How My Mental Health Faced Up To A Pandemic

Peers’ perspectives of the COVID19 pandemic and stay-home restrictions

“These lessons are relevant to everyone, even in normal times. Because, they support  the mental health and overall well-being of everyone, not just persons in recovery.”

No one was quite prepared for how COVID19 was going to impact our lives. What started as a couple of random cases, rapidly escalated into a global life-threatening pandemic. There was no time for any of us to process this. It just happened!

Initial feelings of disbelief led to confusion, as day-to-day developments brought on more disruption to our lives. The situation was out of our control. Frustration led to increased irritability and anxiety. For some, it was a stifling sense of resignation. It was even a relief when circuit-breaker restrictions were announced as it put some brakes on the continual change and uncertainty. It was now decided. We had to stay at home. 

Adapting to being at home brought on new challenges. At the start, it was surreal. There was this heavy cloud over us that wouldn’t go away. It brought on insomnia, feelings of being trapped, even feelings of being disengaged.  

Resilience Mental Health - Scrabble

The transition of having to work from home was not a positive experience for everyone. Zoom, even with the option of virtual backgrounds, can be imposing on one’s personal space. Digital communications can be effective, but only to a degree. We soon realised, particularly through our peer support work, that it cannot replace that human touch, the sensing of body language, looking directly into someone’s eye as we spoke, or hearing real laughter. We missed the warmth and connection of face to face interactions.

Then there was the lack of an appropriate office set-up, and a conducive work environment. Work hours were also no longer defined. This lack of structure and blurred boundaries brought challenges. We were resigned to accepting these changes. It was simply out of our control.

For some of us, being at home also meant that we were stuck, 24/7, with persons not necessarily of our own choosing. Even at the best of times, the social dynamics within a home can be very challenging. Being completely self-isolated may be less challenging to one’s mental state than being trapped within a negative home environment. 

It’s been an enjoyable self-discovery process, learnt that I’m adaptable and resourceful and I’ve learnt to value time and prioritise things that will help me learn & grow”

But with challenges, there also comes the opportunity to review and reflect. Accordingly, new routines and structures have to be formed around this new norm. Being more intentional with our time, how we used it, and who we spent it with, improved the value and meaning of each day. It was also important to be able to segregate work hours from rest hours. Where the balance lies has to be decided by the individual.

How to Deal with Stress at Work - Workplace Desk

As we enter into Phase 2 of our country’s reopening, we are all unanimously, without a doubt, looking forward to retrieving some part of our “normal” lives. The freedom to go to wherever and whenever we please. The human interaction, even if it is sitting in a cafe with strangers. Some sense of normality. To do what is in our control, rather than to have it imposed on us.

Most persons in recovery, or peers, would have had to learn about self-care, coping strategies and self-management in dealing with their mental health condition. This together with peer support, has placed us well to cope with and manage specific mental health challenges brought on by this pandemic and social distancing restrictions. With self-motivation and a positive mindset, one can reframe a situation and come out of it stronger and more resilient.

“It is also important to learn gratitude and be grateful for what we have – “I’ve learnt that I am better off than most people and I can lend a helping hand.”

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