By Natalie Carmichael

Suffering from mental health issues amidst a global pandemic is the opposite of a peanut butter and jam sandwich – it is a combination that belongs in HELL, next to those jumpers that have shirts attached to them.

Being confined to the same four walls all day can trigger bad habits to creep back in, and before you know it, you’re lying face down on the floor with no effort to even go to the toilet or go downstairs.

Eventually, you get up and move, because there’s something inside us that wants us to live, it’s our body’s natural instinct to keep us alive, so it signals ‘go downstairs your wierdo’ but…

when you’re in the clammy palms of depression, you do not care about these menial everyday tasks, your only focus is to survive.

I spoke to some students about their mental health struggles through lockdown. So now that the fog has cleared and we’ve surfaced out of a pile of flat-pack furniture, empty beer bottles, and un-finished cross stitch, it is time to reflect.

It can be hard when you’re feeling like a slug with sandbags tied to your body, to do the little everyday self-care things like taking meds, drinking water, getting outside, unclenching your jaw, breathing, etc. but it’s in exactly these moments that it matters the most.

Charlotte who was finishing her dissertation in Manchester during lockdown said it was a “very toxic time” for her mentally, like many of us who fell into that dark hole of TikTok and drinking every day, she said, “I definitely ran myself into the ground and it totally could have been avoided.”

These things like mindlessly scrolling on Instagram instead of replying to that email, all feel good in the moment but are doing nothing but harm to our mental health.

Charlotte said her advice to herself in case of a second lockdown is “to make myself a promise to exercise, eat properly, and TALK to people more. I know a lot of people who have really enjoyed lockdown and picked up hobbies and passions again.”

As a result of ‘grind culture’, we often feel guilty for taking a moment to do something ‘just for fun’, because the fear that we will fall behind, or fail constantly nags at us. But hey, everyone is in the same boat, so just relax, if we can’t cut ourselves some slack even when it feels like we’re living in an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, then I’m afraid there’s no hope and all I have to say is ‘blessed be the fruit!’

And this wouldn’t be a self-help list written by yours truly if there wasn’t the mention of the therapeutic purposes of the silver screen – or in this case, your shitty little laptop with blue-tack over the webcam that’s sound is so pathetic you constantly need the subtitles on.

A good movie is like a comfort blanket for the soul; picture this: it’s day 9842 of q-tine, you’re sprawled on the sofa in joggers that have a guacamole stain on the crotch, you reach into a packet of custard creams, your hand claws desperately at nothing but air, the third time this week that’s happened. Pathetic. Before you spiral into some deep self-loathing, you see that Mean Girls is on TV, and as Regina George so wisely said, it’s OK if sweatpants are all that fit you right now!

Dalton, who was quarantining alone for a little while said he ‘really started to lose control’ as he was drinking way too often to numb himself, but what helped him was the escape of watching a movie. He said “Films were my only distraction. The act of watching a film with someone else who is passionate, and I care about was almost like us doing it in the same room at times. It was a freeing feeling.”

Dalton’s advice to himself was to take a step back and appreciate the little things and “write about my feelings, keep a Diary of the days, and let myself read over those special moments so that I could be reminded of what makes life worth living still.”

Likewise, Ellen found solace in the two important men in her life: Captain Morgan and Jeff Goldblum. Remembering an especially hard day she said: “waving at my friend I hadn’t seen in months through a window felt really surreal but at the end of the day settling down to watch a Jeff Goldblum film, any Jeff Goldblum film and rum, made it better.”

At the start, we were scared, felt out of control, we did not want to face the uncomfortable feelings, so we did nothing. Buried our head in the sand, the warm, safe, clean sand, but nothing good happens down there, and being stuck with your head in some sand is no life at all.

The reality is: life goes on – even when life is on a six-month corona break – we still have to keep going.

Just because there was no routine in the traditional sense, that does not mean we can’t make our own. For me, it was switching my mindset from ‘this is the worst thing in the world, I’m so bored’ to ‘let’s embrace this as a time of self-reflection and focus this time on my health and well-being.’

So, brush those biscuit crumbs off your face and pick yourself up; yes, you fell off, flipped and crashed the wagon but, this has been a period of finally figuring stuff out for you. All the frustration and uncertainty has been a lesson for yourself, on exactly how not to live but it was a necessary lesson, you needed to go through it so you can grow from it. Like when you impulsively bleached your fringe because it was trendy and came to the harsh realisation that blonde is not for everyone. But that’s ok, it’s all in the past and we will all laugh at how stupid you looked in years to come, not yet though, it’s too soon.

Cover photo by Yassine Khalfalli on Unsplash