COVID-19 With Hindsight: Struggling With Mental Health
It is not news that this pandemic that hit the world put our lives upside down. It all started mid-march when more than 1.7 billion people from over 50 countries worldwide had to lock themselves at home for almost 2 months straight. If this lockdown was perceived as good news from a segment of the population, many of us struggled. The human being is not accustomed to being locked up and this is why many people in prison suffer from mental health issues as a consequence of their confinement. But when you’re young, studying abroad and have to experience something this “unique” and particular it can be harder. To have a better insight on this, we met with Nora, a Moroccan who studies in Paris. She shares with us her story.
Having the world “on pause” for almost two months has indeed shown we could reduce our gas emissions and thus decrease pollution. We might have realized we did not need to consume as much as we did. And, it might have felt good to isolate a bit for some time because it allowed us to reflect on our lives, reevaluate our relationships with loved ones and so much more. But this lockdown has also caused its share of damage.
Indeed, besides the sanitary crisis that we are still living and this economic recession hanging in our face, we lived an unprecedented experience that put a strain on our mental health.
If some of us had the chance (or not?) to experience the lockdown with family or friends, some were completely isolated and not in their home countries. Today, We met with one of them : Nora is 21 years old, she’s Moroccan and studies Cultural Mediation in Paris. She agreed to share the story on her lockdown but also the “after” because regarding the worldwide situation at the moment, we might experience a second lockdown during fall.
Thanks for agreeing to share your story. What happened mid-March when the French government announced the lockdown?
Smiles. Well, at first it kind of seemed surreal. I didn’t really know what to expect. On Friday the 14th the Moroccan Government had decided to close all borders, but in France everything was still “normal”. I just thought Morocco had taken this measures because it’s a developing country that does not have a great hospital capacity and they were trying to do prevention. They didn’t even have 50 active cases when they took those drastic measures.
But, on March the 17th when the French Government announced the lockdown, I immediately felt trapped. There was so much uncertainty, I couldn’t predict what was going to happen next and my family was in Morocco while I was in Paris, alone. I felt powerless and very isolated. I couldn’t even go back to my home country since the borders were closed. Actually, over 35 000 Moroccans were stuck abroad, but that’s another discussion…
What was the lockdown like for you?
At first it felt good, just like for most people I guess. I loved the fact that the streets were silent, that everything was moving at a slower pace but most importantly, that we were ALL moving at that same pace. To be completely honest with you, in the beginning it almost felt like holidays, since we were all trying to figure it out I didn’t have classes etc. And, it was still the end of winter and since I’m kind of a couch potato, being inside was okay for me.
But, after two weeks of being locked up I started going crazy. Fortunately, nowadays, we have the means to be in touch no matter where we are on the globe. So I called my family and friends. But, let’s face it , nothing compares to human contact. Also, staying in touch with university was very difficult because some teachers were extremely responsive and quick on the draw when others just plain and simply disappeared on us. And, a month into the lockdown we had to take our finals , so, I was in for a hell of a ride ! Laughs.
I don’t really know how things were in Belgium but in France the restrictions were quite severe : we had to fill in a sworn statement to leave the house and we were only allowed one hour out per day within a one kilometer radius. It really felt like prison because even the parks were closed. Basically, I could leave the house for grocery and a walk around the block.
I felt extremely alone and isolated
Mental health wise, how did you feel?
I felt extremely alone and isolated. When you’re on your own, that you are not allowed to leave your home without a sworn statement and you live in a studio, trust me it’s complicated.
I had troubles sleeping since it was hard to keep a good rhythm and when you are only allowed 1hour out for a quick walk you can’t really get physically tired. I quickly quit checking out my pedometer. Laughs.
After the troubles sleeping, the anxiety kicked in. You know, at first the lockdown was supposed to last 4 weeks, they told us it wasn’t necessary to wear masks etc. But then it was prolonged, hospitals were overwhelmed, the officials “changed their minds” about masks, they started confessing they did not know that much about this virus. So, I started worrying a lot about this “invisible enemy” and I was worried because I knew my family was back in Morocco undergoing the same restrictions with a poorer hospital system… That’s when the depression arrived.
You know, when you’re alone, far from your loved ones and undergoing so much pressure and uncertainty. You’re “an easy prey” for depression. That’s what happened to me. It’s not something that only happen to the others, and you don’t have to experience loss, violence or whatever.
And, today how do you feel?
Today, I feel much better but I’m not there yet. I still struggle a bit and have to check in regularly with myself. But I go to therapy once a week and it’s helped me a lot. I went home this summer and stayed over a month with my family so that was extremely invigorating. I recharged my batteries I feel stronger and ready for the start of the Academic Year.
There are speculations on a possible lockdown during fall, what are your impressions?
Can we not think about that? Laughs. Honestly, I try not to think about this scenario but also hope we don’t have to go through this again. If we have to I feel like we all are more “prepared” and things will be smoother. With hindsight I would do things differently.
Well, first, if there is a second lockdown I will stay with a friend so that I feel less alone. Also, I will keep on doing therapy and check-in with myself more often. I think I should have reached out and asked for help way before I spiraled down. Lesson learned !
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Text & photo: © Zina Mehrez