The Way It Is

Lockdown days seemed to be centred around breakfast, lunch, Boris and dinner; the only things that seemed to distinguish the morning, from the afternoon, from the evening. The days became known in COVID slang as Blursday – the merging of minutes, hours and days during lockdown.

As the days dragged on, we were all ‘fattening’ the curve, gaining a ‘quarantine 15’ (lbs!) and asking ‘is it quarantine o’ clock yet?’

Eating and drinking and a bit of TV thrown in, was as good as it got. Quality binge watching at the start like Succession, Normal People and Killing Eve turned into Christmas TV on loop, only without the turkey!

We were told we were allowed out for food, but it was food to survive, not food for enjoyment.

Then the panic buying began, referred to in Germany as Hamsterkauf, a noun made up of ‘hoarding’ (hamstern) and ‘buy’ (kaufen), coming from the word meaning a hamster, which stockpiles food in its cheeks. Flour and yeast were impossible to come by, everyone seemed to be baking banana cake and fermenting sour dough starters!

Panic buying is a common human response to a crisis, through fear. People were not rational; running to the shops at the prospect of running low on real coffee or wine seemed more terrifying than the risk of exposing themselves to the infection itself. But I have also read panic buying being referred to as ‘resilience buying,’ people finding solace in being prepared, a way of being in control of your life, even if that control only meant having enough toilet rolls in the house.

And it is these words that Christina, who has spoken to us on one of our podcasts, uses as a way of summing up her mental health. Her eating disorder was a form of control over her life but her recovery has shown resilience. Stephan, who we spoke to in another episode about his alcohol addiction, needed to be in control of his life too and drinking gave him that control. Both Christina and Stephan discuss their unhealthy relationship with food and drink, but it is clear their problems were never about the food or the drink. Both of them had deep-rooted reasons as to why they didn’t want to eat, or drank too much.

Food or drink can be one person’s demon but another person’s survival. COVID-19 has caused homeless levels to soar. Pre-COVID there were at least 280,000 homeless in the UK. It has been projected that the economic effects of coronavirus could throw another 500,000 people into homelessness. The homeless are not down and outs, they are often well-educated people who have just fallen on hard times. What they need is just three things – food, drink and shelter – the basics to survive.

We cannot compare how some people can misuse food and drink, when other people are so desperate for it to survive. Whether people have too much or too little, they are both issues that are very sad and debilitating and will cause physical and mental damage if not addressed.

COVID-19 has generated a new narrative around food and drink, a narrative that highlights a problem in our society. In lockdown, when thousands of people were berating their weight gain and their drinking using phrases such as ‘I’m becoming an alcoholic’, it highlighted examples of language we use inappropriately everyday and by doing so  trivialise mental illnesses.

One of the aims of the podcast is to try to inform and educate people about the appropriate language to use, and not to use, when talking about mental health and most importantly when talking to someone with mental health issues. OCD doesn’t mean being ultra tidy, depression doesn’t mean feeling low, anorexia doesn’t mean being slim, baby blues doesn’t mean depression, being put in a mental hospital doesn’t mean you are mad and drinking too much, like in lockdown, doesn’t mean you are an alcoholic. If mental health diagnoses were that simple, there would be no mental health crisis in this country. We must not trivalise or simplify issues that are highly complex but acknowledge how crucial it is to tackle these complex issues as early in life as possible.

With World Mental Health Day tomorrow in mind, the first obvious step to this is continuing to educate the younger generation to talk about what is going on in their heads from a very early age and encouraging them to ask for help. This openness will go someway to prevent these issues escalating in their later lives. What we must teach children is that talking about their mental health is a strength not a weakness but we still have a very long way to go. Children will not naturally do this; they need to be taught and the best way to learn this is from their parents, who also need to be open and honest about their mental health too.