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The Day My Brain Stood Still

by Michelle Walmsley

I want to tell you about how things have been for me since I wrote on my experience as a disabled person during Covid-19. I’d like to but I can’t properly. This account might not be as lucid and linear and clear as the last. 

I was proud of what I wrote, not least because it wasn’t easy. I said everything I wanted to say at that time and I’m grateful that people read what I had to say. Thank you for reading, I really do appreciate it beyond what I can express here. Writing anything had never felt so important to me as it did in that moment, I think because I was so isolated and alone.

Things have been different. They were already different then. I remember now. 

One day I was scheduling my day to keep my mind off things; taking my dog out for two walks a day, eating well, lying in the bath, researching and writing for my thesis, listening to music and audiobooks. The next day, I felt broken and completely unable to function. I wasn’t able to hold a coherent thought in my head, I just knew I was terrified.

I wrote that 'Bubble Of One' piece in a brief moment of clarity weeks after that had happened. I say weeks. Maybe? Since that day I’ve mostly lost any coherent sense of time. 

I had to get it down and send it off in one effort. I knew there would be no going back to it. I had to concentrate hard and it took a bit of energy but it did flow out of me without having to force it at all. I enjoyed the process of writing even if the subject was dark and I was living it. 

I’ve always been able to protect myself from the thing I’m writing about, even if what I’m writing about is myself. I’m a vain person and I usually care about whether I’ve written well at least as much as what I’m actually saying. I think that helps. This time I feel different. I can’t write quite what I’d like to write. I hope what I want to say still comes across.

This is not so much to do with external needs this time. This is not even to do so much with disability, except peripherally. Not physical disability, anyway. I ran out of energy to look outward. My story now is about how having preexisting mental illnesses threw me into the worst mental health crisis I’ve had for nearly 20 years, during lockdown. 

I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I struggle with it every day in ways that I’m sure even those who are closest to me don’t know or understand. I won’t go into the trauma that caused my brain to break except to say that a person like me has to go through a lot of surgeries and medical procedures and the more you go through, the more potential there is for things to go wrong. 

Anxiety and depression are never too far away for me, though the latter has mercifully not struck me down for a long time with the same strength and violence it used to when I was in my teens and 20s. Anxiety can be crippling for me. In some ways it’s worse than the depression. Weirdly, I got some of my best grades at university when I was clinically depressed but still able to get out of bed. Anxiety is like an electric shock to the brain for me. I can’t think. I can’t read. I can’t write. I can’t even listen to music because the sensory overload is too much. I’m struggling to see the keyboard through my tears at that last sentence. 

I’m seeing a psychologist now and have been for a while thanks to videoconferencing technology. That happened by chance and I’m grateful. Well, chance and honesty. Access to mental health services can be difficult but I’m very honest about where I’m at so that if opportunities do come up for intervention it’s because I’ve been honest with the right people. As anyone knows who has tried to access a service of any kind, access to the right people is frustratingly often down to luck.

I’m starting to think more clearly and I’m beginning to feel like my thoughts are my own again even while my feelings are flooding my brain and my body to such a degree that I sometimes feel myself involuntarily twitching and writhing. My body doesn’t know what to do with this information overload, having only had one input to process for so long... terror.

If anything, I’m having more trouble sleeping than I did at the height of my anxiety, though I think I’m getting to bed earlier. I had sleep paralysis for the first time in a long time, recently, for a few nights running. That was cruel. Sleep has been my only escape, so to know I might start having these terrible nightmares somewhere between sleep and awake, to feel like I might die from them because I felt the breath being pressed out of me was … well, of a piece, I suppose. I haven’t had sleep paralysis again for a few nights, which is a huge relief. 

I’m starting to do better. The most telling sign of that is I want to go out and do things and see people and get back to my life. That life is going to look quite different in a way, at least for the time being. With no active Covid-19 cases and all cases recovered now in New Zealand, it feels like something of a new beginning for New Zealand and for myself, though we must remain vigilant and careful as we enter into this next phase of putting ourselves back together.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am to every person for helping to keep us all safe. Thank you. I wish us all good health.

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