“I have lived with anxiety for more than a decade of my life. Probably closer to nearly two decades. As a GP once said to me: you have lived with anxiety for so long that you don’t know what normal is. It’s true. I don’t know what it’s like to not be in a state of panic. This fight-or-flight mode is a new normal for many of us, regardless of the presence of a mental illness or injury. According to the Institute of Disaster Mental Health, a pandemic such as Covid-19 causes a struggle due to the uncertain end in sight. This leaves us trapped in a constant state of fight-or-flight. Initially, I was doing well because I have distraction techniques, medication and an ability to unashamedly talk about my general mental health. My anxiety also plans for the worst-case scenario so my worried state came in somewhat handy.
However, as I write this, the UK is in its ninth week of lockdown. Now, my fight-or-flight response has stepped into the secret third option. Freeze. With the vagueness of what the next steps are in moving forward after such a pandemic when it is still going on in a devastating way, I am falling into my older coping mechanism: learned helplessness. With intense and severe anxiety, usually paired with depression, you believe everything will never right itself. You’ve lived with anxiety for so long that you lack the general insight in how to cope with anxiety. You’ve never known a life without anxiety there. So, you think you might as well resign to these debilitating feelings. Yes, I am running out of steam, and this was to be expected, because this whole thing is so incredibly exhausting. I do think we have to be careful with the concept of continuous distraction, and talk about the way to deal effectively with learned helplessness. I still struggle with this, and I think I will always have to fight it off, but each day I plan get better. This lockdown, and this pandemic, won’t last forever. I have to remember that.”