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How I found myself again during isolation

The effect of COVID-19 on my mental health

My bipolar disorder and the pandemic

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in September 2018, after a stressful exam season, following which I decided to interrupt my studies for a year. Despite having suffered from anxiety since I was a teenager, my mind felt, more than ever, like an enemy, and I was left with nothing. Who was I? My thoughts were sick and distorted; my humanity stripped away. Almost two years later, I am in a much better place, under the right medications, but, most of all, I have learnt to accept myself. Then, last month, a new hurricane hit me.

On the 9th of March, the Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte established a quarantine, restraining the movement of people and imposing the closure of non-essential businesses. Panic. Misinformation. Death. Disrupted routines and an uncertain future. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has challenged health systems, politicians and has shaken our consciences, and as scientists are rushing to find a vaccine, we are all searching for answers, ways to cope and get together.

Scared to go back home and put my family at risk, I was in London with no possibility of seeing my family any time soon. Not long after, my university, UCL, closed. The long-gone anxiety came back, and I felt despair, panic and fear. Time had changed its structure, frozen in a never-ending present. I had no perspective and no way out: the oblivion was sucking the life out of me.

I am in control of my present

After moving out of my accommodation to a more serene and befriended situation, I was able to slowly change to a more positive mindset. I felt extremely lucky that my friends and family were safe and, despite everything going on, to be alive. The tachycardia, the cold sweats, the restlessness started to quieten. I realised that the future was still not in my control, but my present was.

I love planning, and I need certainty—a vision. And I get distraught when my plans get disrupted, my routine revolutionised. The outbreak has, although, shown me that I can adapt to change. And I did. Despite the absolute uncertainty, I now take control of my daily actions. I focus on the little things, rather than on the big picture. When the world became overwhelming, painful or just too much, isolation has allowed me to reflect on myself and to test my resilience in a safe environment. No comparison, no judgement, no external pressures. Just me and my mind. I realised that the future was still not in my control, but my present was.

Time to heal

Before the pandemic, the external world used to scare me. I was comparing myself to my peers and suffering from exaggerated imposter syndrome. There was always a gap between where I was and where I wanted to be, and I felt like I was always catching up on someone or something. By continuously expecting more from myself, I always ended up disappointed. Then, just as things were getting too much and every action, yet so simple, was becoming unbearable, I had the opportunity of focusing solely on myself. Now I am more resilient and more self-aware.
Even if COVID-19 has stripped away many things, it gave me time, time to heal and move on.

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