‘Freedom Day’: Liberating? Or challenging?

16/07/2021

To say the last 18 months have been different would be an understatement. There’s no doubt about that. Restrictions, lockdowns and the fear of contracting Covid-19 have come together to create the perfect storm for a lot of us living with a mental illness. And just as we seemed to be settling into a new way of living, we’re now being asked to change back to the way everything once was. July 19 is being lauded as ‘Freedom Day’, but how liberating will it be for those of us that like routine, and struggle with change? 52-year-old Julian experiences depression, OCD and anxiety. Here’s his thoughts.

For years, I’ve faced a daily struggle with living as normal a life as possible whilst battling with depression, OCD and anxiety. I found ways of doing this. Not always successfully, though. At times, my mental illnesses took over to the extent that I shut down and had to reset. Depressive episodes and periods of extreme anxiety meant a life of pain, of uncertainty, of despair. But I found ways of coping as best I could. Then came Covid and lockdown.

I was never scared of Covid. Somehow, I always had confidence in my ability and strength to withstand it, should it come my way.

  • What did frighten me – what has always frightened me – was the change Covid brought to society. To our structures and practices.

What did frighten me – what has always frightened me – was the change Covid brought to society. To our structures and practices. To our thinking and our inclinations. To the way we interact and the way we view our fellow citizens. In short, to our entire way of living. To the fabric of our very existence.

The empty shops. The empty businesses. The empty streets. The change in people’s behaviour. The social distancing. The masks. The queuing. The new procedures. Using hand sanitisers and sprays. Using virtual means to keep in touch and carry on with work. A greater reliance on technology. But more than anything, having to readapt mentally as well as in deed and behaviour.

  • Because change itself is, for me, sometimes a terrifying prospect. Any change.

Because change itself is, for me, sometimes a terrifying prospect. Any change.

The new situation brought with it so many demands. I confused people avoiding me through social distancing with people being able, somehow, to see the mental illness within me and becoming wary and even fearful of me as a person. I was forever scared of doing something wrong and of being challenged. Wearing a mask at times induced panic, but the prospect of not wearing it and being more visible was worse. I kept asking myself questions. I wanted certainty. I wanted understanding. I wanted to be firm and clear in my own mind. The more I sought this, the crazier everything seemed to be. Trying to rationalise things can be so difficult when you catastrophise everything and have little self-confidence or perspective.

But then the tension within me began to ease. You see, I’d readjusted. It had taken some time. But it had happened. I’d not only got used to the ‘new normal’, I’d internalised it. I’d become its willing devotee. In so many ways, I found it easier. I just had to do what someone else – the government, the medical experts – told me to do. No deliberating. No decision-making. No ruminating.

Please don’t get me wrong. I didn’t welcome the fact that the world was in the grip of a pandemic not seen for many a year. That people were dying and suffering. That loss was becoming a factor of everyday living. I mourned and worried as much as anyone else. But mentally, I had not only heeded advice and guidance. I had experienced it. I had allowed myself to do so. I had pushed myself to learn and to readjust.

  • A careful and calculated return. But a return nonetheless. Just as I had begun to accept the new arrangements, they were relaxing.

Now though, I’ve been told that lockdown is easing. That we, as a society, could begin to think of a return. A careful and calculated return. But a return nonetheless. Just as I had begun to accept the new arrangements, they were relaxing. I was ‘expected’, I felt, to feel relief, to be pleased. To be joyful even. I was being asked to regain what I had had before it all started. Surely this was what we all wanted? Surely no-one would be reluctant to embrace the re-emergence of life as we had known it previously?

But that wasn’t me. It still isn’t me. The uncertainties began to confuse a mind that is so fixed in many fundamental ways. My mind. Everything was happening too quickly. Social expectation of willingness and happiness weighed heavy within my head. I felt the insistence of having to make decisions. Should I go with it? Or should I maintain my isolated existence, a state of affairs that actually is more natural, more convergent with my depression, OCD and anxiety?

I have found myself yearning for solitude and indeed for silence. At times, I've been afraid of people and my ability to interact in normal everyday ways. Silence is peace. It calms and soothes. It makes no demands. It allows me the freedom I crave from the symptoms of my mental illness, from the prison and fortress I have built around me, that protects me from the ravages of life. In many ways I had that during the lockdown. It came instinctively to me. It felt right. It felt safe.

  • The challenge of course is to make that readjustment once more. I will do it. I have to do it.

The challenge of course is to make that readjustment once more. I will do it. I have to do it. To relent and to succumb is to become a permanent slave to my health and to my poor, battered, state of mind. I need to be brave. And I will be so. I need to push the boundaries, to break the barriers. And I will do so. It is within me. I know that. I just have to find it. Focus. Be determined. Accept that setbacks will come. But remain alive in my own way. Remain a person. A human being that has ambitions, plans and dreams. Someone that gives. Someone that has something to offer. Someone that is valued and accepted as being me.

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