Mental Health in Lockdown

Image: Pride of Our Footscray.

This article was originally published in the August edition of the Star Observer.

Lockdown has been a mental health catastrophe for me.

Cards on the table, I’m experienced with depression because I have bipolar. It’s a condition that can be triggered just like depression or mania in themselves can be triggered; something in your life sets off an emotional reaction and your body responds the way it was designed to, you’re manic, you’re depressed. Bipolar can also see you just wake up one day in either (or both!) of those conditions simply because the powerplant in your brain has malfunctioned and the chemicals behind your emotions have gone astray.

What makes lockdown a distinctive experience for me is that it has been such an obvious trigger. Its total independence from a neurology I have over a decade of experience managing has thrown me. This is not an errant chemical reaction or something that’s happened in my day to trawl up bad memories or fire up manic energy. This is literally a societal, cultural experience. I know multiple friends and work colleagues currently exhibiting signs of depression. I also have no idea whether they realise it or not because none of them are talking about it.

That’s a societal and cultural experience as well. Discussion around Covid-19 has focused on economics, physical health and safety, civil liberties (see also: Karen), law and order, politics, but not mental health. Not really. This needs to change because C-19 is a global mental health disaster and it is arguable that the Queer Community is particularly at risk.

At present, I am struggling the most with sleeping and eating patterns. I wake up anywhere between 5 and 7 hours later than I usually would. To counter this, I started to schedule important appointments as early as possible just so I could experience a morning again. Then I started sleeping through those appointments. I started sleeping through multiple alarms. I started getting scared because work and uni deadlines were slipping through my fingers. I started to question if I would be able to resume a normal schedule and get ordinary things done again, ever. I started to question my competency. I also know I am perfectly competent. Feeling this way is entirely the result of clinical depression and lockdown did it!

One of the worst parts about that has actually resulted from what I had hoped would be the best cure. In lockdown, you go online. Your friends are online. The Queer Community is online. Art is online. Society right now, is a largely virtual experience. It’s also a great showcase for everyone accomplishing the things you aren’t. There are people live streaming daily workouts. Tik Tok stars have appeared overnight. Taylor Swift just released an album created by artists entirely in isolation. An entire civil rights movement is afoot in Poland in the face of a President enabling queer people to be publicly labelled paedophiles. The Black Lives Matter movement has seen millions of people grab the American debate on racism in a way not seen since the days of Dr King and Selma.

I can hardly get out of bed. I have anxiety attacks choosing what to eat. I have to force myself to engage with friends even though realistically I don’t even want them to see me in this state. I also know I’m not alone feeling this way because of lockdown. We’re just not talking about it. We badly need to.

The ideology of the Queer Community is currently facing a unique existential threat as a result of a global pandemic. Lockdown is a societal necessity. According to John Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre, as I write this, over 16.5 million people have had Coronavirus across 188 countries while over 650 thousand people have died. Without co-ordinated lockdowns to lower the infection rate of the virus, those deaths will spiral into the millions. Sitting debilitated in the midst of Melbourne’s second lockdown, I know, categorically, this is the right thing to do. I also know, categorically, my community is not evolving fast enough to match the crisis. The main reason for this is a denial of a dark fact: this will not be the last lockdown.

We keep hearing the word normal. Whether it’s “the new normal” or “getting back to normal,” everyone is currently craving a societal normal that is nowhere to be found. The simple fact is we are not evolving to face the needs of the situation because we are all expecting the return of a “normal.” We’ve pandered to the social media instruments that were previously criticised for isolating people from each other instead of pushing to update their functionality. One “new normal” is jokes about the sudden explosion of OnlyFans accounts, porn spirals and entire days spent on Grindr and Twitter. Realistically, these platforms are not functioning effectively as a replacement for the contact we need. Those are still days spent alone.

No binge-able quantity of RuPaul’s Drag Race will ever match a live drag act. No threads of in-app flirting will ever match a date. Porn can never electrify like a human caress and no level of social media can ever equate to a room full of people. We can’t evolve and we can’t properly help each other because we’re not really talking about the root cause of the problem. The usual tools to connect with society at large, especially within the Queer Community, are missing right now. They’re not going to suddenly return exactly as they were. Some of them will take generations to repair, if the time, the money, and the passion can even be found to repair them at all. We need to admit this to ourselves and to each other and start having a long and loud discussion about it if we’re going to maintain our mental health.

There is no Zoom meeting long enough to counter the mental health crisis currently being experienced. We need to create what we want our society to look like in isolation. The focus so far has been too much on prosperity. It’s imperatively important that businesses stay open and that unemployment is kept under control. It’s also meaningless to deliver that result to a society unconsciously devouring itself through its own disconnected misery.

It’s only when we feel empowered to talk about our mental health that we are ever likely to come up with solutions. We need solutions. It’s ok to admit that even with the vast technological infrastructure of the 21st century we have become individually and collectively dysfunctional. As a result of this pandemic we are struggling to run our own lives and share in others’ lives the way we would normally want to.

Try inserting your name in this sentence: “My name is David and I am lonely and scared. How are you feeling?” Let’s have the conversation. We need to.