A Perfect Storm

For the past seven weeks, I’ve been living in a storm. A lone tree flailing around during a dark monsoon. As Autumn has pummeled the world outside my window, with its battering winds and drowning rain and overcast skies… my own inner gale has mirrored it exactly and pummeled me. At times it has been horrid; the grey skies have overwhelmed me, the gusts have knocked me over, and my cheeks have become soaked and red. I’ve been unable to recognize myself. But at many other times, it’s as if the bad weather was never there. Sun and blue skies have restored me to me again. Normality for a while. Although I’ve experienced Seasonal Affective Disorder before, never like this. Never so early in the season, never such a dramatic affect on my psyche. The coronavirus pandemic has not only created the biggest of gales, but has also blown away many of my trusty umbrellas- ways I normally protect myself from the elements. A perfect storm. Thankfully I seem to be coming out the other side. The Autumn winds appear to be finally easing, and I’m discovering new brollies to keep me dry and safe. But it is only November. There are many months until Spring.

It was the day after we returned from our trip to Arran, that the storm clouds rolled in. Literally and metaphorically. Faced with Autumn weather, my body prepared to hibernate. And faced with dramatically increasing coronavirus numbers, we locked down early. Working from home, shopping from home and socializing over the computer. With friends and family all living and working in society still, it didn’t feel safe to meet them. And with folks on the streets less willing to mask up and socially distance, we didn’t feel able to venture far. It was just me and Phil and Lottie. Paused. Again. Watching as the world seemingly carried on living life. Not enough sunshine, not enough joy.

And it was difficult. In the first lockdown, with everyone stuck in their homes, there was no segregation. We were all in it together. Unity. But this time, feeling forced to be stricter than the masses, we felt like the odd ones out. Isolated. Removed. I was envious of those who felt safe enough to hang out with their friends still, safe enough to go to the supermarket still, safe enough to eat out still. Envious that they could still ‘live’, whilst our lives were put on hold. Indefinitely.

Plus I missed my pre-pandemic life. I missed people, I missed random conversations, I missed hugging. I missed different views, I missed adventures, I missed exploring. I missed browsing, I missed freedom, I missed not living in fear. I grieved for it all.

Furthermore, I felt frustrated that I was now wasting my limited life. Having a terminal illness makes you live now. No more saving the best china for an occasion, no more waiting for the ideal moment to have an adventure. With no guaranteed tomorrow, I try to maximize every day. Yet my normally packed diary was now empty, with no sign of resuming. I was wasting my precious days, wasting my limited life, wasting my stable health. And it felt oh so very wrong.

When faced with Seasonal Affective Disorder before, when faced with tricky times before, I’ve relied on my umbrellas to shield me from the storm. Activities or actions that protect me and keep me happy. Tried-and-testing ways to improve my mental and physical symptoms. My light-box and writing and sunshine. Cuppas and cuddles and catch-ups. Adventures and day trips and planning upcoming fun. Gardening and scooter rides and countryside. Yet, this time, due to coronavirus restrictions, and wet weather, most of those umbrellas were off-limits. I was left flailing in the monsoon, with nothing to protect me, as the Autumn weather gradually slowed my body and slowed my mood.

So the world started to seem dull. The darkness arrived. The colour and light and sparkles and sunshine that normally illuminate my life and soul, were all replaced by differing shades of grey. All the joy and excitement and sparkles that normally make my life glitter, were washed away. The life outside my window looked muted, and the life inside of me felt muted. Like a faded tshirt. Fed up, down, bleugh. And worst of all, I couldn’t see it getting better. With no sign of the pandemic ending, with no sign of coronavirus case numbers dropping, with nothing to look forward to in the next few months… the future just looked like a big black gaping hole. Literally. Whenever I tried to picture the next month or the next week or even the next day… my mind was a big black blank. I couldn’t imagine any upcoming joy to focus on. I just kept saying to Phil, “I can’t find my sunshine, I can’t find my happiness”.

So I cried quite a lot. I argued with Phil, got really irritable about the silliest thing, lost enthusiasm. Didn’t bother plucking my eyebrows, ate lots of cake, reduced contact with friends. Slept too much, slept too little, was always tired. Occasionally I’d just go and hide under a blanket for a while, trying to retreat from the world. I was slowly sinking into hibernation, slowly sinking into sadness. But this low mood wasn’t always. Those moments, on the whole, were only small parts of my day. For the main I was able to function fine. I still chatted on the phone, joined in with Zooms, wrote Whatsapp messages. To many, I probably looked normal. And in those moments I generally was. But most days I had a point where the sadness would overtake me. Grieving for the situation. I just couldn’t see an end to the grey.

But then, two weeks ago, I realised I needed to find new coping mechanisms. I needed new ways to protect myself from all the winter storms to come. I needed new umbrellas. And so that’s what I’ve been finding. I’ve been maximizing my time outside with daily dog walks, walking practice, even gardening in the rain. I’ve rediscovered old hobbies like reading and sewing and jigsaws, and have found some of my Christmas spirit by making decorations, planning the big day, and buying all my Xmas pressies. We’ve planned little activities to look forward to- date nights, online theatre, cooking sessions… and I’ve entered my first ever walking challenge! Thankfully, so far it is working. The storm is easing, my sunshine is returning… and I don’t need to hide under duvets quite so often! 😉

The pandemic has created a perfect storm for many people in society. Loss of independence and freedom and friendships and fun, at the same time as taking away their coping mechanisms. I know I’m not the only one to have been affected in this way. But we can get through it.

And remember, the sun always shines after a storm. 🙂

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