wellness

"It was like coming up for air too fast": I thought I was fine in lockdown. Then we came out of it.

This post discusses depression and may be triggering for some readers.

I thought I was killing it in lockdown (mentally). I was diagnosed with depression earlier this year so went into it aware of my triggers and had my safety nets in place: I was seeing a psychologist regularly (which became via Zoom), my antidepressant medication had found its rhythm, I was exercising. 

I'm a freelance worker and so I can be flexible. My husband is on Zoom calls 10 hours a day and is not. I freely took on the mental and physical load of the home learning and all the needs of the family. 

We developed our new locked down routine which involved being at various skate parks most of the day in between some hair-pulling worthy home learning with my nine and six-year-old. 

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At the time, I recall describing myself to my psychologist as being in 'survival mode'. 

I could recognise I was putting everyone else’s needs first with enthusiasm, because I felt that was what was needed. For the family, for the greater good. 

As an extrovert, I missed social contact, but I knew it was temporary.

I had moments of reflective sadness at feeling my independence slip away. But I was always grateful that we could lean in on my husband’s income, that just like after the first lockdown my work would pick up again. I also felt very fortunate that I wasn’t enduring the impossible juggle of two parents working full time and home learning.

"I could recognise I was putting everyone else’s needs first with enthusiasm, because I felt that was what was needed." Image: Supplied. 

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Then came 'the fall' and I mean that literally and figuratively. 

About three months ago I was running (in socks, did I never listen as a kid about running in socks?!) and I slipped on a high step and landed with a very heavy thud onto concrete. Now I understand why 'a fall' can be fatal the older you get. Because at the ripe old age of 38 it knocked me off my feet and out of action until recently.

I stopped exercising. I couldn't walk more than 50 metres for a couple of weeks. I still haven't got back to running without the mass of congealed blood on my thigh bone feeling like I'm being stabbed every time my body has any impact with the ground. 

"I stopped exercising. I couldn't walk more than 50 metres for a couple of weeks." Image: Supplied. 

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Still, I thought I was doing okay. 

When both kids were finally back at school I was elated, relieved, and celebrated. But then I felt myself slipping, and I crashed. Most of NSW was vaccinated, the daily press conferences went away and COVID didn't feel like an imminent fatal threat anymore. 

My fight or flight had been deactivated for the first time in months. I began to reflect on the stress of what had just been our reality for four months and I went into what I call 'blinds down, doona up mode'.

A friend of mine from Melbourne (who have all been through many more bouts of this than us) recently described it as like when a diver comes up for air too quickly and gets decompression sickness. 

"As an extrovert I missed social contact, but I knew it was temporary." Image: Supplied. 

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Coming out of lockdown felt like it happened overnight. I felt like I had Stockholm Syndrome, having got so used to my 'new normal'. It felt strange being allowed out of our invisible cage. 

I understood reasonably why my mood was deeply impacted. Anyone with depression will tell you that exercise is one of the best ways to boost serotonin and mood. And without exercise, everything becomes like a negative snowball. Rolling down the hill, collecting more and more negativity into its dark, messy mass. 

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I went back to the gym in November. I decided to invest in a trainer because my body was still in recovery. My first session with her, I was so confronted by how much my physical health had gone backwards. I came home and shut the blinds, put a doona on and cried for a few hours.

"I came home and shut the blinds, put a doona on and cried for a few hours." Image: Supplied. 

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But, with each week I became stronger. I started going on social walks with friends and focussed on healthier food choices. My work has picked up again and finally I feel like I have found my way through the bends, my equilibrium has returned. I feel like myself again.

I’m not sure how to carry this through for next time we are threatened by new variants (welcome Omicron), restrictions or shutdowns that might occur from now on. I think my main lesson (other than not running in socks) will be that I mustn't invest all my energy in other people, or I will lose too much of myself again. 

"At the time, I recall describing myself to my psychologist as being in survival mode." Image: Supplied. 

I will put my oxygen mask on first.

Because depression isn’t linear, it can rear its ugly head at any time and I need to put my mental health first, to look after myself and my family in the best way I can. 

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Supplied.