Anxiety, pandemics, and feeling useless

I’m nearly six months into my new job, in an organisation that is at the forefront (a “First responder”) of the global pandemic we are now living through.

Full disclosure: I’m not one of the people that’s working on COVID-19. When the first call came for volunteers the required hours were difficult to fit around a partner who does shift work, and the needs of children. I also felt that I wasn’t quite ready to get stuck in with the level and complexity of work that was expected. Instead, I’m one of the ‘business of usual’ people, picking up the everyday work, but that’s dried up a bit (a lot) as efforts are rightly focused elsewhere. feel a bit useless, to be perfectly honest. I’m told that things will change and that more of us will likely be pulled in to support those working on COVID. I’m working at home, feeling a bit disconnected (aren’t we all?), and wishing I could do more. I’ve volunteered for a couple of external things, but they’re so overwhelmed with offers of help that I’m not needed. I like to feel useful, to have focus, to work on definable tasks and to tick things off lists. I have none of that right now.

I’m on Day 11 of social distancing and finding it a struggle. I last felt like this in 2016 when I had the breakdown. At least back then I could still live a relatively normal life e.g. have therapy, interact with people that I didn’t live with in shops and cafes, have haircuts, get my eyebrows threaded, smell candles in John Lewis, not be a Richard Osman distance away from another person. Also, I was the only person I knew that felt like the world was ending. Now we all feel like that to some degree. I feel exhausted all the time, even though I’m sleeping reasonably well, I have no motivation or energy to do anything. I start a task and struggle to complete it. I live in complete terror that someone I love will die. I’m worried that someone (no-one specific) I severely dislike will die. I don’t want anyone to die.

This has replaced the horrific, intrusive scenario that barged into my head at bedtime eighteen months ago and has prevented me from getting to sleep pretty much every night since. It started as a sliver of a thought and has developed into a densely plotted drama that leads to me clutching the bed, heart racing, trying to remember my “I am safe, this can’t happen, I am ok” mantra.

I’m one of the lucky ones. My employer has said that we can focus on our families and home life when we need to. I can still go out once a day for a run or walk (I’m opting for the former at the moment.) The weather is lovely. None of us have underlying health conditions. Our incomes have not been affected. The girls are old enough to understand what’s happening and are self-sufficient in terms of cracking on with their school work from home. Their work ethic puts me to shame. I think that without having the girls to focus on I’d be in a mess. I’m finding it hard to get up in the morning but knowing that they have school work to do and that I need to be there for them gives me a sense of purpose.

I’ve adjusted my ‘soft strategies’ for coping with anxiety. The strategies that currently work for me are: tracking planes on Flight Radar 24, watching old series of SAS: Who Dares Wins, watching iRacing on Twitch (I’m *far* too old to have a Twitch account, but there we are), taking part in the live PE workouts in the morning with the girls (and my sister via Zoom), video calls with my family, the COVID-19 Whatsapp group for my neighbourhood (we all did the NHS clap thing last night and it was *so* cheering to be part of), reading Tom Clancy novels (I hate myself), listening to my records, going for runs and taking photos early in the morning, doing Wii Fit, and painting my nails in the most cheerful colours in my collection.

At the weekend my friend sent one of my favourite quotes to me: “Everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end”. It’s a sentiment I’ve held on to during some really dark times. This *will* end. We don’t know when, but it will. Yesterday a dress I’d ordered was delivered. Buying a new dress during a time when I’m essentially living in pyjamas feels silly, but I needed to do something normal. I’ve decided that I will wear it at the first opportunity I get when all of this is over.

In the meantime, please stay safe, stay well, and stay at home. I can’t bear the thought of losing anyone. Even people that I think are complete bellends.

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