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Coronavirus: ‘When lockdown eased, my panic attacks returned’

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Coronavirus: 'When lockdown eased, my panic attacks returned'

Copyright Seaneen Molloy

Seaneen Molloy’s panic attacks stopped when the coronavirus pandemic began. But as restrictions begin to ease, the Northern Ireland writer and charity worker describes how her anxiety has returned.

When the rules start to relax, I’m not sure I can.

I don’t remember what it’s like to be at ease with people. I don’t remember not knowing what the words “social distance” meant.

I was less afraid when it started.

Some people have plunged into a state of anxiety and panic, but not me. I have an anxiety disorder and was in a constant state of panic anyway, always afraid of death. But for the first time, I was not alone and the national crisis was strangely comforting.

The panic attacks that plagued me every night for years stopped abruptly when Boris Johnson announced the block on March 23.

It was strange to feel liberated, while the rest of the world was terrified. I felt like the most calm person in the room.

I was not alone. University College London reported in the early weeks of the blockade that, despite an initial decline in happiness, well-being increased and anxiety levels fell for people with and without mental health disorders.

Life has become slower, quieter and smaller. There was no rush in school runs, hurried commutes, trips to bars that we really didn’t want.

Image copyright Seaneen Molloy Image caption Seaneen Molloy’s husband Robert, son Oisín and the family cat

But as the weeks went by, surveys increasingly expressed alarm over the country’s declining mental health. Job losses, financial worries, isolation, being stuck in abusive situations, lack of support and, for many – at least 40,000 people – sadness and loss.

My own Zen state slowly disintegrated.

The school closed, so my husband and I became teachers for our five-year-old son while working full-time. The trips to the supermarket were scary and apocalyptic.

And then, out of nowhere, my friend died.

We still don’t know why; he was only 38 years old. He had the same goodbye that thousands had during the outbreak. Only 10 socially distant people were allowed at his funeral. Pallet trucks wore masks and gloves. His wife sat alone and left at the end without being held.

Funerals and births are sacred events. The chance to say goodbye is one of the most important things in mourning and progress. In many religions, people try to touch the coffin.

I watched his funeral on my laptop.

This will stay with me for a long time. I am grateful to be there in some way, but I also never want to repeat the experience.

This had the greatest impact on my mental health.

I stopped feeling like I could joke about it. I stopped feeling light and free from the daily toil. It was deadly serious and has weighed on me ever since.

Now the block is easing. For those who have enjoyed the silence, security and sanctity of Covid’s peaceful life, returning to the noisy and crowded world can be difficult.

Copyright Seaneen Molloy

The coronavirus has not disappeared and it is too much to ask someone to risk their health every day, especially those who are vulnerable for mental or physical reasons.

People may be forced to go back to work before they feel safe. People, like me, may be confused about what is really allowed and worried about being judged for breaking a rule, without knowing it.

I am not a person who handles uncertainty well. It was not difficult to know when the blockade would end, but now it is not possible to know how it will unfold.

I am concerned about my son, who instinctively keeps his distance from people, even from other children. I don’t know how to teach him that – I don’t even know if I should.

I have been using work as an excuse not to go out and exercise. The truth is, I feel safer at home. I find it difficult to leave that security when I’m not being forced. I haven’t seen a friend yet and I was nervous and anxious when I saw my family.

My panic attacks have returned – not with the same ferocity as before – but I am again without sleep.

The mind is one of many mental health organizations that has information compiled for people concerned with easing the blockade.

They emphasize that there is no “normal” way to feel. I try to remember that.

I’m not going to force myself into places I’m not comfortable with. I will not apologize for not having happy meetings with my loved ones.

No, I don’t want to shake your hand. I don’t want a beer. See you soon. When I’m ready.

If you liked this:

Why not listen to Seaneen talking with fellow mental health writer Mark Brown on the BBC Ouch podcast.

In addition to blocking conversations, there are also a ton of fun stuff, from leaky bras to Zoom personalities and even a zombie apocalypse.

Coronavirus: 'When lockdown eased, my panic attacks returned'

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Many favorites, Mark and Seaneen, talk about mental health during this pandemic.

For more news on disabilities, follow BBC Ouch at Twitter and Facebookand sign the podcast.


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