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HOW TO PROTECT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH IN THE CORONAVIRUS


There are so many blogs and pieces already written about this by therapists that I’ve been reluctant to join in, I've not been sure I have anything to add or anything original to say.

But I've lately been really struck by how didactic many of these blogs are, sometimes only consisting of instructions and demands, reading like a list of ‘shoulds’.

So in a lighthearted attempt to counter this trend of instructions I'm taking some of the subheadings and phrases I've seen used in these blogs and adding my own thoughts.


Use this time effectively

Can you hear it? “You should use this time effectively”


Says who? And what does it mean?

What is effective for me might not be effective for you.

Watching the whole of Star Trek: Picard has been really effective in making me feel happier because I've been distracted, entertained and enjoyed a good story, well told.

But that’s not what is meant. It’s more likely to refer to imperatives to declutter, study a new thing to better yourself, vary your routine, eat these things...


Declutter your home

No.

Let me expand on that: NO.

I like my clutter. I like those books, they're good memories in solid form. Memories of when I read them or even memories of the otherworld I inhabited while I read them. And I like the under-coffee-table-fruit-bowl-of-mystery. Where else will I keep my miniature origami kit, handcream, CD, sewing kit from a hotel, hair bands etc?

Plus, the cats need their toys to be available on the carpet, just there when they need them, not tidied away, and what is wrong with having a half-full bottle of gold glitter paint on the dining room table? Nothing.

I like my clutter.

I shall not de it.


Learn a new instrument/ language/ craft

What for?

Again this always seems to be written by someone who thinks you should be doing this and is just dying to tell you how marvellous they have become at Icelandic/ the flugelhorn/ raffia-book-binding.

It’s all a bit competitive.

Don’t get me wrong, I'm no stranger to self-taught hobbies. My tortuous seven-finger-piano and actually-not-that-bad guitar playing are testament to this, as is my garage full of unsellable, gently rotting “shabby chic” furniture.

But again it’s the demand. It’s the you should be learning, studying, practising; you should be improving yourself, making yourself better.

It’s as if there’s an expectation that we must emerge from this lockdown as butterflies from a cocoon – resplendent in our glorious multilingual, musical, macraméing.

No longer the crawling grubs of pre-lockdown, oh no… Improved, better, closer to perfection…

Therein lies the rub. Perfection is a fallacy. And it's pervasive.

It all speaks of that scarcity culture; “you're not enough as you are, you must be better, and you must be it now”

But that way lies guilt and shame and self-annihilation.

Not self-nurturing, self-care, and definitely not self-acceptance.

And those are the things it’s good to focus on.

Being kind to oneself. Because that requires acceptance of yourself as you are, caring for yourself because you are worthy of care and nurturing yourself because you are worth the effort, attention and time.

So, it doesn’t matter if you don’t learn anything new.

But if learning is what you want to do and you're inspired by others, then that’s fantastic.

Just be aware of caring for and being kind to yourself.

Make sure you have a routine/ Vary your daily routine

So which is it?

I get up every morning at the same time or I don’t get up every morning at the same time?

SO contradictory.

And that’s what I’m getting at here.

Its good to have some sort of routine. Especially when the usual routine has been snatched away. Multiply that upheaval by the pervasive fear that goes hand-in-hand with the virus and you’ve got a dread product: a recipe for huge anxiety spikes and grinding, gnawing worry.

When all is in turmoil the removal of daily rhythms is unnerving, unsettling, threatening.

Suddenly there’s no captain steering the ship and it’s feared there may be rocks ahead.

Creating a routine is a great way to assert one’s own will over one’s own life, to recapture control. It is a good idea. Especially if WFH means you have to create a whole new set of work/ break/ hometime boundaries. It’s a challenge setting it up and a challenge keeping to it. But so worthwhile.

And then someone says you should vary your routine; don’t get stuck in a boring and bored rut.

“What? I've just got my routine sorted and now you want me to change it?”

This is the problem with the tone of some pieces: it feels like they're telling you what to do.

The idea of writing a piece that encourages people to go easy on themselves for not sticking to their routines is great.

An article that shares the experience of loosening a routine, changing it, messing about with a routine is great.

But when it’s headed with an imperative “vary your routine”, “create space in your day”, “inject some fun…” it’s an instruction. And that never feels therapeutic.

It feels like another layer of expectation, another should.

You know best what you need. Your routine will be tighter than some people’s and looser than others’. You'll vary These things but not Those. You might barely have a routine. Your routine might be very firm and not be messed with. You know what works. For you.

Being kind to yourself means allowing yourself your differences, your individuality. You don’t have to do what the blog says (not even this one).

Eat an antidepression diet

I'm sorry, what?

whole grains, vegetables (particularly green leaves), fruit, berries, nuts (including almonds), seeds and olive oil to look after your mental health”

Hmm. OK.

But I'm going to have to add fried chicken, chips, wine, pizza, sausages, wine, sweets, crumpets, wine, chocolate and monster munch.


Oh and wine. Did I mention wine?



JK April 27 2020

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