The days of lockdowns ending were always going to be tricky. Is it too soon? Will there be another one (spoiler: probably)? Can we stop with Zoom calls now? When the enemy is an airborne virus, it’s hard to know specifically what we, the general public, should be concerned with. Most of us, it feels like, are twisting and turning in the mirror, trying on “The New Normal” for size (metaphorically speaking, of course).
For those of us with anxiety, all of this is heightened. I was diagnosed with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) during 2020, after the pandemic sharpened my symptoms to the point where I had no choice but to reach out for help, and so, I’ve had little else to do but try to gain some insight about my own neuroses. Luckily, I’m from a little city in the north of England and had access to mental health services from the National Health Service.
I’ve been living with anxiety for a long time now — I was twelve when I received my first diagnosis of depression and anxiety. When you have one mental illness, you are likely to be diagnosed with another one — see, they tend to travel in packs. It’s a buy-one-get-seven-free sort of deal.
You get diagnosed with one and sometimes it morphs into another. So, at the moment, the most prominent form of anxiety for me is currently OCD. For me, OCD is sort of like extreme superstition. Have you ever not wanted to stand on the cracks in the pavement because you need some good luck this week? Imagine your brain doing that all the time, without a break. My brain has convinced me of some utterly bizarre things, from: “you need to check the doors are locked and wash your hands or you’ll never be happy”, to “are you sure you didn’t murder someone, and you’ve just forgotten about it?”.
The underlying theme is that my brain doesn’t really trust itself. I question if the doors are locked because, deep down, there’s an underlying feeling that needs to be resolved. Freud would say it has something to do with my parents, but this ain’t about them. The reality is that, despite my worries, the doors are almost always locked, and in the past, when they haven’t been, I’ve just gone back and locked them, and that’s the end of that.
Hands, Face, Space
So, when the pandemic hit and the government’s advice, resonating alongside my brain, was to “wash your hands or you’ll die”, things got a little tricky. The behaviours usually associated with my anxiety — hand washing, socially isolating, assuming there’s something dangerous out there — suddenly became behaviours that were justified for the betterment of mine and other people’s health. It became difficult to discern between appropriate “we’re-in-a-pandemic behaviour”, and anxious behaviour.
Feeling anxious about catching coronavirus, especially when cases are high, is probably a good thing because it means you’ll be more cautious. In a pandemic, we have every reason to be anxious and to feel scared about what might or might not happen. Now, when lockdown rules are relaxing, despite case figures increasing, anxiety isn’t just reasonable anymore, it is to be expected.
Open All Hours
A lot of people, myself included, have been experiencing “reopening anxiety”, or “re-etntry” syndrome, a new form of anxiety felt by those that feel that the reopening of the world post-pandemic might be too soon and unsafe. This was also discussed by the editor of this blog in an interview in a magazine.
For us, the thought of living our lives like we used to before COVID-19 is just too much. The virus is still out there, and so many of us have gone through monumental changes over the past 18 months. A lot of us have grieved for the world we’ve once known, and we’ve had to completely re-evaluate our ideas about what work means, what productivity looks like, and what connection means. To put it simply, we’re not the same people we were 18 months ago.
I used to hate it when people said, “there’s no point in worrying about stuff because it doesn’t change anything”. The smugness of it all! Really, what I think people mean by this phrase is that things don’t always need to be worried over, and if you can keep a clear head, you’ll actually be able to handle it better. Easier said than done, though, but I digress.
For me, I’ve had to learn the difference between overthinking and critical thinking because the lines between the two haven’t always been clear. Anxious spirals can feel completely rational in the moment. I will give you my perspective: when the anxiety hits, it makes total sense why I’m thinking the way I am. I can’t see the flaws in my logic because the ideas and conclusions I’m jumping to make perfect sense in the distorted reality I’m creating in my head.
The reality is, if you’re anxious, you’re not really reaching a conclusion. You’re reaching a judgement. It’s always “you’re a bad person and no one likes you,” and never “maybe you handled that thing badly and here’s how we can deal with it.”
All that the self-critical voice in my head does is to sit there and criticize me, you know? It never brings anything to the table. It doesn’t help me in any way, it can’t even solve basic puzzles. When it comes to everything re-opening, overthinking and the critical voice in my head tell me it’s bad, bad, bad even worse and I’ll never be able to cope, whereas critical thinking tells me, “You’ve spent a year navigating this sort of thing now, and if you get COVID-19, you will isolate until it goes away”. And hopefully not die.
The doors are almost always locked, and when they’re not, I can just lock them. More importantly, I’m trying not to beat myself up for feeling anxious. It’s fine to feel anxious. To quote Hannah Montana and probably Mother Theresa, “everybody has those days”.