How self-isolation has evened the playing field for people with severe mental illnesses

By Erica Crompton

Today, as coronavirus sweeps across the globe, everyone is staying at home and it feels like the playing field has evened out for people with severe mental illness (as well as the elderly and disabled). It’s made hermits of all of us.

There are various things I do in my self-imposed exile that helps keep me sane. Perhaps the biggest blessings in my stay-at-home life are my two cats, Caspar and Winter. I adopted them over a year ago and wouldn’t be without them today. They provide much needed company without the human complications (or viruses). I rely on my cats for cuddles and touch but also a sense of routine with feeding and watering them and keeping their litter tray clean.

Like many people I’d prefer not to be glued to my phone or social media as ironically it only makes me feel anti-social. But online friendships are key during periods of solitude. To keep conversations as real as possible, I use headphones to make calls to friends so I can leave my hands free to smoke, or drink tea, as you would in a real-life social situation. I have quite a few close friends and my family who I speak to on the phone.

Shopping online is another favourite indoor activity and I’ve spend a lot of time looking for the perfect artwork, frame or rug for my home. I love the cottage I live in and have spent time refurbishing it. If I find the day free I’ll spend some time cleaning or changing things around. I’ll do painting or put up a new picture. Distracting myself with chores such as hoovering is good psychical activity and after you reap the rewards looking at your super cute, clean abode.

Home chores extend to gardening, too. I have a small, leafy forecourt with table and chairs and a shared backyard. Often a spare yet sunny day can be spent weeding or tidying up the outdoors space. I volunteered on a forensic ward once and gardening was used for therapy there too. A patient told me that plants don’t judge you.

Sometimes I go for a walk outside. Currently I walk 2 metres around others, but there are so few people outside. Each day, social distancing or not, I use a five mile walk to get some fresh air and exercise and just to feel like I’ve been somewhere while working from home.

As a person working hard to starve off ‘the mentals’ and stay sane every day, self-exiling gives me time to recover from life’s ups and downs, and reflect how to do better next time. For me it’s a strategy against the everyday stresses many take for granted such as large gatherings, train journeys and loud nights out. Working-from-home cuts out a lot of these strains. Now everyone is staying at home and it feels like the playing field has evened out. I hope others will find in their own isolation time to heal from past stresses as well as invest in themselves and their living spaces.

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