It has been over two hundred days since I had my hair trimmed, went to a grocery store, or ate in a restaurant. I’ve hardly been outside of my neighborhood in the past six months. Many people have gone back to work (or are essential workers and have always been working). My house has not returned to anything close to what it was like in January of this year.
In some ways, this pandemic is trying and challenging. In other ways, it has brought hard work and some much-needed tools and healing to my life. I thought that I was an expert in self-care and managing my schizophrenia symptoms the best way possible, but it turns out I had so much work to do and so much to learn.
Before the pandemic, I took my medications regularly, monitored my sleep, made sure to exercise at least five times a week, and ate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Along with these things, I wrote in guided journals, had regular appointments with my psychiatrist, and watched my stress levels closely. I still had symptoms, but I thought I was doing the best I could to manage them.
In March, I started seeing a therapist, she didn’t work out for me, and I began to see a therapist who works in my psychiatrist’s office in May or June. She was only allowed to work with me for twelve weeks, and during that time, we worked on tools to manage my anxiety disorder, healing shame, and healing trauma.
I never realized how much work I could do to lessen the impact of my anxiety disorder. It never occurred to me that so many thoughts that I had made me spiral into negative territory and have bad days. I also never realized the level of shame I carried. Although the shame comes from more than my schizophrenia diagnosis, that label alone and its weight can harm mental health.
Of course, not everything is rosy. I cry at least a couple of times every day. I don’t sob. I simply cry a little at the state of the world, the deaths, the stress of constant hand washing, and mask-wearing, and not being able to see family or friends (it has been over a year since I saw my parents or any of my siblings). 2020 has been a tough year in so many ways, and I find I worry about things that were never part of my reality before.
On the other side of that, my resting pulse rate has gone down between ten and twenty points (depending on when I take it), and my blood pressure is lower than I can remember it being in the past. These are the genuine health benefits from working on anxiety. I still have panic attacks, but they are less severe and are over in far less time.
The tool that has had the biggest impact on me is sticking to a regular writing practice. I have written regularly for the past six years, but I wasn’t writing every day. Something about sitting down every day and doing automatic or expressive writing has acted like a pressure valve releasing the steam before the pot boils over.
I have been using a writing technique I learned from a woman whose name is Laurie. If you want to join me in a group where I use what I have learned from her, please get in touch. I plan to run several groups starting soon, and I would love to have as many of you as possible write alongside me.