Having pre-existing mental illness during pandemic

By Siddy Shivdasani

I’ve heard a lot about how the pandemic — particularly lockdown — has impacted on the public’s mental health but I haven’t heard much about those with pre-existing mental illnesses. Maybe I haven’t consumed enough news. 

I suffer from bipolar disorder 1 and have been sectioned three times, twice in 2008 and once in 2009. But even though I have a severe condition, I haven’t been contacted once by anyone in the NHS about how I’m doing during the pandemic. 

The worst thing is I’ve never expected that call.

Funding of the sector has been strangled by the Tories. I don’t know how the NHS is coping with sufferers right now but my guess is badly. I’m surviving. Just about. 

But at the same time, I feel like I’ve got off lightly. A close friend, his wife, five kids and mum all contracted coronavirus in its early stages. It was much more of a leap into the unknown back then and it scared me shitless.

Westerners are not used to losing their relative freedoms, while many areas of the world are war-torn or facing starvation on a massive scale, aside from any pandemic. Despite being half Indian, I count myself firmly as a Westerner in this.

This is in the context that I used to live and work as a journalist in the Middle East and have lived in actual war zones. But I felt protected from the worst of it. And I have been conscious of the extreme poverty when I’ve been to India. But again, I felt protected.

I was visiting my aunt in one of the nicest areas of Mumbai just as anti-coronavirus measures started to come into play globally. 

When the first UK lockdown began, I initially felt almost liberated. I got back into cooking, regularly posting my own recipes on Facebook. The weekly clapping ritual for key workers filled me with a great sense of community. 

But after a while, I started to get restless, frustrated and depressed. The queues for the shops and social distancing was an alarming spectacle and experience, for instance. 

My lifestyle wasn’t ideal before lockdown but it aggravated things. I didn’t know until recent years that most mental health crises happen at night. That’s certainly my experience, regularly sending friends and family long, tedious WhatsApp messages in the early hours after I’ve had a few drinks, describing how desperately despondent I feel. 

And I don’t like to go to bed because I fear what the next day will bring, always anticipating another calamity, whether personal, national or international. 

Sometimes I just sit in silence, hoping my mind will stop chattering. Meanwhile, my smoking has spiralled out of control. 

I have however thankfully spent a lot of time with my lovely young daughter during the pandemic but I’ve missed adult company. And she evidently missed child company when the schools were shut. 

Not going into work in a newsroom as a media consultant has triggered cabin fever and I’ve often let the housework slide and slide. 

One of my lifelines as a bipolar sufferer  for a few years now has been sitting outside a local Italian cafe, inhaling cappuccinos and cigarettes. Having little chats with staff and regulars has sustained me. But it’s takeaway only during lockdown. 

At least the last one was in the summer. Winter lockdown doesn’t sound at all appealing.

It’s not that I disagree with the measures but again, it’s demoralising. For the record, I believe schools should be shut again, despite how tough it was on my daughter during the first lockdown. If we’re gonna do it, do it properly.

But this awful Government consistently puts politics before lives…and it drives me mad.

Siddy is the author of MELTING POTHEAD: Stories of an Anglo-Indian raised on Brixton’s Frontline — website: meltingpothead.com