Hi, I'm Liz. I’m part of the team at the City of London Corporation working on the Our City Together campaign and I've lived with depression and anxiety for 20 years.
There have been times when I've felt 'better' and times when it's been pretty debilitating. I've always been a bit obsessed with 'curing' myself but in the last few years have been trying to learn to accept that depression is a part of who I am and has shaped who I am.
I'm acutely aware that everyone experiences depression and anxiety in different ways and what works for one person isn't right for another. Often people, who mean well, encourage you to stay positive but that's easier said than done… Don’t you think I would if I could? My most recent severe 'episode' (for want of a better term) was last year, it felt like it hit out of the blue and for five weeks I was virtually housebound by it. The best way I can describe how I experience depression is as a cloak, it’s something I wear all the time but sometimes the hood rises and engulfs me in its darkness. It's an awful place to be and in hindsight, that cloak had been slowly rising for years I think, but I did my best to push it back until I reached breaking point. I hadn’t taken antidepressants for about 10 years at this point as previous experience of them had made me feel like a zombie, but thank god for science! I'm now taking a newer antidepressant which is amazing, it took some time to kick in but after seven or eight weeks I was feeling more like my old self.
Fast forward three months to March and lockdown. I've been working from home since 17 March and early on there was talk about how lockdown could affect people's mental health. So I was waiting for the hood to come back up. But it didn’t happen! How weird, as someone predisposed to depression, why wasn’t I feeling down?
Life in London often feels overwhelming; the commuting, the amount of people and time spent; so many people all the time, travelling to and from exercise classes, work, uni; never feeling I had enough time to quietly relax at home, something I need a lot of. I don’t know if this would surprise those that know me but I'm an introvert. I always enjoy meeting people more than I think I will but it takes an awful lot of mental energy which needs to be replaced at some point. Even just dealing with crowds all the time in the street and on the tube is draining. I'm now pretty sure that our current social and professional habits and structures were created by extroverts and wonder if the rising number of people dealing with anxiety and depression etc. is a result of this forced extroversion? And with this seismic role-reversal, if it's now the extroverts who are struggling more with lockdown?
I was inspired to write this post and be open about my own struggles because I feel like the introverts perspective is not being discussed in the media and I wondered if others are experiencing this. Anecdotally from a few conversations I’ve had, I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.
We keep getting told that people need human connection and while this may be true, it's not to the same extent for everyone. I see my husband every day, chat to my friends on WhatsApp and do a Skype call every week or two, and that is ok for me. In fact, interacting with the world digitally has been a bit of a revelation. I've done virtual yoga and Pilates, pub quizzes and joined a Zoom birthday party, more than I would have done in 'normal' circumstances. The time saved in commuting between all these different activities has allowed me to develop a consistent exercise routine and I've set myself a challenge to climb the height of Everest on the stairs in my building. I'm using yoga as a way to unwind at the end of the workday, have a couple of creative projects in the works (nothing that's going to set the world on fire but makes me happy) and have been eating much better (i.e. less processed food) as I have the time to cook properly and generally don’t feel exhausted by 6pm. All these things contribute to my overall wellbeing and improved mental health. Plus, I'm way more productive working from home.
While I do miss being able to get out into the countryside and feeling the freedom I experience with space, a crucial element I’ve gained with lockdown and being at home is time. Time gained for self-care and being kind to myself, spending time with loved ones, time with my fur baby (see gratuitous cat photos - in fact she seems to be experiencing more disruption having me at home, poor thing), time to study (I'm in the final months of a part-time degree), but still with time to read a non-academic book, be creative and to really appreciate the small things in life that make a difference, like sitting outside in the sun for 15 minutes at lunchtime in your own space without half a million people being in the same square mile. I'm under no illusion that this is the answer and the silver bullet I've been searching for to ‘cure’ myself, and I feel a certain amount of guilt for enjoying lockdown when it's such a difficult time for healthcare workers and those that have been sick or lost loved ones.
For now I'll leave you with a post I saw on Instagram which I think is particularly relevant, from the Blurt Foundation (one of my favourite resources):
"No one is dealing with things perfectly right now - because there is no perfect way to cope. Whatever way works for you, and keeps you going is good: whether that's learning something new or taking comfort in familiar things. Whether it's doing daily home workouts or curling up on the sofa. Whether it's doing virtual Zoom quizzes, or chatting online. Whatever you're doing to cope - you're doing amazing."
Stay safe and if you want to get in touch about anything raised in this post, send me a message using the button below.