Covid-19 and living small

Posted 24/04/2020

Has my flat ever felt so small? I wonder. Has my bedroom really always lacked such height? The air seems thin already and I just closed the windows. Covid-19 is doing strange things to my perception, my lungs, my mind. And strangely, I am also thinking… “Phew, I’m glad I’ve been locked up before!”

Almost exactly ten years ago, I went inpatient for my eating disorder and depression. Covid-19 is, of course, a different kind of social isolation. We are not all surrounded by excellent health professionals who look after us night and day. We are not equipped with meal plans and debrief groups. We are also not all separated forcibly from our families and friends – there are some pros! And yet, it will probably feel overwhelming to most, the same way it felt almost unimaginable to myself ten years ago, to have to stay put for the foreseeable future.

So, I think back and wonder: Are there lessons from my time spent in six square metres of personal space that will help myself and could help others stay sane?

Exercise first. I became increasingly creative with my small floor and managed to find great workouts online that require little more than the space of a yoga mat. I also had to schedule my exercise – that gave me regular boosts but didn’t buy into the voices screaming for more, more, more. I learnt that exercise could be fun, not just harassment. Yoga works a treat for me now; dancing around to my favourite Legally Blonde (the musical) tracks (I apologise for the awful taste in music) is another perfect way to release endorphins and maximise the laughing factor.

Why am I still the problem? I went thousands of kilometres from home to go inpatient. This made it easy to be plagued by thoughts of guilt: How can I drag my dad away from my siblings and mom? Why do I have to be a burden to them all? Possibly worse, I was growing up in a poor, African country: What guts did I have to throw up my food when there were undernourished children growing up barely a few kilometres away? Once I chose to heal, I learnt that this guilt was part of the disease. Clever trick! To make me feel worth even less than my meagre self-esteem would give me credit for. When the thoughts did get overwhelming, I wrote messages to those I felt guilty for, I drew for them, I called them. They will love you for it and they will never, ever blame you for being ill.

Calling on those who cared for me also worked a treat once I returned home and continued my recovery out “in the wild”, where therapy appointments could be cancelled, and food cupboards were no longer locked. My biggest asset was my phone. It was a miracle what a phone call – if I was brave enough to push those buttons – could do. Just because a nasty virus has taken away my freedom to walk the walk, it can’t prevent me from talking the talk: I am going to beat confinement by reaching out, not crumbling in.  

Contributed by Julia

If you're worried about coronavirus, you can look at our guidance addressing some of the questions around the impact of the illness on eating disorders. You can also join our new online support group, the Sanctuary, set up to support anyone with an eating disorder who may feel worried and isolated right now.