It’s April 5th, 2020, a month after my birthday, and I have just completed my third week of Self-isolation. Don’t worry I don’t have #covid19. I don’t want to even talk about that now because we are all so aware of it, the many lives it has taken, and the ways it has upended our society, and our lives for a seemingly long time. I just pray for the people that have been lost to this disease and I hope everyone is staying home, safe and healthy. Being at LSE for the past year, specialising in population studies and studying health and international development, has massively improved my understanding of global health security and the impact of pandemics. The one lesson I will never forget learning last year, was that in every epidemic or pandemic, there is always a large amount of indirect deaths (and I am going to extend that further to indirect morbidity) because health capacity and services are often focused on the pandemic, leaving less resources for other health services. Sometimes these can exceed the direct deaths from the pandemic, which is what happened with Ebola.
In these corona times, I have been thinking a lot about Mental health and how much morbidity and mortality would arise from this and other health issues, once this is over. Maybe it’s because we are all cooped up at home and many of us know the impact that loneliness and isolation can have on people’s mental health, there’s also the ever worrying fact that domestic abuse is rising rapidly in almost every country as people are being forced to stay in lockdown with their abusers. I’m thinking about the people like me who had to live alone at young ages, and how they are coping when the shops are sold out on almost all items, and they are still learning how to cook. I’m thinking about the kids that currently are or have been sexually and/or physically abused, and school was their refuge and escape, which has now been taken away. And I am especially thinking of those already dealing with mental health issues, and how all of this news, media attention, hysteria and panic buying has affected their mental health.
I also can’t help but reflect and be grateful for the progress I have made in managing my own mental health, which brings me to the topic at hand. I used to have an eating disorder, what is known as bulimia. As an African woman, it amazes me how little we talk about mental health, especially in the conversations about women’s empowerment. in particular because my eating disorder actually started in Nigeria. as a way to cope with all the societal pressures being placed on my young feminine self, and as a way of surviving the mostly terrible food I had to eat in boarding school, by trading my favourite meals (of which they were only 2, for all the meals I could not tolerate). This meant that I would starve my self on most days in the week, and have extra 2 days in a week. as you can imagine, this did not bode well for my system. I also used to be called fat a lot and teased for my body, and in the eyes of almost everyone around me, no matter how much I starved, I wasn’t skinny enough. These societal pressures persisted when I moved to London at 15. with every magazine cover I saw in the supermarket shelves (Special shout out to ‘heat’), with the Kardashians and their ever growing fame for appropriating black women’s bodies while still remaining societally acceptable and one can argue even applauded for it, and with every tv show, blog post, book or new diet fad that claimed to help you become a new you, the best you, the skinny you. This worsened rapidly once I started living alone in London. The turmoil and stress I brought on myself trying to fit into an acceptable mould, especially when I moved to London and had to deal with additional racism, colourism, a different and more insidious type of sexism, and the intersectionalism of all of them, in addition to the many other things that life forced me to deal with, was truly a lot for my young self to cope with alone. I didn’t deal with it in the best way, but at the time it felt like the only way. It took 5 years before I sought help, from myself (by improving my knowledge) and my GP, and another 2+ years before I actually followed through and utilised the resources available to me in the NHS. I count myself as one of the lucky ones because I had access to the services I needed before it got too bad. I remember the many times when I needed it but could not access it, how that made things worse, and I know that for many people, this is still their reality. In all honesty, the reality of existing through this world as an African woman, an ethnic minority and the realisations of the impact that ones environment can have on one’s development, health and wellbeing, has always been and still is a motivating factor for almost every decision I make.
I am so grateful and glad to now be in a place where I cannot only speak about this openly, but also reflect on the many lessons and skills that I took with me out of that chapter of my life. Now, people are being forced to bulk buy, and stay at home. And I am not saying that is a bad thing (ok maybe the panic buying part), in fact it is necessary to protect yourself and others by limiting your social interactions and exposure to this new coronavirus. But I can’t help but think of those who are dealing with additional difficulties in their everyday life, due to health issues, either mental, physical or both (as comorbidities are becoming increasingly common), living alone, or being forced to live with the source of their pain, and how they will survive through and after this, especially if they are neglected. We really should try our best now to stay in touch and take care of each other, so that this situation doesn’t worsen any further than it has to. All I can offer myself, is the knowledge that you are not alone, you can and will get through this. Do not be afraid to seek help in these times, or feel like you are a burden to your health system by using it, because you are not. Mindfulness and meditation are incredible tools for when you are alone and things get too overwhelming (shoutout to the feelinggood app). if you live in the UK, there are many local mutual aid groups that you could join to get or give help, or just to connect to someone else, and if you live in other countries, check Facebook or google to see if there’s one in your location. Samaritans is a free charity to speak to people that anyone can use to help mitigate a mental health crisis. Take care of yourself, and do not forget to reach out to your family and friends.
See you in the next one.