the end all I could do was surrender to the feelings and let them do their work. Trying to repress them or stick my head in the sand became impossible.
It’s ok to cry, you don’t have to put a brave face on it. As a culture, we’re not great at allowing people to have their time to process their feelings. We name sadness with pejorative terms like ‘wallowing in self-pity’ or ‘pity party’. We celebrate fortitude and ‘stiff upper lips’; not that there’s anything wrong with this, in and of itself. However, I would actually argue that if you allow your pain to make its way through you, in its own time, you will shorten the grieving process, regardless of whether you are mourning the loss of a loved one or a job. You might just be overwhelmed by the scale of the pandemic. Repressed emotions will always come out, one way or another. The longer you try to hide from them, the longer they will be with you. You probably have responsibilities and people who rely on you, taking to your bed for a week might not be an option. However, it’s useful to factor in time and space to have a cry. I used to find that meditating released the pain. I guess being present made me open up to thoughts and emotions that I did not want to dwell on. Although it was upsetting, I always felt lighter. Pain that is not transformed will be transmitted, it is everyone’s interest for you to allow yourself to have your feelings.
The experience of being in the psychiatric hospital was a little like lockdown. I was not permitted out of the building unaccompanied, for my own protection. Although I hadn’t been sectioned, I’d agreed that they could keep me in if they didn’t think I was ready to go out. If I wanted to get something from the shops, a nurse would come with me. A very dear friend visited and she had to explain who she was, sign a form and convince the hospital staff that she would make sure that I returned safely. Once she’d assured them that she was to be trusted, they allowed us out and we ambled down the street to a little pizza place to have dinner. It was a very bizarre expereince and one that I hope never to repeat. Having my freedom taken away was an affront to my autonomy and my adulthood. But I knew a stay in hospital was the only option and I had no choice but to sit tight and wait for it to pass. I watched Parks and Recreation on my laptop, went to group therapy and did my best to take the advice from the doctors and therapists. I was counting down the days, hours and minutes till I could go home and see my family; I was desperate to hold my son in my arms. Of course, time spent in a psyche unit is not the same as months of lockdown, however the knowledge that this is temporary is always sustaining. I repeated a mantra as I wandered around the endless, dingy corridors, perpetually lost – the place was like a rabbit warren. I muttered ‘this isn’t forever, this isn’t forever, this isn’t forever’ under my breath. Talking to myself probably didn’t do much to convince the hospital staff that I was safe to go home, but they let me out anyway. This will also end and things will return to some semblance of normality – eventually. That’s probably not much help right now, but staying focused on the fluidity of life, on the impermanence of everything, helps keep things in perspective.
I don’t know if this helpful but I hope it might be. Whatever you are going through, know that you are not alone.