Coronavirus: ‘Depression feels like my cat is sitting on my chest’

woman with cat lying on chestImage copyrightLIZZIE KNOTT

The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting lockdown have created difficulties for many people with mental health problems. Here two young people, Lizzie Knott from Watford and Bertie Campbell, a student in Aberdeen, describe how it has affected them.

Lizzie Knott is a 22-year-old illustrator who lives with depression:

For me, depression feels like my cat Rodney is sitting on my chest. He sits there for a few days and doesn’t move. He is noticeably heavy but not in a way that actively stops me from carrying on doing things – a bit like a baby in a sling. That’s because I have what’s known as high-functioning depression. But during those days something small can make me cry and feel really hopeless.

I have been waiting for my depression to spring up on me during this weird and turbulent time and this week it finally has.

The feeling of things being out of my control and being unable to escape a situation can make me feel quite anxious and depressed anyway, and I think the weight of this pandemic and how much my life has changed in just three weeks has suddenly hit.

Like a lot of people I have just been riding the waves of what’s happening in the world without really processing how I’m feeling about it, until now. I can’t apply for jobs or think about my future, or progressing my life, and that’s what scares me sometimes. I think “what is the point in anything I’m doing?”.

My university days are suddenly over and I’ve had to move out of the house I rented with my three best friends – my support system. I was the only one who didn’t cry when we said goodbye to one another. I just felt a tingly numbness – fine, but artificially fine.

Of course, I felt extremely sad, deep deep down, but it was like my brain went into defence mode. Now I’m back at home with my parents, brother and sister. Home is a weird place for me because it reminds me of when my mental health was really bad a few years ago.

My depression stems from PTSD and will probably affect me for the rest of my life. But it is something I have learnt to fuel into positive artwork.

Woman in garden at nighImage copyrightLIZZIE KNOTT

I hope when this pandemic passes my negative feelings about home will be replaced with positive, warm ones because we have all been supporting each other. I will look back on the board-game nights we had to help pass the time and the meals we ate together in the garden. My family are amazing and I’m lucky to be in a safe environment with them.

Since being in lockdown I’ve been drawing lots of flowers and light because it’s a reminder that spring is still blooming and the world is still going round. I see beauty in things I used to take for granted. I really look forward to the sunset now, when before I’d never have looked out for it because I’d be so busy with uni or work.

I look outside at the eerily quiet canal paths that normally teem with families and take in the emptiness, the calm.

This lockdown has given me lots of time for self-reflection – my pace of life is slower now. But I know not everyone is as lucky. Most of my mind is taken up with thinking about the pandemic – only the important things are important now and the small things aren’t any more.

Of course I wish I didn’t have depression at all. But I’m learning to greet it as a familiar face, like my cat. And when this bout of depression passes, the light around me will shine much brighter than it did before.

Short presentational grey line

Bertie Campbell, 23 is in his second year of a chemistry degree at the University of Aberdeen. He has a history of self-harm and depression and is spending lockdown in his university rooms.

It has been hard to see all of my friends go home to their families while I am stuck here in my university accommodation. All the communal areas have been locked. I feel lucky that my boyfriend has stayed here with me and we are self-isolating together.

I haven’t lived with my parents since I was 17 and don’t have a relationship with either of them where going back would be an option.

My university shut very abruptly a couple of weeks before the lockdown started and since then I’ve had no motivation to keep studying because we don’t have exams any more and I feel like all the hard work I’ve done this term is pointless.

Friends taking part in teleconferencingImage copyrightLIZZIE KNOTT
Image captionBertie is making a big effort to talk to friends in the outside world

Just before I was furloughed from the hardware store I work at I bought lots of plants so at least that makes it a more calming, green space.

Depression feels like a weight on my shoulders. It means that I don’t know whether when I wake up in the morning I will feel a light but overbearing sense of sadness, or whether every single little thing is going to feel like the end of the world.

I’m not a stranger to spending lots of time isolated in my room, so maybe in some way I am better prepared for this lockdown than others. At my lowest I used to hide away in my room, sometimes for months. I’d stop replying to people who got in touch and I’d lose hours and hours just staring at my phone in bed.

Luckily, since being at university I’ve made good friends who will just turn up at my room and drag me out of there to do something that will make me happy or distract me.

Information and support

If you or someone you know needs support for issues about emotional distress, these organisations may be able to help.

Read more on mental health from the BBC:

But now they’ve gone and I’m self-isolating, and my depression makes me very grumpy with everyone in the world. I feel bad because yesterday I exploded at my boyfriend and told him to go out and do his daily exercise. Then I sent him a text apologising.

I’ve been struggling with boredom and trying to find productive ways to stimulate myself. I have found myself picking Facebook fights with people who are spreading silly things and posting conspiracy theories about coronavirus. I need to try to resist scrolling through Facebook for hours because it gets me very worked up and I end up in completely pointless political arguments.

At the start of this lockdown my boyfriend and I would just wake up and watch Netflix and play video games but now we’ve decided that he will learn some Spanish and I will learn some Italian, because it’s something we’ve been saying we would do for ages. I also haven’t touched my guitar in about six months but I thought now would be a good time to pick it back up. I have noticed I am drinking too much and this week I am trying to get that back under control.

When you’re feeling really low it is easy to fall back into bad habits but I would say to anyone reading this who feels like me – try to do at least one little act of self-care a day and it will make a difference. For me, the most important thing is continuing to talk to friends in the outside world, whether that’s online or by text or on the phone.

I know that it would be beneficial to go outside to do daily exercise but right now I don’t have the motivation. It was only when I went to the shop recently that I realised I’d forgotten what the outside smells like. I walked across some grass and thought, “Ah, grass is really nice.”

As told to Kirstie Brewer – follow Kirstie on Twitter

Banner image reading 'more about coronavirus'

source: bbc.com

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