Anxiety in the time of coronavirus

I don’t know when I am going to see my friends again.

For me, that is the worst part of this coronavirus induced isolation we all find ourselves in.

I can live quite happily without the pub, the shop, the theatre. As a disabled person, I am used to interminable days spent on the sofa, body in meltdown, but they are always broken up by my friends. They pop in bearing shove-in-the-oven pizza, chocolate and wine, and faces full of companionship. I will miss them.

And I will miss my colleagues, their quick wits and their kindness and the buzz of them all in the office. Thanks to WhatsApp and Zoom they are not so far away as they could be, but it is hard to share a meaningful look over Slack, however much you try.

I cannot decide if I am more scared of the virus or the effect this is all going to have on my mental health. I am lucky; I do not live alone, and the carers I currently share the flat with are some of the best I’ve ever had. They’ll notice when I’m anxious and they know how to help. And so many of my friends have called to check in that I am far from feeling alone or lonely. I am grateful.

Skype has made it possible to continue counselling, too, which is a relief. But I worry about such a dramatic change in routine, especially such a curtailing of socialising. Living without a partner or family, I rely on my friends for a hug and a pat on the back, and I know I will feel this lack acutely. If I were Ania or Laura, I would soon be fed up with my toddler-like demand for affection, but I trust them to bear with me, as ever.

It is a strange time to be a chronically anxious person. The news, which has for years given me a job and a sense of purpose, leaves my nerves feeling raw and ragged. On my days off, I limit my intake to one half-hour bulletin a day. On working days, I take lots of beta blockers and try not to drink too much coffee.

The vague existential dread that has hung over me for months, making me feel maddeningly irrational, seems now perfectly reasonable. Of course I’m anxious, I think, there’s a pandemic on. This makes it hard to determine which of the panic attacks and tears are a rational response to the circumstances and which are my brain playing its usual catastrophising tricks. I guess we’ll never know.

The past six months have at least taught me some coping mechanisms to be deployed in these interesting times. In a panic, TV is better than reading, at least for me; especially something familiar. Joy is in the little things: a nice meal, a bunch of flowers, a particularly fluffy pair of socks. Aromatherapy, the very idea of which I was sure to scoff at half a year ago, works wonders.

Oh, and I call my parents multiple times a day. Sorry, mum and dad.

In an uncharacteristic move, I am finding the silver linings. With all this free time I am tackling my vast and ever-expanding to-read pile. Books really are things of such immense pleasure. Having waffled on about it for years I am finally learning French. Duolingo is surprisingly good and an engaged mind is a less anxious one; I’ll be fluent by the time this is over.

And maybe with time to think and process, I’ll even get some writing done. Although as any writer will tell you, I’m not desperate enough for that just yet.

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