Anxiety in Lockdown

It’s hard to believe that we are heading towards two months of lockdown restrictions in the UK and, certainly for those of us living in England, the way out still looks confusing at best. For many, this period of enforced isolation has caused feelings of panic, stress and anxiety, whilst for others, it has exacerbated the anxiety they live with every day.

I have written previously about my own experiences of having, and learning to live with, depression, but only recently did I ‘discover’ that I also have anxiety issues. ‘How do you discover something you live with?’, you may ask. Well, for many years, I have made the (erroneous) assumption that it is perfectly normal to wake up every morning with feelings of dread about the day ahead - even when it doesn’t involve doing anything particularly stressful. I thought everyone had to cope with feelings of being completely overwhelmed when confronted with deadlines and that business meetings caused such exhaustion that you had to take to your bed for the rest of the day. Apparently not, it would seem!

This ‘discovery’ happened just a little while before lockdown began, and had forced me to begin to reassess how I lived my life. Medication has helped to deal with some of the symptoms, but, as with most mental health issues, it also helps to restructure the pattern of your life so as to minimise some of the worst trigger factors. In this regard, lockdown has been a bit of a gift, as the pace of life has necessarily slowed and expectations have diminished. I feel a little guilty at admitting that, but I find that I am not the only person to experience that relief:

‘So whilst many of us felt a sense of terror and experienced fears of entrapment and heightened anxiety when lockdown was announced, a good number of the very same people will now be quite comfortable with the new ‘norm’ and may now be thinking (and worrying) about what comes next….’ [ 4 May; accessed 16 May 2020]

Having the penny drop like this, is a bit like putting on glasses with a new prescription for the first time. Up to that point, you probably thought you were seeing clearly, but these new lenses bring the world into a new, sharper focus. You begin to look at things differently. Acknowledging the presence of anxiety in my life has opened my eyes to how much I have relied on it to motivate and drive me. It has given me bursts of intense fear-fuelled energy to get tasks done, albeit at the very last minute. It has gotten me up in the morning, when I might otherwise have slept all day. It has forced me to address tasks that I would gladly put off til doomsday. I have succeeded through anxiety-driven productivity. But it has robbed me of much more: quality sleep, effective planning, the joy of completing tasks well, healthy working relationships, a good work-life balance.

Getting a handle on what is going on is a really important part of tackling my mental health issues. Being able to give it a name or identify when it is ‘present’ helps me to develop methods of coping better. My Spiritual Director challenged me to find its spiritual significance and I began to reflect on what image or story might begin to capture something of my experiences. I eventually landed on the story in Matthew 14 of Jesus and Peter in the storm:

When evening came, Jesus was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ 28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

It’s a weird story, I admit, but, in the context of mental illness, it is a potent metaphor. How often have I felt at the mercy of my feelings, l