Part 3 of our series ‘Mental illness relapse and recovery during a global pandemic: lived wisdom from young people’s perspectives’
We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. […] We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.
As a collective, we’ve found that the advice from many think pieces during this time has been removed from lots of people’s actual lived experiences. Right now, we’re in an absolute unknown. Things are going to be and feel different, strange and exhausting as we adjust to completely new versions of “normal”. For some of us, no amount of meditation and mindfulness helps in general, let alone during a pandemic, especially if our basic needs aren’t being met.
This is the final part in our series, ‘Mental illness relapse and recovery during a global pandemic’. For those of us who are working hard on our recovery journey, where can we seek specific support during this time? What are some useful tips, tricks and tools from peers in this space with relevant lived experience?
Sharing tips from lived wisdom
We’ve found connecting in with one another through sharing our lived experiences has been beneficial. This has allowed us to both see and acknowledge the complexity of what we’re feeling in our unique situations, outside the gaze of more dominant, privileged and “normalised” experiences.
It’s really important to remember that as we integrate this experience and move back out into the outside world, we will need to create some space to make sense of what we’re still going through. This will take time, even though there are calls putting pressure on us all to rush “back to normal”.
As a collective, here are some things we’re finding helpful during this time and will continue to practice as we transition into moving back into the world “out there”. We are looking to find new versions of “normal” both individually and together.
- Bringing a sense of normalcy back into our routines – Getting ready at the start of the day by getting dressed, brushing our teeth and acting like we’re going to meet someone – even if that’s still only online. Being able to realise when this is not practical is also important, and sometimes life (inside and outside of quarantine) can be a bit of a balancing act between doing what’s best for your mental health and doing what’s best for your physical health.
- Dedicated screen time – With the ever-changing nature of this pandemic and the constant updates of Australian and global news, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the constant influx of new information. Aimlessly scrolling and constantly seeing news updates can significantly increase anxiety, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. It can be useful to dedicate a certain amount of screen time a day to updating yourself with the news.
- Giving yourself permission to do nothing and taking things slowly – Many people are using this time to be productive by taking up new hobbies, exercising more and being creative. This is great, but it doesn’t work for everyone all the time. Give yourself permission to relax and slow down productivity if you can and/or want to. For a lot of us, our lives are constantly running at high speed and this might be the first time in years that we’ve had the opportunity to slow down. Take a minute to catch your breath and allow space to process the bigger feelings, like grief.
- Glamour magic – Getting dressed and glammed up, even when you’re spending a lot of time at home. There’s magic in transforming your mood with an outfit and a look. It can help to feel beautiful and strengthen self-esteem – and it’s something just for ourselves, no-one else. Sometimes dressing up allows us to maintain a sense of our own personal identities, even during a crisis when everything feels fragmented. “For me, there’s so much power in dressing in an insultingly fabulous outfit – it can transform my mood entirely.” – Sarah, Y-Change Lived Experience Consultant
- Knowing people aren’t going to leave – It’s good to know you have relationships beyond a working context and that there are people who care about us beyond the 9 to 5. It’s not just about having people there if things go wrong; it’s about having people who will support us through the good times and the tough times.
- Making stillness more accessible – Mindfulness and meditation isn’t accessible to everyone, especially if you experience more severe mental-ill health episodes like psychosis. When you have voices in your head, there can be nothing scarier than sitting by yourself and having to listen to them. Having these techniques pushed onto us can do more harm than good at times. However, on a physiological level, breathing exercises can be really helpful. If you can’t meditate but want to find ways to regulate your mind, breathing can do that. Even with your eyes open while you’re doing the dishes – any way you can try and slow down your breath in ways that feel simple and doable for you.
- Memes – Never underestimate the power of recovery memes as a form of expression, especially when words aren’t flowing or feel too overwhelming to say or share.
- Remembering we’re in an experience together, even if it’s not the same one – It’s useful to think about not being alone in this global experience of a pandemic, even though our own experiences are distinctly unique.
- Shared lived experiences – Being in a shared experience together can help to normalise collective feelings and behaviours. For example, some folks with anxiety and depression are actually seeing an alleviation of symptoms since the COVID-19 outbreak. To some, if feels like their external landscape finally matches their internal landscape – people around them are showing the same levels of fear, hopelessness and rage that those who suffer with anxiety and depression feel on a daily basis. Although this isn’t necessarily a positive thing and certainly doesn’t apply to all people living with anxiety and depression, it has been validating for some folks.
- Staying connected and not feeling pressured to go out and socialise if we’re not ready – Although there are people who are starting to see friends and family again, the thought of getting back out there is overwhelming for many of us. Don’t be afraid to take extra time to reflect on what new ways of doing things might feel right for you (e.g. online game nights and hangouts via online platforms such as Zoom).
Resources we’re finding helpful
Here are some great resources we’ve been finding useful:
- Anna Borges – 17 totally normal things to feel right now, according to therapists
- Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY) – Support for Young People and Families amidst COVID-19
- Deadly Story – Staying safe through COVID
- Dodie Clark – How to feel (a bit) better in this really weird time
- Jennifer A. King – COVID-19: Our brains, our bodies, our trauma
- Jessica Kellgren-Fozard – How to isolate and not lose your darn mind!
- Kids Helpline – Are you worried about novel coronavirus (COVID-19)? and I’m not ready to go back to normal
- Lindsay Braman – Self-care in the age of coronavirus
- Nick Rose – How quarantine can trigger relapse for people in recovery
- ReachOut Australia – How to make a safety plan
- Rona-Glynn McDonald – Take lessons from First Nations to come out of COVID crisis a better country
- Sam Dylan Finch – How ‘anticipatory grief’ may show up during the COVID-19 outbreak
- The Blurt Foundation – What we want you to know about self-damaging behaviours
- The NSW Users and AIDS Association (NUAA) – COVID-19 Resources
- With Respect – COVID-19 and Family Violence for LGBTIQ+ people
- Young Minds – Tips for coping with OCD during the coronavirus pandemic
- Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic) – COVID-19 resources for young people with disability and Resources for young people experiencing family or domestic violence during COVID-19 lockdown
Acknowledging and validating our continued, unique experiences of COVID-19
Over the next few months, every person you meet will have had a different experience of lockdown and being physically and socially distanced from others. A global crisis hits differently for everyone, particularly when complex trauma gets activated.
We hope this series has provided comfort, validation and offered some useful tips and tricks for surviving and managing tough times. Remember, we’re all in the same storm but not in the same boat. It’s going to be important for us to move forward while having deep compassion and understanding for other people and their experiences.
Times are especially tough right now. If you’re finding yourself struggling more than usual, here’s some helplines you can connect with that also have text or online chat options if you need extra privacy or can’t talk over the phone:
1800RESPECT is the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It’s confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Online Counselling: The world’s largest network of licensed, accredited, and experienced counsellors who can help you with a range of issues including depression, anxiety, relationships, trauma, grief, and more.
eheadspace provides free online support and counselling to young people 12-25 and their families and friends. If you’re based in Australia and going through a tough time, eheadspace can help.
Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25.
Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. Their Crisis Support Chat is available between 3pm and midnight, every day around Australia.
QLife provides Australia-wide anonymous, LGBTIQ+ peer support and referral for people wanting to talk about a range of issues including sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships. Their webchat is available between 3pm and midnight, every day around Australia.
Featured image artwork by artist: Nina Sepahpour, https://ninasepahpour.com/
Written by Morgan Cataldo, Senior Manager of Youth Engagement, Shakira Branch, Y-Change Project Administrator and Y-Change Lived Experience Consultants: Janelle Graham, Kaitlyne Bowden, K.C., Kirra-Alyssa Horley, Sarah Santana and Tash Anderson.
Berry Street’s Y-Change initiative is a social and systemic change platform for young people aged 18-30 with lived experiences of socioeconomic disadvantage. As Lived Experience Consultants, the team work to challenge the thinking and practices of wider social systems through their advocacy and systems leadership.