Hello there and welcome back to our new feature, Stuck in the House, where we share personal insights and tales from our contributors about their time during lockdown and their reflections about the past year and concerns for the future. We want to create a safe space where young people can discuss life under lockdown and engage openly with the topic of caring for our physical and mental wellbeing. We would like to make clear that all contributions to this series are from the author’s own perspective and do not constitute any qualified opinions or advice particularly as regards to mental health. Included at the bottom of these posts are links to professional resources which you can access if you are in distress or need of help. If you would like to contribute to this series then please get in touch through our socials.
Drinking wine in your flat isn’t the same as drinking it with your mates. I might not be breaking any new ground here, but I thought it would be a good premise to start on. The last time I drank wine with people outside my flat, for example, was right before the first lockdown swept the nation. A few of my colleagues and I decided that we would finish a bottle in the time it took us to walk from work to a venue that was holding a Paddy’s Day party. We made short work of the cheap vino and arrived at the event with an excitement that was pretty standard for most outings back then. The night went off without a hitch (apart from when one of my aforementioned colleagues spilt whiskey over expensive DJ equipment – We both laughed this off at the time, but in hindsight, it could have been an absolute nightmare), and we proceeded to go to an afterparty at a local nightclub.
This was all standard procedure on a night out back then – the initial buzz of getting a night started followed by the unrelenting desire to keep it going. I think that night I stayed up till around 4/5am. The drunken conversations which took place at the afterparty still play in my mind like a broken record. “When do you think clubs will be open again?” and “Do you think that all this Covid shit will be done by summer so we can go to FLY Festival?” were some of the questions that stick in my head. When these conversations had run their course, and the sun was rearing its unwanted head, we decided to sleep. I stumbled back to my flat and passed out with my clothes on – not one of my finer moments but also not the rarest.
The past year has felt like a hangover from that night.
The first few weeks of lockdown was weird. I was, at that time, staying in a flat down next to the Aberdeen harbour with one of my mates. It was a four-bedroom flat, but two of the guys had moved in with other people, so it was just me and another left. The flat was a full-on party pad; we would usually have all our mates round every weekend and send it to the tune of that fateful night after the Paddy’s Day event. It was different now. We would spend our nights watching films and listening to music as the party atmosphere started to subside, and gave way to one of uncertainty and blankness. One of the things that I still think about today was when my flatmate ran into the room and told me to come through to his and watch the Boris Johnson speech (the one from mid-March that spoke about how a stay-at-home order was being put in place for the first time). That speech was one of the most surreal things I have ever experienced. Covid-19 stopped being the mystery virus that had plagued other European countries and became something which the Prime Minister now deemed important enough to make an emergency broadcast, with the sole purpose of making us understand the perilous position we were now in.
I, like many people, was still working at this time. I worked at Pets at Home, and due to it having a monopoly on pet services, we were deemed essential workers. I now take this as a blessing, however, at the time, it didn’t feel like this. All my mates were either unemployed or on furlough, so their schedules were free for drinking sessions on Zoom whilst mine sadly wasn’t. A few weeks into lockdown, I started to feel a bit down (as I’m sure everyone did), and I decided that it might be best to make a bit of a change. The change that I decided on was to move into a flat by myself and double down on the amount of writing I was doing for my blog and try to read as many books as possible. The reason for my move wasn’t down to a need to better my reading/writing ability as much as it was to try and gain a sense of maturity and independence. I know that hindsight is always 20/20, but I find it laughable that I thought it was somehow an excellent decision to move into a flat by myself in the middle of a pandemic that restricted the amount of people you could see to basically zero.
For me, this was when things started to decline. I had taken for granted the ability to talk to someone every day and was now met with true isolation. My mental health is something I’ve struggled with almost all of my adult life – I was diagnosed with hypochondria when I was 18 and ended up regularly visiting a psychologist until I moved to Aberdeen for university. When I moved to Aberdeen, I vowed never to let my mental health dip like it did a few years prior, and up until this point (apart from a few isolated instances) it hadn’t. Being alone with mental health issues is something that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. I found myself on the phone to my parents a few times a week explaining to them how I had started to experience different symptoms which, with the unhelpful aid of the internet, were irrefutable signs of a terminal illness or irreversible neurological disorder. This was, evidently, all in my head, but the realisation that these imagined illnesses were the work of my hypochondria made my mind spiral even more. I don’t want sympathy because I’ve had copious amounts of it in recent years, and it doesn’t help – if it did, I wouldn’t be writing this section of the blog.
After a while, I realised that my living arrangement at that time was doing me absolutely no favours, so I started to fashion an escape. I intended to message my landlord and tell him about my planning to leave the flat and fill him in on my thought processes surrounding the move, but this didn’t happen for months. The reason that this didn’t happen was due to me not wanting to bother him or stress him out with having to find new tenants. I realise now that this should have been done a lot quicker – like pulling off a bloody plaster to allow the wound to recover.
Obviously, this wasn’t the happiest time of my life, but there were some good moments. I remember when my time in the flat was coming to an end, I decided that I would go down to Glasgow and spend a night with one of my mates that I hadn’t seen in ages. It was the first time in a while that I had felt all the pains and worries wash away and was met with a familiar but long-forgotten happiness. That night I ended up falling asleep at her flat and had the best night’s sleep I’d had during the entire lockdown. It was only a few days later that I left that shitty flat (the flat was actually pretty nice) and moved in with one of the boys that I had previously stayed with at the party flat on the harbour.
Moving into another flat was a bit of a pain, especially when you have a fish tank and have to transfer around 50 litres of water every time you move, but this was a small price to pay for the possibility of regaining my mental clarity. The move went smoothly, and I immediately felt better. The ability to wake up and talk to someone every day was a game-changer. Whenever I felt even slightly under the weather, I could count on my flatmate to listen to me and point me in the direction of something which would amend my mood. Drinking alcohol with a mental illness isn’t usually the best thing to do, but to have a drink with someone after months of feeling alone was a welcome addition to my life.
Since moving into the flat, I’ve without a doubt seen improvements in my mental health; I no longer phone my parents multiple times a week with fears of illness or death, my sleep is getting a lot better, and I’m starting to feel genuinely relaxed. Relaxation, believe it or not, is something which I often rebelled against (I admit, not the most conventional focal point of outrage) as I thought it was a breeding ground for complacency. I have now completely changed my view on this and see relaxation as one of the most important things an individual can do.
However, my mental clarity hasn’t been achieved through companionship alone – that was only one part of the process. I found myself walking a lot more lately. My mates instructed me that I should get a Fitbit so that we could compare how many steps we do each day. I have found this massively rewarding, and it has given me a goal when I get up every morning. Another thing that has helped me was the camera I got for my Christmas. I realised that the main thing that keeps me afloat in these uncertain times is having attainable goals – they aren’t anything crazy (doing 10k steps a day or forcing myself to take photographs when I’m having a bad day), but they are definitely meaningful. The final thing I would urge everyone to do who is going through a rough time is to write down your thoughts. When I was at my psychologist a few years back, she made the point that I should always write down how I feel as it gives me the ability to take ownership of it. I know that all of these things aren’t as easy as they sound for some people (believe me, I do) but they’re just some of the things that helped me.
The lows will come, but they won’t last. The highs will come too, but they won’t last either. We’ve all been at stages of our life in which we feel like we don’t deserve to be happy – If i could impart any wisdom for those who are reading, it would be that we all have a responsibility to do whats best for ourselves (especially in these trying times). It’s up to us to navigate life with this knowledge in mind, no matter how hopeless it can seem. If you’re a friend of someone who is excluding themselves from day to day life, make sure you reach out and let them know they’re always a part of the conversation, regardless of where they are emotionally.
Personally, I just can’t wait to be walking about the streets drinking Echo Falls again.
Words by Blair Fulton