Monday, 1 June 2020

Coping with being Housebound

It’s been quite a while since I last updated my blog. I don’t really have any excuses – I thought I would have more time to do things at the moment, but for some reason I’m finding I seem to be getting less done. It’s frustrating because I have so many blog post ideas and things I want to share with you here, but my body would rather just sleep instead! However, by some miracle I’ve finally managed to get a blog post written! 

I thought today, I would share with you some ways to cope with being housebound. On the 23rd March, we were told to ‘Stay at Home’ and to only leave the house for a few specific reasons. As well as this general guidance, those with certain medical conditions received letters telling them to shield themselves (i.e. not to leave the house at all) for at least twelve weeks. And alongside those that received letters to shield, there are thousands more who are having to isolate, either because they have symptoms of the virus, or because they have other health conditions that aren’t on the shielding list but that still put them in a vulnerable position. That’s a lot of people having to stay at home – many of who are probably used to going out every day. 

Although I didn’t receive a shielding letter, I have chosen to isolate as much as possible because I have complex chronic health problems and know how vulnerable I am to a simple cold or virus. But being housebound isn’t a new thing for me. In fact, I’ve spent over half my life ‘training’ for this moment! I became ill at the age of 15 and was originally diagnosed with M.E/CFS. Years later, I finally received the diagnoses of Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Gastroparesis, Intestinal Dysmotility, Bladder Dysfunction, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, Asthma and a few other random things. 

Since the age of 15, I have spent a lot of my time being either completely housebound, or only able to leave the house for medical appointments and the odd ‘nice’ thing. It can be a pretty tough and lonely existence, especially when there’s no end in sight of it ever getting any better. Over the years, I think I’ve learnt to adapt to some extent, and although I wouldn’t say it gets any easier, you develop coping strategies and your focus changes to allow you to manage a life that you could never have imagined living. 

Obviously this lockdown isn’t quite the same. The vast majority of people having to stay at home aren’t doing so because they’re too unwell to leave the house (although some are). This in itself opens up possibilities that aren’t available to people with chronic illnesses. But I do think people are getting a glimpse into what life can be like with a chronic illness. The isolation, the disappointment of seeing plans cancelled, the uncertainty over money and careers and not knowing when it will all end. It’s difficult for anyone to know how to cope with. So I thought I would share a few things that have helped me over the years of being housebound, in the hope they may help other people to cope too (both during lockdown and beyond). These tips are likely to vary in usefulness depending on your level of health and why you’re isolating (i.e. if you’ve got symptoms or a chronic illness, you may not feel well enough to do all of these, whereas if you feel well in yourself, you may find more of these helpful). But hopefully there will be something for everyone here.

Stick to a routine

When I first became housebound, my routine went out of the window. I was sleeping a lot more, I was staying in my pyjamas all day and I wasn’t following regular mealtimes. This was partly down to being unwell, but also because I knew I wasn’t leaving the house, so I didn’t feel like it really mattered. But as time has progressed, I’ve realised just how important some sort of routine is for my mental health. Your routine is likely to have been flipped on its head with this lockdown. So it’s important to find a new routine that works for you. How strict and busy you make it is completely down to you, and if all it consists of is changing into some day pyjamas and making sure you eat regularly, then that’s fine. But it’s amazing how a bit of routine every day just helps to give you purpose and to keep you going.

Netflix Party

This tip is something I haven’t yet tried and that has only become available fairly recently. But if you enjoy watching films or programmes with friends and family that you’re not currently living with, this is a great way to still be able to do it. Netflix Party synchronizes video playback and adds a group chat to your favourite Netflix shows so you can watch them at the same time as friends and family, and talk about them as you watch. 

Group Video Calls

I’ve never really made use of video calls much before, let alone using group video calls! I’ve always found phone calls quite difficult with my anxiety, but since starting to use video calls, I’ve found I can cope with them a lot better (possibly because I find it easier to be able to see someone’s face when I’m talking to them). Now this is probably showing my level of technological understanding, but until this lockdown, I didn’t realise it was possible to have group video calls (I guess it’s just something I’ve never had to use!) But I’ve now been introduced to Zoom (and group chats on FaceTime) and am realising just how important they are in allowing us to keep up with our social contact. 

We have quite a big family, so it’s lovely to be able to have everyone chatting on one screen, and it also makes family birthdays during lockdown a little bit easier. I also run a mental health support group, which usually meets once a month. Obviously this has had to stop, but people still need mental health support, now more than ever. So I have been running weekly group meetings on Zoom, which has been great. I’d really recommend looking into group video calls if you haven’t already, as they are so useful for socialising with friends, family, work colleagues and support groups. 

Make a list of things you want to get done

So as I said, not all of these tips will apply to everyone, and this one in particular may not be useful if you’ve been housebound for a long time due to chronic illness, or if you’re housebound with symptoms of the virus. But if you’re at home at the moment and are feeling well, it might be helpful to make a list of all those jobs you’ve been meaning to get done for ages but have never had the time. Although I’ve been isolated for a number of years, I do have a little list on my phone of tasks I would like to achieve. It just gives me a focus and a reason to get up some days, but I don’t have a time limit on those jobs – it’s just a case of doing bits when I feel well enough. 

Although this is a great time to get things done around the house and garden, it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to be productive all the time. Our emotions and mental health are all over the place right now, so if all you feel like doing is binge-watching something on Netflix or Disney Plus, then that’s fine. Your ‘To Do’ list could include a mixture of productive tasks and things to do just for you (like reading, gaming, crafting or anything else). 

Do some crafting

This will depend very much on whether crafting is your kind of thing, so if it isn’t, then this tip isn’t for you! But if, like me, you enjoy doing crafts but never seem to have the time to do anything, perhaps try and make a bit of space in your day for getting back to what you enjoy. For example, I’ve been trying to put together a Project Life Scrapbook for the last few years, but just haven’t had the time to keep up with it. So while I haven’t got so many medical appointments and other commitments, I would really like to try and set aside a bit of time to just enjoy creating my scrapbook again. If you’ve never really done any crafts before but have always fancied giving something a go, now is as good a time as any to try something out! You don’t necessarily have to buy new materials. Ask around in your community to see if someone has any spare that they could give you. Or start with something as simple as colouring or painting – there are so many resources online to get you started with any craft project that takes your fancy.

Do a jigsaw

This is another one that will depend on what sorts of things you like doing, but if you haven’t done a puzzle since you were a child, why not give it a go? It’s surprising how good they are at distracting you from difficult thoughts, and before you know it, an hour has gone by and you’re still trying to fit the pieces together! I like the fact that, with a jigsaw, you don’t have to do the whole thing at once. You can keep coming back to it and just doing a few pieces at a time if that’s what works for you. There are so many different puzzles to try with all sorts of pictures and varying amounts of pieces. I am particularly fond of a Disney puzzle, but there really is something for everyone!

Make or find an upbeat Spotify playlist

I don’t know about you, but I find music can really help when I’m feeling down or anxious (and isolation and the current situation is enough to make anyone feel those things). Sometimes, if I’m really struggling, all I can find the energy to do is put on my favourite song and have a little sing (or dance!) along to it. So why not try putting your own playlist together? You could even have different playlists for different moods (because sometimes we all just need to wallow and cry, listening to sad songs). If you don’t fancy making your own, there are plenty to choose from on Spotify. One of my particular favourites at the moment is blogger, Beth Sandland’s, Social Distancing Kitchen Party Playlist. It’s full of throwback tunes that are sure to get you having a boogie in the middle of your kitchen!

Pamper yourself

I don’t think it should take a global pandemic for us to factor in a bit of self-care and pampering, but it’s a good opportunity to start if you don’t do it already. You might think because you’re at home all day that you don’t need to set aside specific times for relaxation and winding down, but it’s just as important to do it now than it was when you were out all day working and socialising. Setting aside time just for looking after yourself means you are telling your mind that you deserve those acts of self-care. How you pamper is up to you and what you enjoy most. You could use that face mask or bubble bath you’ve been saving for a special occasion, paint your nails, do some meditation, read a book or anything else that is ‘just for you’ and helps you to feel relaxed. 

Write some letters

Something that has helped me massively since becoming unwell (and therefore becoming a lot more isolated) is writing penpal letters. I started when I first became ill, as a charity I was put in touch with for young people with M.E. had a penpal scheme, and I’ve been writing to penpals ever since. When you’ve been at home for days, weeks or months on end, one of the highlights of your day becomes what the postman delivers through your letterbox! So instead of just getting bills or medical letters, it’s really nice to receive handwritten letters and cards from friends all around the world. These pieces of snail mail have honestly kept me going at some of the hardest times in my life. I found my penpals in all kinds of places – charities for people with the same conditions as me, Facebook support groups, Instagram and also friends that have moved away. But during this lockdown, why not start by just writing to people you know but can’t currently see in person?

Work on your blog and YouTube

Again, this one only works if you have a blog or YouTube channel (or would like to make one!) But one of the biggest reasons that I chose to start blogging was because of my chronic health problems. I have always enjoyed writing and being creative, but when I became ill they became so much more than just a hobby. They gave me an outlet to express my creativity when I struggled to do much else. They allowed me to communicate some of what I was going through, and they introduced me to a huge community of other content creators, which helped me feel a bit less alone. I’m not well enough to work a traditional 9-5 job, but having a blog and YouTube channel offer me something to help structure my days and give me a feeling of achievement. So if you’ve always fancied having a blog or making YouTube videos, why not give it a try?

Exercise your brain as well as your body

Throughout the lockdown so far, I have seen so much emphasis being put on exercise. And that’s great – it’s really important to keep your body moving as much as you can. For some, that will mean taking part in home workouts, going running or cycling or setting up a home gym. While for others, such as those with chronic illnesses, it may be as ‘simple’ as doing gentle stretches or basic physiotherapy exercises. There is no one size fits all, so don’t feel bad if your exercise doesn’t look like someone else’s. But as well as keeping your body moving, it’s also really helpful to keep exercising your brain while you’re housebound. I struggle with brain fog anyway, but definitely find my mind seems to stop working quite so well when I’m spending a lot of time at home. Like with exercise, keeping your mind working will also look very different for different people. Some may enjoy things like puzzles and crosswords, while others might play computer games, do colour-by-numbers or listen to audiobooks and podcasts. It’s about finding something that works for you and that you can manage.

Talk about your feelings

Being housebound, for whatever reason, is tough. If you’re chronically ill and/or disabled, those things bring their own complications and worries. Or if you’re usually healthy and are suddenly experiencing the need to isolate, you will probably be dealing with a whole range of different feelings. My biggest piece of advice would be to make sure you are talking about those feelings. That could be talking to the people you’re living with, talking to friends/family online, using virtual support groups or, if you feel you need a bit more than a friendly ear, getting in touch with your GP or a helpline like The Samaritans. There is no shame in finding things hard, so please don’t feel like you have to keep everything to yourself. I’ve learnt the hard way that bottling things up can end in disaster, so please just talk, talk and talk some more.

Look for ways to help others

The final thing that really helps me to cope with being housebound is looking for ways that I can help other people. I have always wanted a career that involves helping others – being a doctor, a play therapist, an Occupational Therapist or working in the police. And I find it really hard some days that I can’t do these things. Being stuck at home, too unwell to do the things I crave, can leave me feeling useless and worthless. And I can imagine, at the moment, that healthy people who have to stay at home may also feel some of these things for not being able to get out there and contribute as they usually would. But just because you’re not on the NHS frontline saving lives or a key worker keeping the country going, it doesn’t mean you can’t still help in some way. If you’re able to leave the house, why not volunteer for your local Covid response, helping to get shopping and medication for people that are shielding? Or if you’re shielding, you could offer to phone people who might be living alone, send postcards to a local nursing home or send a card to a seriously ill child through Postpals. No matter how big or how small, there are always ways to help other people, and doing things like this help my mental health bucket loads when I’m housebound. 

And there we have it – a few things you can do to help you cope with being housebound. I really hope there will be something here for everyone – whether you are housebound through chronic illness, disability or the current situation. I also hope this post shows you that you aren’t alone in what you’re going through either, and that it’s OK to reach out for help if you need it. 

Are you currently housebound or have you been in the past? Were any of these ideas helpful, or are there other things that helped you to cope?

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