Pandemic Panic and Mental Illness

Keeping a consistent routine is one of the basic and most useful therapies in managing bipolar disorder. Obviously COVID-19 has not made that easy. I haven’t been getting out of the house with the younger girls, we’ve been adjusting to “distance learning” for Jacen, and our custody schedule for Arielle has been all kinds of stressful. When I lost our routine, it felt like someone pulled a Jenga block from the bottom of my emotional stack: everything is pretty wobbly, I’m praying I don’t get knocked down, and I’m definitely fearful of what will  be taken from me next. 

My OCD is running high. I’m checking the stove burners and the locks on the door several times an hour.  My husband tries to make light of it by saying things like “Kate, you’re getting your steps in today” and mockingly “wait, have you checked to see if the door is locked?” It’s really embarrassing to be aware of a strange habit but not be able to stop yourself.

By far the absolute worst part of staying home has been my anxiety. I feel completely out of control- crying spells, massive panic attacks, vomiting, restlessness, irritability. All of it. All the time.

I try to remind myself that this time is actually a gift. This is more time with the kids, and at the end of my life I know that more time with them is all I’ll be wishing I had more of. There’s just a huge difference between receiving a gift and enjoying it.

I want them to remember this time as calm, safe, and loving. I want them to remember how strong mom was when the world was scary. I want them to remember fun things we did together, and things they learned at home that they wouldn’t have been taught in school. I want to enjoy this time. I fear they will remember me crying myself dry, anxiously vomiting, pacing, and worrying. I fear I won’t be remembered as the super mom that I always aspire to be, but a weak woman who fell apart in crisis. I fear the memories we make during this time will show me as overwhelmed, anxious, confused and stressed.. And all of these fears end up feeding my anxiety, making me fear even more. It’s an endless cycle. 

In both my OCD and my anxiety, I’m aware that my actions are unnecessary, but I’m unable to stop myself. I have to touch the door knob. I can’t just remind myself it’s locked and walk away. I’m aware that I appear preoccupied and unapproachable when I’m sobbing and stressing, but I just can’t stop it, no matter how much I would rather be laughing with my kids. I just want to stop. I want to change things. I want to enjoy the gift of time with my children.

This pandemic has been hard on everyone. We miss socialization. We fear for our businesses, our finances. We fear for the education of our children. We miss our family in healthcare, first responders, front liners, and essential employees whom we have not seen nearly enough of lately. We stress about getting sick, or getting someone else sick who can’t fight the virus. We fear of going without; of running out of food, soap and toilet paper. There is so much fear and sadness in the world. 

I know there has to be a way to turn this around. I’m fighting every day, trying to claw my way out of the hole I’ve dug myself into. I’m still seeing my doctors via Telehealth. I take my meds. I think of the kids. I think my next small step needs to be carving out a new routine. I do better when I know what to expect next, no surprises. No stress or guilt at the end of the day due to forgotten tasks. Organization.

I know I’m not the only one scared. I’m sure you are, too; to some degree, and in some regard. The world is a crazy place right now. I’m going to start small and get into a daily routine, because I deserve to feel better than I do right now. And so do you. No matter your reason, diagnosis or situation you can feel better. What’s your next step? Think about it. Tomorrow is a new day, and a perfect day to start turning things around.

Kate.

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