Trigger warning: mentions of suicide, disordered eating, PTSD, alcoholism, and distressing information.
I’ve been in and out of crisis with my mental health since the very start of the pandemic in March. A few friends have been affected similarly. I have complex PTSD and struggled on an almost daily basis before the pandemic, but the lockdowns and other measures and restrictions have caused me no end of distress. I don’t feel this is being properly represented and talked about by government or media. It’s not right that the mentally well speak louder, and invalidate the experiences of the mentally ill with the stiff upper lip mentality.
As one of over 3 million who have been excluded from support due to my self-employed status, I have been struggling financially throughout. In the beginning I managed to have minimal support with Universal Credit, but I had to move out of my flat in London by July as I couldn’t afford it anymore alongside therapy costs. Realising the sad reality that live performance wouldn’t be coming back in 2020, I decided to apply for University as a late applicant. After sleeping in my parents outhouse for a couple months I moved into my Uni accommodation in September. This felt like a positive step, learning something new while waiting for my career to be able to start again, and it gave me some money. However, my student loan only just covers my living costs, not to mention that I was still crawling my way out of debt from the start of the first lockdown. I continued to look for work, as I had been on and off since March.
As an artist I had planned an EP release show back in March, and I had 10 gigs booked over the summer. All of them cancelled/“postponed”. This was a lot of potential profit and potential audience growth lost. This all followed me leaving my job just weeks before the first lockdown because I had done the maths and thought I could live without extra PAYE income for the summer. With suddenly zero income, and a lot of outgoings on rehearsal room hire, equipment, merchandise, and other such costs I suddenly was left with a maxed out overdraft. So fast forward to September, I felt hopeful that this was the right step and that I might have a chance of getting on top of things.
The pressure that the lockdowns and restrictions put on me financially and logistically was extremely taxing on top of how it worsened my mental illness. Feeling stuck/trapped is extremely triggering for me and I have spent months in and out of a state of complete turmoil. I have felt suicidal often, I have relapsed in my alcohol addiction twice, I have been in such severe distress that I was barely eating at one point for a couple of months and lost a lot of weight. A lot of the usual things I reach for to have routine and feel better within myself have not been available to me which is even harder. It’s been impossible to find any support groups that are permitted to meet in my new area, Church is not normal as the restrictions in places of worship are only suited to more traditional Churches. In my Church it is about community, laying of hands to pray for one another, and singing together, but all we can do now is stand as a limited number two metres a part and listen to music because no singing is allowed. During lockdowns all we have is online church. I have felt very disconnected from my loved ones throughout this time, and the inability to be held for the first half of the year was soul destroying. My relationships and support networks have suffered. I have called Samaritans several times in the last year and sometimes have waited up to half an hour to get through. I haven’t been able to see a doctor in person all year, I’ve had to have phone appointments to determine matters of medication (for my acne, which has worsened at varying stages due to stress), and I am only still able to afford my vital therapist because of anonymous donations of money and grants from Help Musicians UK. This new lockdown means there are still no jobs and I have no hope of employment any time soon.
The introduction of a support bubble back in June/July was and is very important and still being able to see my partner and have that connection is needed. I am so tired though of this being held over me as something I should be so grateful for. We are being treated as if support bubbles and “support available” should mean we keep calm and carry on, but for people like myself with complex mental health issues, it is not as simple as this. For my only options in a lockdown to be, stay stuck in four walls most of the time, now doing uni work with little support, go for a run or a walk now and then, and spend time at my partner’s place and have very little to do together.. this isn’t living.
I am completely aware of the risk of covid, the severity of the situation, and the need for action to be taken to prevent the spread and protect the vulnerable. I do not have the answers, I’m not a policy maker or a medical expert. I will however firmly put forward that I do not believe these lockdowns are the right answer. Government has a duty to protect the vulnerable of all kinds and right now those who are mentally and emotionally vulnerable are suffering terribly. I don’t know how I’m still here, but I can’t go on living like this much longer and I am frightened that even if I do, I will lose people I love to suicide before this is over. The government must stop brushing questions aside about mental wellbeing with “there is support available”, its invalidating and ignorant. Go back to the drawing board and figure out how we move forward with a healthier long term approach, or short term there will be another death toll rising.