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The problem is, so many of my usual self-care strategies aren't on the table now. Because we're being encouraged to self-isolate. Which, against the repeated recommendations of my psychologist, I was already doing.
Samuel Leighton-Dore

13 Mar 2020 - 1:11 PM  UPDATED 13 Mar 2020 - 1:11 PM

I was already at crisis point before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Association this week.

For the past month I've been seeing a psychologist weekly, making expensive appointments with a psychiatrist to have my anti-depressants reviewed, seeing the local GP and ordering blood tests to ensure that depleted iron levels weren't contributing to my overwhelming sense of listlessness. These steps have all been part of what I like to call my 'mental health crisis procedure'; steps taken with the gear firmly in autopilot, anchored deep in muscle memory, the accumulation of 25 years living with mental illness (I was pretty happy until the age of 4).

The problem is, so many of my usual self-care strategies aren't on the table now. Because we're being encouraged to self-isolate. Which, against the repeated recommendations of my psychologist, I was already doing.

This is an issue that I suspect will become more pronounced over the coming weeks; those who desperately need routine and socialising might - quietly - withdraw further into their own homes and heads.

You see, once I've averted 'crisis point', my mental health routine usually involves surrounding myself with people I care about, leaving the house, disengaging from the news cycle, minimising time spent on social media, establishing a routine, going to the gym - doing things that force me to engage with my community and feel part of a greater 'whole'.

With growing fears around the spread of COVID-19, I'm now left in the curious position of bunkering down with my mental illness. I've frozen my gym membership, having spent one anxiety-inducing workout dodging an unashamed cough-and-grabber. I've cancelled social engagements, like catching up with a close friend to see some local drag performers. Social media has become my main source of connection, but with it has come hysteria and an unrelenting rollout of bad news. Events I had planned for later in the year, things I've held onto, looked forward to, are all being cancelled; sensible and necessary, yes - but a blow to those pesky serotonin levels nonetheless. 

As the scale of the coronavirus rapidly presents itself - with an entire season of NBA being suspended, concerts being cancelled, international travel being restricted - there's quite rightly been a focus on the elderly and those with compromised autoimmune systems. Because they are, as medical professionals attest, most at risk.

But I hope we don't forget those who are less likely to vocalise their need for help; those who were already struggling internally before the world gave them another reason to.

For those like me, Beyond Blue has shared some helpful strategies. Tips include trying to maintain a healthy perspective, finding a balance with media coverage, accessing good information, having open conversations with young people, and seeking support - all good ideas, but, in my case, increasingly difficult to action.

Because I'm now burning the anxiety and depression candle from both ends. The irrational side of my brain, the side I'm forced to overcome whenever I spiral, has now been joined in fear, sadness and frustration by my rational mind; the one I normally depend on to instil calm; the one that is now reading all the information and drawing quite unsettling conclusions.

Living on the Gold Coast, in what feels like Australia's emerging epicentre of COVID-19 outbreaks following the news of Tom Hanks contracting Coronavirus, I will be practising social distancing over the coming weeks and months.

The problem is, I already was.

The Beyond Blue Support Service offers short term counselling and referrals by phone and webchat on 1300 22 4636.

You can find more information about wellbeing, quarantine and managing self-isolation here.

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