Not so Hippie Kushi: A Moment to Reflect on Mental Health
May 10, 2021
The sea was black like tar and I was struggling to get back onto the beach. The Great White Shark was getting closer, opening its mouth and showing its sharp teeth.
I finally reach the beach but it too was black and slippery. Before I had a chance to crawl out of the void, the shark clamps down onto my legs and drags me back into the void.
Then I wake up….
Not many of you know this but I am actually a qualified psychotherapist. I studied for six years for my BSc honour degree. I did not work as a counsellor for long, hours and hours of listening to others speaking about their mental health issues made me realise I had too many issues of my own to do the job well.
I’m not sorry I did the course though, it has made me a better, more rounded person. I would not be the man I am today with out that challenging course.
The shark dream is a good example of something my counselling training has allowed me to fathom out. All through my troubled childhood I would have the shark dream, time and time again.
I realised not only did the shark represent my violent father but it also represented things not being right, things being uneasy and full of anxiety. The shark was ripping away my happiness; not allowing me to be free.
I have not had that recurring dream for decades…
…but now its back!!!
Over the last few years I had really found myself; really woken up to life. I had felt so happy with my new friends, my new experiences, my travel, my clubbing, my social life, Goa, my art and my writing. I finally felt free.
But just as I woke up to life the world was forced to go to sleep.
Coronavirus hit and my whole world collapsed. At first I though it would all be over by late summer. My blog posts then were upbeat and optimistic. But as time went by and lockdown after lockdown came into force, I started to feel uneasiness in my gut.
My initial unconscious response was to get argumentative with people on Facebook. If they didn’t share my optimistic view of the future, I would bite their head off and swear a lot.
It wasn’t me, a monster had climbed into my soul,
I think the worst thing for me was having all the things I love the most taken away from me. Hugging my friends, dancing at Whirl-y-Gig, singing along at Parlour Party, travelling to Europe and India. Especially India, especially Goa.
When things eased a bit the first time, I started planning my yearly trip to Goa. We were having a gloriously hot summer and I started feeling good again.
Then the second wave came. Summer was cancelled, Christmas was cancelled, Goa was cancelled and all was NOT well.
I am sure at this stage many of you were starting to struggle. Even those who had never really experienced mental health problems were starting to feel…
I felt two strong emotions, frustration and a feeling of being trapped. My shark dream returned and all was not well with the world however much of a brave face I put on it.
It was simple really, I felt like a caged bird.
I think for me this year has been the hardest. It was announced when the vaccines came out that this year would be much better (back to normal even). We could all see a way out of this. But the steps are slow and frustrating and that is only in the UK. Europe has struggled to get its act together over vaccines and Covid variants have caused terrible problems all over the world.
I have set up a business over the last year and continuous problems with deliveries due to Covid issues in India have meant delays of months. Of course that’s not their fault but it just added to my anxiety.
…the internal kettle inside me was beginning to switch on.
I was starting to cry at the simplest things, my emotions were so close to the surface. I also started to find I was getting stressed very easily over even the smallest of things. This would either cause panic attacks or explosions of anger aimed at a friend who has been helping me set up the business.
…my internal kettle was slowly coming to the boil.
At least I had my plans of going to Goa in December, everything will be better by then. Oh no, my beloved India is struck down with a terrible Covid variant and its hell on earth there with bodies being burned in the street. Goa is now looking doubtful.
A couple of weeks ago I had been feeling dizzy and faint all week. My long lost hippie stock from India had finally been delivered to the UK but had been delivered to a factory in Liverpool by mistake!!
Normally I would rationalise this situation and sort it out. But these are not normal times and I ended up having a massive meltdown and was taken by ambulance to A and E at Kingston hospital with a blood pressure reading of 199 over 119! I nearly had a stroke from stress. My internal kettle had well and truly boiled!
Dealing With Depression During COVID-19
“You can manage your depression during the coronavirus pandemic.
The COVID-19 worldwide health crisis is having a major impact on us medically, socially, and economically, with significant disruption to our lives and daily routines. It’s a cause of monumental stress, newfound fear, and anxiety, including:
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of contracting the virus ourselves and in loved ones, with uncertain and potentially fatal outcomes
- Concerns about insufficient access to routine and urgent health care, treatments, procedures, medications, and resources
- Loneliness due to social isolation and physical separation
- Fear and anxiety related to erratic changes in our economy, job losses, and diminishing personal financial resources
The nearly continuous media coverage magnifies our fears, especially when varied, uncertain, rapidly changing, or contradictory information is circulated.
These concerns are more profound in those who have depression or bipolar disorder. Most of the life changes that accompany the COVID-19 crisis have a negative effect on depression, our ability to manage it, and the stabilizing factors in our lives that support our emotional health. They include:
- Social isolation with limited in-person human contact, including mental health clinicians and peer support groups
- Lack of routine, structure, and purpose in the endless days of confinement
- Variations in routine sleep, dietary and exercise habits
- New sources of major stress, uncertainty, and anxiety
Dealing with this pandemic requires enormous effort by those who already have a mood disorder diagnosis and are in treatment, by the undiagnosed who are without treatment, and by those experiencing first-time depression (due to COVID-related stressors) who lack the skills to manage their illness.
You might wonder how to care for yourself during this self-isolation and/or quarantine period to effectively manage your depression and avoid recurrence? Here are some ways to handle symptoms of depression and anxiety during this stressful time.
Accept and adapt. Those who accept the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and adapt to their new circumstances, while continuing with the things in life that provide meaning and purpose, have a greater chance of maintaining emotional stability.
Stay busy. Predictable and regular daily routines help to keep our body’s internal clock running smoothly, which is important to our wellbeing. Having structure, meaning, and purpose is key. Try to keep up with your regular family, household, personal care, and work routines and responsibilities.
Connect . Make an effort to reach out to others, by phone or video conferencing (FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, etc.). Be creative and plan special activities, like playing a musical instrument or board game with friends over social media.
Use coping strategies : Humor, hobbies, pets, music, and exercise all help in managing depression. Include a relaxation routine or yoga (online or on your own) and pleasurable moments. Try to do things with family at home or with friends virtually, such as games, exercise, music, funny movies, yardwork, or cooking and baking.
Care for yourself. Attend to your personal care: shower and get dressed in clean clothes instead of staying in your PJ’s or sweats all day.
Get regular sleep. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, maintaining a steady sleep pattern. Staying up late or having fragmented, erratic sleep will only worsen depression symptoms. Avoid daytime naps—they interfere with nighttime sleep.
Feed your body; Feed your brain. Your brain needs fuel to operate. Eat three healthy meals at the same time each day instead of snacking or grazing all day long. This will stabilize your blood sugar, which then has a positive impact on mood and brain functioning. Ideally, enjoy your meals with another person, even if it’s virtually or on social media. Take your prescribed medications—getting a 90-day supply will decrease your anxiety about running out. Make an effort to avoid or limit alcohol, street drugs, tobacco, and excess caffeine.
Move more, sit less. Exercise is an excellent way to maintain mental and physical health. Try to stay physically active (as possible) and spend some time outdoors each day getting fresh air.
Home environment and activities: Keep your home environment organized, tidy, and clean. Clutter can cause you to feel uneasy and lethargic. Do the laundry, fold it, and even bring out the iron, which I’m told is a soothing ritual for some!
Stay informed. Learn about the coronavirus and its complications but limit your news exposure to one brief period twice a day, not at bedtime, to keep current in this rapidly changing environment. Get accurate facts from reliable sources and be wary of versions posted online or on social media.
Managing your illness. Watch for worsening symptoms of depression. Mindfulness techniques that focus on the present and CBT strategies designed to address negative and distorted thoughts, inaccurate beliefs, and unhelpful behaviors, often improve depression symptoms. Reach out to others through online support groups and chat rooms. DBSA and NAMI, national mental health support, and educational organizations with local chapters, have recently been facilitating groups online and through Zoom.
If you have an established mood disorder diagnosis, stay in regular touch with your mental health treatment team, ideally through virtual appointments (telemedicine) on a computer or by telephone. If depression is a new experience for you and/or you don’t have a mental health clinician, contact your family doctor for evaluation and treatment recommendations.
If you’re in crisis or having a mental health emergency, contact your provider directly. He or she will evaluate your current symptoms and determine the best course of action. If you don’t have a PCP or mental health clinician, call your hospital’s Department of Psychiatry or Emergency Department to see if they have established an outpatient urgent care clinic where you can be seen and evaluated. If you are suicidal, call your provider or 9-1-1 immediately for assessment and treatment or go to the ER.
Having depression does not mean that you will be unable to manage the stressors of COVID-19. Following the strategies I have outlined will enable you to cope more effectively and bounce back more readily from the medical, social, and economic threats of the COVID-19 experience.
This has really been an eye opener for me; a wake up call…look after your mental health. But before you look after it, you need to recognise it, explore what’s going on and think about what is best for you to deal with the situation.
I had the idea for this post after speaking on Facebook with a whirly friend. I was really honest about what had been going on for me and it felt good. Don’t shy away from your mental health issues, own them and explore what to do. This pandemic has been hard on all of us.
I’m starting group therapy with MIND in a couple of weeks and I’m also starting meditation sessions after a recommendation from a friend.
Get help if you need it, its nothing to be ashamed off, this last year has been fucking hard!
It helps me to think about what’s really important in my life. My friends, my writing, my Facebook community, my art and most of all travel.
We are starting to be able to socialise with friends again and clubs and festivals are not far behind.
It still depresses me not being able to travel to where I want and I get quite sad about it but thats why I’m seeking help.
I love India and I wish it well with its journey out of their Covid hell. I want to eventually explore as much as I can of that beautiful country; and as soon as I can I will return to the beaches of Goa. If not this year, then next for longer and longer periods.
If I do have to spend another winter in the UK I know I will really struggle but that is what my counselling is there for. If you are feeling you are struggling with your mental health, admit it and get help; its no biggy.
At the end of the day I just want to be a happy old hippie living in India. I will get there one day and all this Covid horror will be behind us…