Lockdown is mental! Aside from being ‘mental’ in the Scottish slang sense of the word, its mental because our experience of lockdown is dependent on our frame of mind.
Its mental health awareness week and here we are in a lockdown situation where mental health is being compromised from all angles – less fresh air, more confined spaces, less human contact for some, too much human contact for others, less community, more isolation, less finances for some, battles with fear for some, increased judgement and online finger pointing. What has been the biggest challenge for you? For me personally, the absence of set routines has highlighted how much I need them to maintain my mental health.
I’ve never been good with routine. As a youth I was called ‘free spirited’ because I was spontaneous and went with the flow. As a Mum in her 40s that translates to forgetful dunderheed! (A term coined by a lovely friend).
I know as a mum and wife I need routine and I’ve had to work really hard to establish them. This year I did it. I mastered routines! I felt so accomplished and able to achieve so much more. I even started to be on time!! People who know me well will know how dramatic that change is. Before lockdown my routines made time for me – to meditate, pray, drink a HOT cup of tea and read my bible. It really helped peace to rule the day no matter what happened. At the age of 43, I finally felt organised. It was a long long-term goal and I had finally arrived!! Then Corona-virus came along and said ‘did ye, aye?’
How are those routines looking when everything that enforces them is taken away? Locked up with family in an enclosed space with no respite for 8 weeks, isolated from loved ones and banned from my weekly haven at my brothers farm. My sons autistic meltdowns are cranked up to daily… no wait, several a day. (which for the record were completely managed and almost non-existent before lockdown!). The hardest part by far has been seeing our boy suffer and the impact on siblings and us as parents. The reality of autism, in a challenging situation like this, is almost unbearable. Emotional upset can often be physically painful for someone with autism. During a meltdown, neurons are misfiring bringing confusion, rapid thoughts, disconnection from the body and sheer panic. The behaviours that come with that have a ripple effect on the whole family – Screaming, hitting or throwing things to bring grounding to the body and the inability to hear instructions or receive help through the rushing, random thoughts. As parents, we grapple to understand what behaviour needs to be corrected and what behaviour needs comfort. The reality is we are not perfect and we get it wrong. ‘You are getting it wrong!’ is a thought I battle daily.
Throw in some guilt for not having the brain space or stamina to co-ordinate home-school with children who see home as their fun, relaxing safe space. (They are repelled by the thought of turning it into a school of any form, even though their school is amazing!!!). Throw in some fear of my husband relapsing into depression faced with the current situation (Praise God he hasn’t 🙌 but the fear is real!).
Covid-19… my routine wasn’t quite ready for you!
I’m aware that my lost routines are trivial in comparison with what some people are facing. I just want to acknowledge how devastating it is to hear of the rise in domestic violence, suicide, sickness and death. I know this will pass for us and we will come through stronger but for some the impact will be long-term and for some it marks the end of life.
Now I’ve painted a picture of our reality, here are a few of the things that are helping me to live in peace for the most part.
1) Letting go of unrealistic expectations. If you are in this situation with the expectation that your standards of living will remain intact, it’s time to re-evaluate or you could be on your way to mental overwhelm or even breakdown. Remember this situation is temporary and adjusting your expectations isn’t permanent so it’s not about compromising your values. We need to adjust for our own sanity. Here is what that looks like for me:
I value and have dreamed of a tidy clutter free home for years and with my routines I was starting to achieve that. My house is now messier than ever but it is temporary.
I value cooking from scratch with organic fresh foods. We are eating more shoved in the oven, thrown together, quick food’s than before but it is temporary.
I value having structure to my day and week and it’s the only way I can accomplish all the things I want to do. At the moment we are literally flying through the day, floating in and out of playing with toys, games, tech and learning because maintaining mental health and joy are our priorities right now. I have returned to missing deadlines and being a dunderheed but it is temporary.
2) Prioritising contact with friends and family. Some days I am forcing myself to phone people or meet up via zoom. I’m always thankful I did because I love and need people. The absence of structure and the energy of children combined with judgy self-talk can leave me in a state of feeling like I’m constantly busy, even though we have all the time in the world right now. I need to make time for people. We are made for connection. The bible and science agree on that. We have mirror neurons in our brain to help us learn from others. (I’ve heard of research that shows these are minimised or non-existent in an autistic brain, which may explain the social challenge!). When we talk and share our feelings we are putting our thought process to the test and through conversation we receive confirmation or affirmation hopefully filtered by love instead of our own judgy self-talk. We need that love and expression of kindness now more than ever and others need us.
3) Knowing who I am. I need to remind myself daily of my true identity. Media, opinions, judgements and my own negative reactions to our current circumstances all become a big mishmash in my head. The fear or feelings of failure that are being stirred up by the circumstances are not my identity and not even true most of the time – they are real feelings but feelings are led by what we believe so I need to actively remind myself and choose what I believe for those feelings to change. For me, that’s where faith comes in. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). In other words it brings into existence the things we are hoping for. If I feel fear, I hope to feel peace so I put my faith in Gods word “You will keep in perfect peace, those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3
For me, at the core if everything, I am a child of God and I can draw on Gods strength, wisdom and love. I am not my feelings of failure.
4) Staying connected to my community. Lockdown has reminded me that my community isn’t just geographic. My church is also my community and although we are spread all over the city, I have never felt more loved and connected with all the online activity and zoom meet-ups. Even lockdown cant lock down Gods love.
5) Allowing free flow and creativity, while ensuring basic needs are met. This one is a work in progress! Children are a bit like cars in that they wake up with the engine on and they already have the foot on the pedal without knowing their destination. They are steered by what they are attracted to. When we try to stop that car with rigid routines they crash and become a car wreck – its noisy and its messy and everyone is hurt in the process. There is a place for routine but for us rigid routines are really not helpful right now. Have you ever tried just watching them drive and discover? I personally feel we have an incredible opportunity to see new creativity formed through this time.
Having said that, there are a few things that we as a family are aiming for. Let me assure you these are aims and not our daily experience:
– One or two educational activities (not textbook)
– Some form of exercise
– Some form of connection – with friends or family
– At least one healthy fresh meal and snack
– Limited screens (definitely a work in progress!! How hard is it to limit screens for kids when they see you on your phone, tablet or laptop half the day, even if it is work!)
– Some quiet time and privacy for everyone at some point in the day
Maybe you are not struggling at all and that’s good. I know for sure there is someone out there who will read this blog and feel relief knowing you are not alone. You are not a failure. You are surviving a pandemic. Find your own groove and don’t be pressured to conform to how others are managing. If you are struggling, reach out! You might not find practical help but just sharing the problem can reduce its impact.
How is lockdown for you? Feel free to comment with your lockdown tips for maintaining mental health and joy.