Written by Päivi Rissanen, Doctor of Political Science and expert by experience and working at the Finnish Central Association for Mental Health (member of GAMIAN-Europe) on a Recovery action-orientated Mental Health Services project.
How does the mind endure in an emergency when it is already fragile?
It’s my first day of teleworking during the quarantine. I go to the store, outraged by the number of toilet paper rolls in people’s shopping carts. My panic starts: should I fill the basket with pasta and tuna too? I decide to panic moderately, that is, I grab a few extra tins of canned food. My inbox is overflowing with cancellations and the calendar is cleared. At the same time, life seems to be vanishing and losing its meaning.
Where can I get help if my mind collapses, if I can’t go anywhere?
Am I going to survive this? No, I’m not. I collapse on the bed in anxiety. I find myself irritated by small things and watching for possible symptoms. Every chill predicts fever and coughing scares me. Friends are friends but threats at the same time. What if I carry the virus myself? Can I infect someone if we go for a walk? Some memories come back to me from a time when my mind became seriously ill. Then my life was broken piece by piece. Could it happen again? Is my mind strong enough to carry and withstand the fear, insecurity, loneliness, and loss of ordinary everyday life at this moment? Where can I get help if my mind collapses, if I can’t go anywhere?
People with mental health problems are now at risk in terms of how mental health is maintained in the middle of all this.
The news reports announce day after day that people with some basic somatic diseases are at risk and may be suffering from severe COVID19. It is true. But nowhere is it said that those with mental health problems are now at risk in terms of how their mind endures all of this: fear, isolation, loneliness, and changed routines. If you are still recovering from severe depression or are living with another mental disorder in your daily life, it is very challenging even under normal circumstances. When the health of all people is put to the test in this state of emergency, how do you survive if your mind is already fragile?
I am thinking of how contact with other people is of great importance to our well-being.
I have an unreal feeling. Life has changed, but then again it has not. A small, invisible virus has managed to mess up the schedules and plans for the coming weeks and months, for life. What else does it affect? Where can I find the power to survive? After a few days, I find that I’ve never missed walking in the woods as much as I do now. Fortunately, I’ll get to be there for a short time. Walking alone and together with someone becomes important, remembering the safety distance of at least one meter. I wonder how contact with other people is of great importance to our well-being. I read instructions that tell you, for example, to spend time with your loved ones at home, or to clean your wardrobe for once. What if you live alone, your loved ones are isolated in their own homes, and cleaning the wardrobe – and anything else – is not in the forefront now. Fortunately, I have music. Music played on the flute – Bach and Debussy – wipes out distress, and brings my life back. In a flash, I understand something new about art, about music itself and its value, maybe even life as a whole. Music sinks into me and touches me in a whole new way. I also get a similar experience of common and shared feelings and moments by sharing my own experience with others virtually. Is this the physical distance and the mental closeness that our President Sauli Niinistö was speaking about?
As life’s rhythm and routines change, time seems to disappear.
A week has passed and life begins to settle down and stabilize. I do telecommuting, I cook, I walk, I wash my hands so much they are wounded. I go to the store as rarely as possible, I do not move in public, and I’m just in touch with friends by phone or via Skype. I realise that I am not alone with my feelings and thoughts. I’m not the only one who’s confused, anxious, and wondering how long this will take and what’s ahead. I’m not the only one who is worried about my own health and that of my loved ones, and whose daily routines have changed. Little by little, everyday work goes online: friends update their Skype and social media accounts, I give a remote lecture on Zoom, I have meetings with Teams and some of my hobbies go online. Maybe I’ll start a new hobby too.
So life goes on – not as before, but it goes on.