Bipolar UK Ambassador April Kelley reflects on the implications of the Coronavirus pandemic for our mental health
I’ve been thinking about this, and I’ve decided to go with it… Happy World Bipolar Day! Yep, I said it – Happy World Bipolar Day.
Disclaimer: I know there will be a lot of people out there living with bipolar or another illness, who are really struggling – I in no way want to belittle that. I hope this can bring you some comfort and joy, reminding you of that spark of genius I so often talk about.
This year, this day will take on a whole new significance as millions of people in the developed world experience just a taste of how it feels to be confined. Confined by the enforced restrictions brought on by the unwelcome arrival of the Coronavirus.
I’m not going to present you with facts or statistics. What we need is self-awareness.
We’re currently living in scary, uncertain and unprecedented times where our mental health is being tested. It may trigger even the most level-headed to question the anomalies within their own minds which they would otherwise not care to question or have the time to do so.
For whatever reason – perhaps because at any given moment I have roughly 3,482 thoughts swirling in my head – I’ve managed to somewhat compartmentalise this situation, perhaps more successfully than others.
The noise of the world is cancelling out the noise in my head; all of a sudden my anguishing over text messages, my droopy eye and whether or not I used the exclamation mark correctly in that email have faded into insignificance. Perspective, that’s what I’ve got and I’m grateful for it.
In the coming weeks and possibly months ahead, many of us may be forced to rely upon just the windows in our homes to offer both a vision of the world outside (as surreal as it is right now), and a vision of hope for the future.
The law of averages would suggest that during this lengthy period of self-isolation, whenever you find yourselves in a reflective mood, standing by your window (sipping a cuppa and not looking at the latest hilarious meme), you may chance upon a neighbour at their own window. Maybe not someone affected by bipolar but a person for whom self-imposed isolation, in whatever form, will be a new phenomenon and now they too are looking for a release.
And that is why I’m saying 'Happy World Bipolar Day' because this article needs to be about so much more than the disability that is bipolar disorder. We need positivity, hope and compassion (with some comedic relief, of course).
We’re currently experiencing a ‘war’ and for once the enemy isn’t another country, or another human: we are all in this together. This enemy doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, it doesn’t care about your ethnicity, gender or sexuality.
I believe this is a reminder that we are all human and only human, who are living in a world where Mother Nature will always triumph. And our world needed a break, I think we all needed a break. When in our adult lives have we had an opportunity like this – weeks on end where our only objective is to survive and it’s totally out of our hands.
We can’t control this so, please, let that go. What we can control is our reaction to this.
This is Mother Nature going “Right you lot, you’re totally ‘effin this up so you’re all grounded for the foreseeable future”. I hear you Mother Nature (I think a lot of us hear you), and this is what you’ve taught me so far:
Every cloud and all that… genuinely.
Once again, I’m drawn to my all-time favourite quote:
“How many times have people used a pen or paintbrush because they couldn’t pull the trigger?” – Virginia Woolf
Now’s the time to start that hobby you’ve been threatening to do for the last decade. That bit of home DIY? Do it (yourself)! The vegetable patch you’ve been meaning to plant – go, go, go. Those books you’ve been meaning to read, chop-chop. That script you’ve never had time to write… yeah, I’m talking to you!
At the very least, I’m personally grateful to spend this time – quality time – with my parents (and cats and dog). That said, ask me again when we’re free; no doubt we’ll be fed up of each other by the end.
Coronavirus is already being credited with having brought at least some good stuff in its deadly wake. And, on the whole, it has restored my faith in humanity.
Never in my lifetime have I witnessed community spirit like this. We have a newfound appreciation for the NHS and countless examples of creativity from videos, images and writing.
A wider community has been pulled closer to our own and made us feel that there is a little more empathy for us out there than we knew before. Even if those empathising are not fully aware that they are being so.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve found myself randomly crying, be it happy tears or otherwise… I think my eyes have a plumbing issue, to be honest.
Never has a text meant so much. “Hey, how are you getting on? Are you well?”
Now’s the time to swallow your pride and put aside any differences. Now’s the time to look up from your phone and smile at that stranger (two metres apart). Now’s the time to really care, genuinely care, make the effort and throw the words ‘I love you’ around like they’re confetti… Why? Because now’s the time to stop filtering.
For those who are feeling a little lost, navigating anxiety like it’s one of those trolleys in a supermarket with a dodgy wheel – as you try to hit the jackpot in finding half a dozen eggs – this is my humble advice. Warning, clichés ahead:
- Call or video call someone at least once a day. Apps such as Houseparty and Zoom are superb and easy for anyone to use.
- Get active. Aside from simultaneously cursing and applauding those choosing to run or cycle during their one outing a day, I’ve come to realise that a walk has the same effect for me. Yes, this might be the best opportunity ever to achieve that “summer body” but it’s the endorphins we need the most, and a walk a day will achieve that.
- Sleep! A lot of us have more time on our hands now. So, sleep. Catch up on all the sleep you’ve ever lost. It’s an incredible healer.
- Don’t forget to take your medication.
- Share the memes, the videos, the laughter.
- Appreciate all the small things.
When this ends (and it will end), remember, please remember, that all these positives and all this compassion doesn’t have to end. You don’t have to wait for the next big family event to see them all – video calling can bring you together. You don’t need to have a reason to text a friend, just do so and you can find time to continue that hobby.
Until then, my heart goes out to you.
You who are living with a mental illness and it’s triggering you.
You, whose loved ones are being directly affected by this virus.
You, whose career has had the rug pulled from underneath you, wondering how you’re going to financially survive this.
And you, who has had to self-isolate on your own.
I’ve created an uplifting Spotify playlist, it's random but hopefully, there’s something for everyone. Even if you just pick one song a day, get up off the sofa, dance like no one’s watching and sing like no one’s listening. Because for once in our life that damn quote is accurate and not annoying (it’s still annoying).
I’d like to leave you with a poem by Laura Kelly Fanucci:
When this is over,
May we never again take for granted
A handshake with a stranger
Full shelves at the store
Conversations with neighbours
A crowded theatre
Friday night out
The taste of communion
A routine check-up
A school rush each morning
Coffee with a friend
The stadium roaring
Each deep breath
A boring Tuesday
When this ends,
May we find
That we have become
More like the people
We wanted to be
We were called to be
We hoped to be
And may we stay
That way – better
For each other
Because of the worst.
Despite writing this article, I still couldn’t have put it better myself.
A shout out to my friends, family and colleagues for checking in on me every day. I won’t forget it, ever.
Take care of yourselves both physically and mentally and for the love of Mother Nature, give yourselves a break. Stay home, stay safe, well and clean.
All my love,