I have had a lot of other things that I wanted to write about, but I feel like it would be irresponsible of me to ignore the pandemic that is surrounding us. This is something that we will remember forever, as I have never experienced anything like this in my lifetime.
But as I talk about Covid-19 and the subsequent self-quarantine/social distancing, I am going to come at it from a slightly different angle. One from someone who lives daily with mental illness. The impact that bipolar disorder has on my life is significant at the best of times, but when five people are shut into a 1500 square foot house, it brings about new challenges.
I want to start by saying that I am on appropriate medication that helps significantly with getting through my day-to-day life. If I weren’t medicated, I shudder to think what this would be like. I also still attend therapy, or I did as of last weekend. We may be moving over to phone therapy as this pandemic progresses. All of this is to say that I’m working incredibly hard to combat the effects of this on my mental health.
However, there are many situational factors that can trigger either a depressive or manic episode. And our current situation is a bit of a breeding ground for mental health struggles.
Between 2017 and 2018, I was faced with many extreme situational triggers that caused me quite a bit of distress. My husband and I were struggling to maintain our marriage and I wasn’t on the most effective medication. So I was sucked into a rapid cycle of depression and mania. It was one of the most difficult times of my life.
But this poses a whole new set of obstacles for me.
My kids are out of school until at least May 1st. This means that not only are they here every moment of the day, but I am now responsible for helping to educate them. Yes, this is ultimately my responsibility as a parent. But I am not a certified teacher. There’s a reason that teachers are capable of what they do. Not only did they get an education in, well, education, but they possess a lot of traits that are helpful in the field. Patience, creativity… both of which are not my strong suit. And on top of that, I’m a perfectionist. I have a hard time when my kids don’t “get” it. I have a hard time when they fight against our educational time. I want this to be a worthwhile and helpful experience for them and I mostly feel like I’m failing.
Not leaving the house is also taking a lot of getting used to. I never realized how much I need an escape from my house until I couldn’t get one. Before this, I really valued my time at home. I love relaxing with my Kindle, hanging out with my family, watching Netflix. But I also crave social time. I crave fresh air. It’s been raining a lot in Indianapolis, so even a hike at the park isn’t happening right now. I’m starting to understand how people go batshit in prison.
A side effect of not leaving the house is lethargy, which can lead to depression for me. The will to get out of bed isn’t always there. The will to take a shower or change my clothes isn’t always there. I feel that willpower slowly slipping away as the days pass. I know I’m not alone in this, as other people who battle depression are often triggered by similar circumstances. Self care is often neglecting when you feel as if you have no purpose. Which is sort of where I’m at right now. If I don’t wash my hair or get out of my pajamas, who is going to see me aside from the other four people in my house? And those people don’t really give a shit, as they don’t want to get out of their pajamas either.
Now onto the mania. One of my triggers is a messy house. Okay, maybe that’s a BIG trigger. I am still trying to keep up with actual housework, but the clutter that results when kids are home is hard to avoid. Legos are all over the coffee table. Art supplies are on the kitchen table. I feel like there are always dishes in the sink. I can already sense my agitation building up. This is what I have been “trained” to manage. Years of therapy are to thank for that. But while I have the tools, using them is still a lot of fucking work. Hard, exhausting work. But I’m doing it. So my hope is that I will be able to steer clear of manic episodes throughout the duration of this mess.
And on top of bipolar disorder, I also suffer from anxiety. Anxiety during a time of worldwide panic is a real treat. I feel like I have done a really good job of managing it, though. I have been methodical in my grocery store purchases… buying what we will need for a reasonable amount of time, but not going full doomsday prepper. I have been sharing real, factual information with my kids, hoping to educate them on the crisis that we’re in without scaring them. I have been detaching from social media when I feel like it’s all becoming too overwhelming. Again, I am using the tools that I have been given by various therapists over the years.
It’s hard to stay optimistic during scary times like these, but I am trying. I get to see my kids more, even though they drive me crazy. I get to see my husband have the opportunity to interact with them more. I get to watch my community reach out to one another and offer help in the most selfless of ways. I get to slow down and catch up on some good reading and TV. I get to spend time journaling and meditating (both of which I have yet to do during all of this, but I have goals, damn it). I get to snuggle my sweet puppy and cat. I can’t complain about any of that.
One day, this will all be a distant memory. And we will remember that we survived this. And how we survived this. And that we took the necessary steps to ensure that our fellow neighbors survived this.
We will all get through it. One day at a time.