Blog | tried and tested strategies

8th May 2020

Hear from Aileen about how she's been looking after her mental health during coronavirus. Aileen experiences bipolar and is a SAMH media volunteer.

My initial reaction to lockdown was one of cautious optimism. Strange, I know, but I’ve never been a party animal. I’m happiest at home doing my own thing and seeing people only when I want to. Lockdown was of course going to limit visits to family, curtail my voluntary work and stop my therapeutic (and expensive) shopping trips to garden centres, but I reckoned I could cope; perhaps even thrive in my own wee world.

Hardly surprisingly for someone with bipolar, my mood changed almost overnight and I switched to rampant pessimism as I realised that I CANNOT visit family, I CANNOT do my voluntary work and I CANNOT browse around the garden centres. Far more difficult than these actual limitations, was the sudden realisation that I CANNOT control this thing that has taken away my freedom.

The reality is that none of us can control the course of this virus, but we can take control of our reactions to it. Never before have I been so thankful to ‘suffer’ from bipolar. Well, let me qualify that. Over the last 20 years I have built up a good armoury of coping strategies to help get me through difficult times and I have unleashed them all to help me wage this current war. Instead of focussing on what I CANNOT do, I am turning my attention to what I CAN and MUST do.

I must maintain a ROUTINE. It would be all too easy to fall into ‘holiday’ mode and ignore the clock, but I know that in order to keep well, I must get up, get dressed, eat regularly, take my medication and have adequate sleep. I would be lying if I said I stick to a rigid routine and that I am up at 8am every morning, but I do try!  

I must keep PHYSICALLY ACTIVE. Now, when it comes to exercise, I am not a runner, a cyclist, a walker or a gym goer – but I do potter away (and sometimes even dig!) in my garden and what better way to burn up a sweat without even noticing the time go by. With the better weather, the garden shed even got a much needed lick of paint and what a sense of achievement when that was done.

I must keep TALKING. Such unpredictable times can be a fertile breeding ground for dark thoughts which can very quickly take root, so as soon as I feel the fear creeping in, I make sure I talk about it. It helps me to know that it is completely normal to be anxious at the moment.

I must keep LAUGHING. I have always used humour both to hide behind in difficult times but also as a mechanism for helping people to understand about mental illness. I speak with my elderly mother every day on the phone and what started as a conscious effort on my part to keep her spirits up, has developed into a regular chortling session with a lot of black humour and I gain just as much out of it as she does.

I must keep LEARNING. Even although I have retired from Education, I still have a thirst for knowledge. Lockdown is in fact a perfect time to study and I am racing through the online course I had already started.

I must keep HELPING OTHERS. Since I retired, my volunteering has been important to me. I get a real sense of achievement helping others and of course learning new skills. Fortunately, with just a few adjustments, I have been able to continue to do this via telephone and email. It is especially good at the moment to feel that I can make a difference.

The current situation is of course difficult for everyone, but perhaps, just perhaps…those of us who have already grappled with mental health issues are better placed to remain mentally healthy in these times. Now, who would have thought that?!

Thanks to Aileen for sharing what works for her when it comes to looking after her wellbeing right now. If you’d like more information about looking after your mental health during coronavirus visit our information hub. You can also get in touch with the SAMH Information Service