• Author:Ben Jones
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COVID-19: being at home helps my depression and anxiety but the daily news does not

To paraphrase a saying, two weeks is a very a long time, not just in politics, but in a pandemic. During this last fortnight, the UK – alongside over a quarter of the world’s population – has entered a lockdown with tight restrictions on our freedoms and extraordinary emergency powers being given to the government. At the same time, we hurtle towards 1000 deaths on this island at the hands of COVID-19. Deaths that appear now to hit regardless of age and previous health history. The lack of an underlining health condition and/or three score years and ten on the clock, appears now to be no barrier to catching and dying from this awful virus.

During this fortnight, I have set up office at home (along with much of the country and almost all of the university at which I work), started to home school my daughter and stopped taking my anti-depressant medication. As I wrote a week or so ago, the withdrawal from my medication was not without its initial challenges and side effects, but I am glad to say that most of those have gone now, including the nausea, which was deeply miserable. It has been interesting to chart the last four weeks – I started with a fortnight of reduced dosage of anti-depressants – in my diary to see how my mood, state of mind and physical health has changed. 

As I moved into the first week of total withdrawal (two weeks ago), I was noticeably less patient, more on edge and a little less nice to be around – that is me saying that but I’m pretty sure Dr J would agree! Happily that phase only last a few days and now I feel pretty settled and recognising myself and my normal feelings and emotions. As I wrote last time, the withdrawal has allowed me to reconnect with the rawer end of my emotions – including shedding a tear this morning – something that had not been possible during these last 15 months whilst on my medication – at the sight and sound of Jurgen Klopp thanking NHS workers for all they are doing for us. Veilen dank to them and to being able to enjoy that moment.

One of the issues I have wrestled with for years – until recently not really understanding it – was the discomfort I felt being away from home and out of a daily routine and pattern. I detested – still detest – being away from home for any period of time, including being on holiday. Home for me has always been where the heart is. The issue wasn’t – and isn’t – being inside a specific four walls, but more what being at home represented to me. Safety. Security. Certainty. Routine.

It is ironic that in the most uncertain and unsettling time I (or most any of us) have known – in the midst of this potentially apocalyptic health crisis – I am feeling ok. But then again, I am spending 23 hours a day at home. Gate locked. World kept out. Surrounded by the people I love the most in the world and the things that keep me on a fairly even keel much of the time. 

Working at my own desk on my own MacBook, iPad and big Mac. Listening to Radio 4 much of the day – saving me from catching up with Women’s Hour and The Media Show amongst others – as podcasts. Playing episodes of the West Wing in the background – I have started from series one again – for at least the 20th time. For the record, that is not an exaggeration. Being only eight paces from my desk to the tea making facilities of the kitchen means that my desired regular flow of tea is easy to generate. Having access to the music that I find settling and soothing – with a focus this week on Mozart and Bach. Miss J and I have introduced a poem of the day to our daily home school, something which is giving me a great reason to go through some of my many books of poetry and an excuse to pick one each day to read to Miss J. The lack of live sport on TV and the pause in the seasons for my beloved Liverpool FC and Boston Red Sox has given me more time to read books and enjoy the escapism of great fiction.

The only time that this settled state gets interrupted is when I engage with the news, which given my job and with my passion for news, current affairs and Radio 4, means that happens several times a day. It is a scary time. I am scared – as I know are many millions of people here and around the world. But I am putting my trust in the medical advice we have been given and – alongside Miss and Dr J – are following it to the letter. I am also taking some comfort in the ability to connect with people and organisations across the globe who are providing support, including taking part in virtual Masses, which I found online this week. This has surprised me, as I have given church a wide berth in recent years but it is something about the familiarity of the routine of Mass, the words, the sounds, the Irish accents (I attending Mass mostly in Cork, Dublin, Belfast and Limerick!) and the rituals that I think has brought me some calm.

Sadly, this fortnight looks to be just the start of a hugely testing time. For those of who who suffer with depression and/or anxiety, a global pandemic which appears to be taking lives indiscriminately at an alarmingly increasing rate is far from ideal. However, in true sporting cliche tradition, I am just taking it a day at a time. Trying hard to do the things that I know help me to stay settled. And being very grateful that I am at home. Where my heart is. Where I feel safest. Where I hope we stay; healthy and well.