By Ellie Spenceley, Second Year, English
The Croft // This year has been hard for us all. Having to adapt to a completely new normality has proven to be uncomfortable, difficult and oftentimes incredibly lonely. Ellie Spenceley shares her experience with depression through the recent lockdown.
It isn’t often that we are made acutely aware of just how easy it is for the things we take for granted to be taken away. Pastimes that we previously thought were irrevocably ours, like socialising in large groups, drinking and clubbing past 10pm, eating in restaurants, and seeing our loved ones, have been taken away from us and we have been locked inside, feeling like the key has been thrown away.
Maintaining energy and momentum while stuck sitting alone in our bedrooms, alternating between Zoom, Blackboard, and TikTok, has proven challenging for even the most positive individuals among us. For those with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders, demoralising feelings like these tend to be experienced even more intensely.
As students, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with your work and we have all experienced feelings of demotivation at some point or another. Taking leisurely breaks is key when studying, but when your learning environment has migrated to the place where you usually relax, it can be difficult to commit yourself fully to either mindset.
As someone who struggles with depression, assimilating to this new world has proven tiring, draining and incredibly difficult, placing an additional burden onto a mind already struggling with mental health concerns.
Having also dealt with disordered eating in the past, and still presently experiencing negative body image, it has been uncomfortable having to accept the fact that I have gained weight as a result of my ability to be physically active being largely inhibited, as well as weight gain being a common side effect of the medication I am currently being prescribed.
It often feels to me like all the days are blurring into one as there is so little to do
Living day to day with depression can be a struggle at the best of times, so in our current circumstances, it is no surprise that it can feel debilitating. In lockdown, it often feels to me like all the days are blurring into one as there is so little to do other than sleep, wake up, study and sleep.
Symptoms of depression such as lethargy, chronic fatigue, hopelessness, lack of energy and general low mood thrive in these conditions – having little to distinguish one day from the next, and with so much time alone with yourself and your thoughts, it is incredibly easy to slip into a depressive episode and neglect your wellbeing, with there being little incentive to look after it.
My mind tends to feel disillusioned by life even when nothing in it is necessarily going ‘wrong’, so living through a global pandemic that has changed the way we are currently able to exist has inevitably caused even a greater strain. During the first lockdown, I found opening the blinds in the morning to let in sunlight to be of some help, but now we are approaching winter, even the weather can’t help me – instead, it often adds to my feelings of gloom.
It is so easy to assume that what someone posts on social media is their ultimate reality
I want to be candid about my experiences with depression; a principle that I am currently choosing to live by advocates that vulnerability and openness are key if we are to break down social stigmas surrounding mental health and wellbeing.
In the age of social media, it is so easy to assume that what someone posts on social media is their ultimate reality. I know I’m capable of presenting a version of myself that is refined, put together and productive, even when I am feeling incredibly low.
On World Mental Health Day this year, I posted a ‘good’ selfie of myself, followed by five photos of myself I’d taken when I was crying, or generally feeling depressed and not my best self, to show that for every smile there are often many unseen tears.
It is with respect to this sentiment that I want to paint a truthful picture of how I have experienced depression during the pandemic/lockdown: I have cried for hours staring at my wall, I have found it difficult to get out of bed before 3pm some days, I have eaten too much or not at all, I have felt hopeless and alone, I have had days or even weeks where I have felt like I barely have the energy to answer an email, I have questioned how I could have ever felt a good feeling when I felt so low in the present moment. I have neglected my physical health, drank too much coffee, drank too much alcohol, fallen weeks behind on course reading, and felt completely out of touch with reality.
I’ve had many good days, and on those days, I often shame myself into thinking that I’m lying about being depressed, but I know I’m not. I also know I’m not alone in these feelings, especially among university student populations across the UK.
Attempting to find a sense of purpose whilst staring at the same four walls every day with little to no social contact has proven a momentous task for me, but I am trying my best to separate what is true from what my mind tries to convince me is true. I often operate on an all or nothing mentality, either feeling on top of the world and capable of accomplishing everything I could ever dream of, or drained and lifeless and incapable of living up to my potential in any way, shape or form.
Lockdown, and the COVID-19 pandemic in general, providing so much space for overthinking, has often seemed to strengthen these tendencies. It has also, however, been the case for me that all this extra free time has given me the space to contemplate what coping strategies work best for me, what mental blocks I need to heal and how I can go about making positive practical changes for my own sake.
Lockdown has allowed me to reflect on what things in my life bring me joy
Spending so much time alone, without distractions in their conventional sense, has forced me to come to terms with the fact that I am always with myself before I am with other people (and even when I am with other people, I’m still primarily with myself). I have recognised the imperative need to cultivate a positive internal world.
Whilst experiencing depression in lockdown has not been easy, I cannot say the experience has been all bad. There have been some elements of this new life that have taught me things about myself and allowed me to grow as an individual. Lockdown, when I am feeling in a more stable state of mind, has allowed me to reflect on what things in my life bring me joy, and how I can go about integrating more of those things into my life.
I also currently volunteer on the committee of the SU’s Wellbeing Network and have been able to operate from home as part of a team passionate about improving mental health services across the university. This has been incredibly rewarding and has provided me with more awareness of my own mental state and my passion for facilitating social support networks for people who have struggles similar in some way to my own.
Having also come back to my family home and going ‘back to basics’, if you will, I have been forced to stress to myself the importance of basic self-care that I can often neglect when in the midst of a depressive episode; things as simple as staying hydrated, eating well, getting enough sleep, reaching out to friends and taking time to self-soothe through doing something like winding down by watching a movie or having a long relaxing shower.
Living with depression in the midst of a global pandemic is incredibly difficult, but I can say I am trying to do the best I can each and every day. We all owe it to ourselves to feel proud of the ways we have adapted to a completely unprecedented situation, whatever that looks like for you.
Featured image: Epigram / Alice Proctor
If you're struggling with your mental health, here are a few resources that may be of help:
Bristol Nightline 01179 266266 (term-time only)
Vitaminds NHS mental health service
Samaritans 116 123