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Navigating OCD during the COVID-19 lockdown - an update

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Navigating OCD during the COVID-19 lockdown - an update

In SANE's COVID-19 mental health series, SANE staffer, Bronwyn reflects on life during the Melbourne lockdown and shares ways in which she is navigating her way through these challenging times.

Back in March 2020, I wrote a piece describing what it was like to navigate life during the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, alongside my longstanding diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

I decided to write a follow-up, to share my thoughts about how we’ve all banded together to get through the last twelve months, and also because I found it quite cathartic to get all of this down on paper.

I hope that my words resonate with some of you, or maybe you felt the exact opposite of how I did during the lockdown. Either way, we’re all human with valid fears, anxieties and troubles – and not a single person’s experience is lesser than anybody else’s.


LIVING IN LOCKDOWN

I live in Melbourne, so to say it has been challenging for all those who lived through the fifteen-week, stage four lockdown is an understatement.

We were essentially restricted to a 5km radius from our homes, we had to wear masks even when exercising, and for so many families, the juggle of schooling kids at home while holding down a job was beyond difficult.

What was hard, and I mean REALLY hard for so many of us was the isolation. The separation from our friends and family. Sure, we have all got Zoom or Skype, but it is not the same.

Personally, I am awfully close to my immediate family. We would see each other every couple of weeks pre-COVID, and the sudden cessation of being able to meet halfway between our homes and go for a walk or drop in at mum’s house for a coffee was jarring.

My five-year-old son missed his grandparents, and they pined for him. I missed seeing my sister and my rapidly growing nephew who was born mere months before this mess kicked off.

I am certain all these feelings will be familiar to so many, I doubt there is a single person who hasn’t felt the impact of this virus in some way.

I heard stories of colleagues who had to wish their parents a happy birthday through the window of an aged care facility.

A former workmate who I care for dearly is still ‘trapped’ in the UK after visiting in January 2020 for a wedding. Twelve months on, she doesn’t think she’ll be coming home anytime soon.

Babies have been born that we weren’t able to meet until recently. I had a friend suffer the loss of a pregnancy and was unable to seek the physical comfort of her own mothers’ arms during one of the most challenging periods of her life.

Then there are those who did not make it out the other side, and the families who had to say their goodbyes in such a way that barely acknowledged, let alone celebrated the lives of those they loved.

2020 was, in summary – A LOT.

OCD AND ANXIETY FLARE UP

Back in March, I described some of the ways I found myself coping with lockdown and other restrictions. Exercise, being creative, taking my medication, checking in with my psychologist all helped me, and I’m still doing all of these things – because they work for me.

This was all well and good. Until around October. When I lost it.

My anxiety started peaking. All the usual signs were there. I stopped eating, was running on about four hours sleep and withdrew from those around me.

Why, after cruising along for almost five months in lockdown was I now starting to crack? After all, restrictions were supposed to be easing. I’d be able to start seeing my friends and family again, head back to the gym, visit the playground with my son and swing past our favourite café on the way home for a dine-in coffee.

What was I anxious about? Was my anxiety the stock-standard OCD flare-up? Or was it something greater?

I am the first to admit I tend to get lost seeking the cause of my anxious state, rather than simply acknowledging the feelings and dealing with them. ‘Riding the wave’ as they say.

It’s January, and I’m still feeling wound tight. I’m sorry to say,  but I’m still working through why my anxiety decided to come-a-knocking despite impending ‘freedom’ from lockdown.

Right now, I’m leaning toward the absolute dread of a third wave of COVID-19 in Melbourne and the fear of a stage-four lockdown being a possibility as the primary cause of my anxiety. I take some comfort in the fact I am not alone in this fear – dare I say we’d be foolish not to be extra cautious.

My OCD symptoms are relatively under control, something that I certainly praise my psychologist for helping me with (I cannot overstate how useful Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be).

The most empowering thing I’ve realised is to start accepting that it’s ok to feel sad. To feel anxious. To feel HOWEVER you’re feeling. I know I’m doing all the right things to keep myself on an even keel, but sometimes that won’t be enough. And that’s ok.

I suppose this piece is a bit of an anti-climax. Back in March I was feeling fine, relatively optimistic about the state of things, and almost twelve months later I’m feeling less fine, less optimistic but that’s ok. We’ve all been through A LOT.

GETTING THROUGH IT

So, here’s the part where I dole out a bunch of advice about what helps me – and no, I don’t always practice what I preach...

All we can do is work through each bout of anxiety, each OCD flare-up, and whatever else life hurls our way. Honestly, the old cliché ‘take each day as it comes’ rings so very true when you’re living the anxiety life.

Foster relationships with people you can trust to talk to about these things. If this is by jumping online and chatting with members of the SANE Forum, meeting with your psychologist or having a good cry with your best friend – make time to do these things.

Acknowledge your feelings. It’s a true skill to acknowledge and release negative and intrusive thoughts. Heck, I’m still learning how to do this and I’ve been working on managing my diagnosis for fifteen years.

And remember… there is nothing wrong with feeling your feelings. It’s ok to sit with it and feel like crap while you muster the strength to deal with whatever it is you need to deal with.

You’re tougher than you think, but you don’t have to BE tough.

NOTE: Back in March I told you all to go and get yourselves an adult colouring book. I’m telling you again. Go and buy an adult colouring book. I’ve also discovered the joy (and frustration) of jigsaw puzzles. Get yourself a 1000-piece puzzle and go at it.

This is my experience, and of course, others living with OCD and/or other anxiety disorders may have an entirely different take on the current situation. There is no right or wrong way to handle isolation and enormous changes to your daily routine, but what you can do is check-in with each other and know that there are services available to assist you or those you care about. Our SANE Forums are online 24/7, and our Help Centre is open for you to call from 10am-10pm, Monday – Friday.

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