On the day the first UK case of Coronavirus was announced on the news, the birds moved in. A troop of tiny, chirping, colorful feathered creatures took roost in my head. My own personal town-criers. For the past month or so, they’ve been constant -unwanted- companions. Reminding me of what to worry about, who to worry about, why I need to worry about it all. Announcing, commentating, speculating, predicting. They peck at my brain with their beaks, they cheep and squawk in my ear. On occasion their voices have deafened me, filled my head, an all-day dawn chorus. Yet at other times, they’ve slept peacefully for hours, allowing normal life to return. I’m learning to live with them. I’m learning to silence them. I’m learning strategies to make them fly away. Life with the birds is getting easier. But I suspect a little nest will remain for the foreseeable future. Worry and stress and anxiety are difficult birds to completely shoo away in a Pandemic.The start of March was most difficult for me. That was when the birds were in full song. The approaching monster had shattered my peace, it was all I could think about. I was scared. Scared for me, scared for my poorly Dad, scared for my PH Phriends, scared for society, scared of what might be. I found it hard to think about anything other that the Coronavirus. Every time I did anything -boring or fun or happy- the birds would be chirping away. A continual commentary. My brain was on high alert; it couldn’t switch off its thinking or its worrying or its catastrophising. I’d be thinking about the C word whilst washing the dishes or drinking my tea or watering my plants. For a couple of horrible days, I thought about it more than I didn’t. And every time I did, my stomach would drop. Like falling off a cliff, or the ground disappearing, or jumping from a bungee jump. Dropping and recovering and dropping and recovering. Like a bloody terrifying roller-coaster.
But anxiety isn’t just about the birds. About the commentary. No, it manifests itself in so many ways; some obvious and some strange. Crying and sobbing and shaking. Snapping and arguing and over-reacting. Demanding love, demanding attention, demanding anything that’ll block out the chirps. Losing appetite, gaining appetite, losing weight, gaining weight, At one point, my worry was so disabling it stopped me from doing anything, for days. No interest, no attention. I didn’t want to read or play the keyboard or weed my garden or watch television! (I love TV!). Paralyzed through fear. Most curiously, my stress has also revealed itself through weird and wonderful new symptoms – a strange rash, a funny throat, sore hands, a headache, a stye! My head becomes convinced I’m poorly or not right or have the dreaded C. Cue vicious circle of worry. And angst affects sleep too. Not dropping off, waking up at 3am, exploring internal scares through nightmares. The next day tiredness accentuates the fears, and makes tomorrow even harder. Anxiety isn’t just about the birds.From experience, I know the feathered creatures will rarely fly away of their own accord. Instead, I have to actively change things. Develop strategies, find new ways to cope, alter my behaviour. Take back control. And so I have done. I am doing. It is working. It is getting easier. As the weeks have passed, my anxiety is feeling more manageable. I’m understanding how to help myself, I’m getting in to a routine, I’m learning to cope with this new strange life. I’m slowly regaining my calmness, slowly reclaiming my happiness, slowly quietening the birds. I am shooing away the vultures. But it is still a work in progress. I still hold my breath in horror a couple of times a day, still occasionally cry for no reason, still sometimes convince myself I’m ill with my latest stress symptom. But these moments of madness are getting less. Less frequent, less long, less intense. It is no longer always, no longer continuous. Worry is not my permanent emotion any more. Smiles and laughs and hope and joy are regaining their places. And staying for longer. 🙂 I’ve also accepted the birds. And accepted that a few will likely accompany me through this pandemic. This is a strange and surreal and stressful time, and I want to bare witness and not hide my head in the sand. Though fingers crossed only a few birds hang around. 😉
And I know that I’m not alone. I’m far far from being the only one struggling with their mental health at this time. There are feathered town-criers cheeping in the ears of many of us. But they can be quietened. They can be shooed away. “This too shall pass”. 🙂