Content warning: reference to mental illness, family violence
I am writing this post from my room at a mental health residential service where I am in quarantine. I have done well to avoid the worst vagaries of COVID restrictions. Canberra had one long lockdown shortly after COVID started and has had just one other which we have been in sine August this year. On both occasions I was in hospital or residential care so did not really feel isolated or lonely, just somewhat restricted. I have only had to have one COVID test and have not – up until very recently – been in contact with anyone who has COVID. Quarantine in a house full of people – fellow residents and mental health workers – is much nicer than being in quarantine alone! But being in quarantine makes COVID very raw and real. As I have been in close contact there is a chance I may develop COVID. I am fairly certain I won’t but it is definitely possible. Since COVID hit my constant refrain in relation to the pandemic is that it is not my friend and that I hate it. This really is true. COVID is terrifying and destructive and has changed the world in some very negative ways. Despite all that talk of ‘we are all in it together’ it has actually led to a lot of isolation, fear and stress for everyone.
It is common to see people talking about the mental health impacts of COVID. These are very real. There is a range of factors which mean COVID has an effect on people’s mental health, including people who have never had a mental illness before. I almost feel like I am at an advantage having had schizophrenia since 1995 as I know what to expect when my brain behaves in an unpleasant way. Mental health issues related to COVID are probably likely to continue throughout someone’s life. The cost is horrific.
One thing which breaks my heart is when people are in lockdown with people who do not respect or like them. I knew of a transgender person who was in lockdown with their parents and their parents were hostile and transphobic. It is hard to imagine how awful that would be. People in situations fo domestic and family violence are also a lot more at risk in lockdown as not only is it impossible for them to leave, being in lockdown together causes additional stress and may exacerbate the difficulties in relationships and the predatory behaviour of an abusive partner.
We are all supposed to wear masks when in public. There are a few issues around masks. The first is that not everyone can wear one. For many autistic people a mask is sensory hell and it is not possible for them to wear them. But people can be extremely judgemental about masks. If you see someone without a mask, before you pass judgement remind yourself that they may be one of a large group of people who are unable to wear a mask. The judgment around masks is similar to the judgement around accessible parking spots. People think they are supporting Disabled people by getting cranky at someone for using an accessible spot who can walk but actually many people have a disability parking sticker who can walk. They don’t only give out parking stickers to wheelchair users. People go off half cocked and berate others who are in fact Disabled themselves and have the legal right to use that parking spot. I see this as a similar issue to the self-appointed mask police.
COVID comes with a lot of associated conspiracy theories. I got my second vaccination the other day and staff at the house joked that I would get great 5G! I find conspiracy theories baffling. Aside from being baffling a lot of them are dangerous. We need everyone to get a vaccination because this creates herd immunity and means the virus will be considerably less of an issue. If everyone was vaccinated there would almost certainly be no more need for lockdowns and we could get back to the kind of life where we did not need to use statements like ‘we are all in this together.’ I am an outspoken proponent of vaccination. Please if you are not already vaccinated go out and get the jab. When I posted about getting my vaccination people on my social media said ‘thank you’ which I thought was nice. I guess that is something where ‘we are all in this together’ comes into play.
I wonder about the future. What will things look like next year or in ten years’ time. Are we doomed to work from home and communicate via Zoom for the rest of eternity? What will happen to the people who have survived COVID? Will they have lasting effects from the virus? Will business recover or will be fall into economic depression? What will the mental health landscape look like? Will I be able to access mental health support into the future or will services be so overloaded that I will have to make do myself, psychosis notwithstanding? Will my medications continue to be available? Will everyone in the world contract COVID? I have lots of questions and very few answers.
I am aware this is quite a bleak post so I will end with some hope. I was asked to contribute a poem to a book called Infectious Hope edited by Silvia Canton Rondoni. Writing the poem got me thinking about the idea of hope and how I see hope in the situation we are in. I won’t share the poem here because that would be somewhat unethical given the book isn’t published but I will say that it was a good lens through which to approach COVID. Look after yourself as much as you can in this broken world and remember that everything changes and all things come to an end. We actually are all in this together. The truth of that statement depends on how we navigate the world and how much we care for one another ad see ourselves as responsible for making the world a better place.