I can go out, but I can’t. I am not going out, I am staying in and I’d love to tell you it’s because I am not a rule breaker, but it’s not. I have been outside the house (excluding the garden) only once since Sunday. My wings have been clipped not by Boris but by my brain. Robbed of it’s routine and coping mechanisms my anxiety has worsened.
I’d love to tell you I am anxious that if I leave the house I will contract C19 and continue the spread of the virus. But it’s not that. I’d love to tell you it’s because the strong arm of the law may catch me and send me home. But it’s not that. I’d love to tell you I am staying at home to support my friends and family who work for the NHS. But it’s not that. This is the altogether frustrating bit – I have no idea why I am afraid to leave my house, but I am, and the longer I leave it the worse it gets.
I have been crippled with depression and anxiety in the past. I have tried many combinations of treatments to try and find some semblance of me. Many of the things I do to aid the healing process and maintain good mental health have become so second nature, so entwined in my life, they’ve stopped being the reason to do them. I now simply do them because I want to. Swimming in the sea is now, just something I do. Until I couldn’t do it.
What I had either forgotten or not realised is that swimming in the sea gives me a reason to leave the house. I am an early bird and in the mornings. It’s when I get shit done. I have the energy after a nights sleep and know I need to get up and out and about before my brain gets a look in. So I normally do some work, clean up the breakfast things and head to the gym or the beach, or both.
The ‘only once’ that I have been out of the house since Sunday was early Wednesday morning. Like crack of dawn early. My husband drove me to the beach for a swim. I am not an easy person to live with at the best of times, being cooped up together for over 3 weeks makes it impossible to hide when your mental health is deteriorating. It’s not something I want my children to witness so we both agreed some sea time was needed before the cracks became a break.
It was a sunny morning and the sea was still. The air temperature was 2 degrees, the windscreen needed scrapping, but the wind was yet to get up so the biting north wind wasn’t making me wince. The tide was high enough so I was out of my depth within a few metres and my swim started. There was a huge flock of geese travelling close to the horizon that I tracked from the lagoon to the pier. I only swam from one groyne to the next and back because it felt colder, I felt vulnerable and frightened of what lies beneath.
I’ve never been frightened of swimming away from the shore, and although I have been freaked out a few times when something hit my leg, or I got caught in a rip it’s never made me fear the sea. I’ve been involved in a traumatic rescue attempt yet was able to swim in the exact same spot only weeks later. Yet on this occasion I was frightened because my sight was impaired by the rising sun. Something so simple, and so beautiful, yet it was making me anxious.
Staying in is robbing me of my confidence that I have fought very hard to establish. Doing new things does not come easily to me, but doing the same thing repetitively establishes a routine that my brain comes to recognise as safe. Swimming in the sea, to me, is safe. Or it was.
I rarely go out in the evenings, so I am not missing that. I normally walk the dog every day but that has become too stressful to try and avoid people walking in the same spots during their Boris hour. (And have a husband desperate to get out with the dog each day.) The Post Office is closed so my daily dispatch walk is gone. And not being able to arrange to meet Seabirds for swims has meant I am accountable to no one. So I’m stuck inside.
It feels like Christmas all over again – without the presents! I’m eating everything! Drinking every day. Doing jigsaw puzzles. Watching movies. Doing minimal exercise. Drowning in a pool of my own self-pity and self-loathing. Which then brings along a new emotion for my brain – shame! In reality my day to day isn’t so different. I normally spend a lot of time at home, albeit in my own company. I can actually continue my routines with some adjustments. Online workouts instead of gym classes. Cycling to the beach for solo swims. Walking the dog before the world wakes up.
Hence the shame. Shame that I haven’t done all of the above. Shame that others have it much harder than me. Shame that I feel like this when I’m hardly front-line. The pressure to be happy right now is immense. I should be happy with my lot. My whole family are safe and sound and under one roof. The pressure to be ‘normal’ when I now have no where to hide in my home. The pressure t be happy when I am largely unaffected. The pressure to make the most of a bad situation. And the shame when I can do none of those things.
So I went for another swim on Friday. My second time leaving the house. And I talked to Seabird Cath and told her how I was feeling. She gave me some stoic advice, as she always does. And I thought about it as I bobbed up and down on the waves and realised feeling like this is OK and I don’t need to feel ashamed for feeling the way I do. So with salty skin and a buoyed up brain I know that I am not coming out of this unscathed, no one is. We are all weary and war wounded. But the more I do all these new things, swimming alone, dawn dogs walks and Joe Wicks’ PE lessons, the sooner they will become my safe routine. And when I return to be safe in the sea I will wash away the shame.
Author: Seabird Kath