Living with depression and anxiety in a COVID-19 world

While many of us picked up new skills during circuit breaker, Sophia lost interest in everything.

Azra Rauff
Azra Rauff

Published: 10 September 2020, 12:52 PM

Like many of us, 22-year-old Sophia (not her real name), found it difficult being cooped up at home during circuit breaker. However, unlike many of us who picked up hobbies to fill our time, Sophia lost interest in doing anything at all as a result of her depression and anxiety.

The undergraduate explained: “I basically lost interest in literally everything. It allowed my depression and anxiety to manifest without an outlet. It wasn’t exactly brilliant for my mental health.”

Sophia, who also works as a part-time researcher with her university, shared that she was diagnosed by her family GP when she was in secondary school.

“I started having random episodes of breathlessness, so I thought it was something purely physical. I went to the General Practitioner and after a round of questions, he told me that I was suffering from anxiety and depression.”

Since learning about her mental illnesses, Sophia started seeing a therapist and taking medication.

The youth, who is set to graduate from university next year, shared: “While I have seen professionals to help manage my depression, the constant fatigue and reluctance to get out of bed is still there, but I’ve simply gotten used to it.”

When asked about how she felt when she first heard about COVID-19, Sophia answered: “I was more anxious about the fact that I might contract the virus because there was so much uncertainty regarding how the events would be playing out. I don’t think I can deal with uncertainty very well.”

Sophia elaborated that when numbers in Singapore started increasing, her anxiety got worse.

She said: “Every single thing on social media was just about the virus and I really could not bring myself to stay grounded to reality. I think the last straw was when all of us got evicted from our school halls and had to go home at such a short notice.”

As a result of this, Sophia suffered from countless sleepless nights.

When the government announced the circuit breaker measures would be put in place, Sophia anticipated that her mental health would degenerate. As such, she started to pamper herself with little acts of self-care.

“I think we tend to think of self-care as this elaborate plan complete with a bubble bath and face mask but it’s also the little things that you tend to take for granted that you absolutely have to do for yourself.

“I did have a few Zoom calls with my therapist. I also started forcing myself to drink more water and go for walks in the park,” said Sophia, who hopes to pursue her postgraduate studies after graduation.

She also found some joy in decluttering. She recounted the time she spent tidying up her room and setting up a new bookshelf, and said: “I’m not too sure why, but cleaning up my personal space really brightened my days.”

Despite this, Sophia admitted that she had her bad days too.

“It was difficult to be cooped up for so long without any social interaction,” Sophia explained.

“As I browsed social media, I realised my acquaintances were finding innovative ways to connect, but the kind of friends I keep around are extremely introverted, so we really did not do anything. I felt increasingly lonely as a result,” she shared.

While many were excited by the news of Singapore moving out of circuit breaker, and into Phase 1 and 2 respectively, Sophia felt otherwise.

She explained: “I was disappointed because, as much as I knew it was good for my mental health to go out with friends, I knew my anxiety would manifest in a different way. From ‘Oh no I can’t meet my friends’ to ‘oh no I might get COVID’.

As a result of her anxiety, Sophia did not have any interest in going out despite the relaxed restrictions in Phase 1 and 2.

“I don’t think there is normalcy at all. People are getting retrenched, the world is just at a standstill. I think normalcy is an impossible standard. I don’t like to think about it.”

As a result, Sophia highlighted that there should be more conversations about mental well-being and services available for people in need of mental help.

She said: “I remember that at the beginning of circuit breaker, they had a list of essential services, and initially they included mental health services then quickly and silently removed it.

“While I have access to help and have been able to manage my depression and anxiety, others may not have this privilege. It will be helpful to see more conversations surrounding mental health. Not just from my friends on social media, but from more influential people too.”

With the COVID-19 situation looking like it will go on for a while to come, Sophia left a word of advice for people seeking to help their peers struggling with mental illnesses.

She said: “Keep checking in on them but don’t forget to take care of yourself too.”

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