My name is Heidi, I am an NHS nurse, mother to my best friend, mini-me Georgina (Age 7) and wife to my long suffering and hardworking husband Jonathan of 14 years. My husband is a retail manager and is working on the front-line many hours a day during this crisis. I am myself a daughter to two wonderful elderly parents who help support me with Georgina, to allow me to work normally with after-school support. I enjoy everything outdoors including camping, gardening and city breaks. I also have bipolar and have had mental health issues all of my life. However, this does not define me, but makes me stronger! 

This is mirrored by Sir Winston Churchill. As first lord of the admiralty at the start of World War I and British prime minister in World War II, Churchill rallied people with stirring speeches and radio broadcasts to encourage resistance against Germany. However, he battled his own war against depression, suicidal thoughts, and lack of sleep. He called it his “black dog.” Despite his condition, he authored 43 books and earned a Nobel Prize in Literature. He died in 1965 at the age of 90. This is inspiration that you can not only be anything you want to be in life, no matter what career or life path you are following, you can be an open book and discuss your mental health issues, not be ashamed and come out stronger!

My own bipolar disorder symptoms and that of others are often triggered by stress, so the current COVID-19 situation is not an easy one. Even though there have been some lockdown restrictions eased, life as we once knew it will continue to be very different for some time. 

I wanted to share with you my current battle mentally and what I am doing to keep as well as possible during the COVID-19 crisis. Through first-hand experience, offering reassurance to those who also have current or new mental health issues. However big or small, a supportive hand and ray of light is what you may need at this time. 

I would like to share my mantra with you for when I am unwell:

‘You’re NOT alone, you are LOVED, this will NOT last forever and BRIGHTER days will follow, but you need to start SELF-CARE as soon as you start feeling unwell no matter the trigger or cause.’ 

You can take charge of your brain and mental health during this challenging time. I am proud proof of this and this is what I am doing every second of every minute right now! That’s not to say I have not had a few wobbles as this is natural for anyone during these strange times. 

I am sure that there are many people reading this who have mental health issues which may have become more evident during this time and I can reassure you it’s ok. You are not alone, it's OK to feel the way you do, it does not define you or your ability to be a productive member of society. However, you do need to get support and help and commit to self-care. 

It is fair to say that there are significant triggers present currently which do impact on my usual management. For example, maintaining healthy routines is important for everybody at some time, but it is critical to maintaining my own bipolar. We’re all adapting to an unprecedented emergency situation and being thrown into disorder and I am aware that this could have a significant impact on me. However, I have really tested my ability to self-care and manage this situation the best I can. Yes, I have daily tears and off-load to colleagues, friends and family. This is part of my self-care. It's OK to show your feelings and discuss that you are not doing so well or that you feel your mental health is suffering at this time. It’s not a weakness and even the government predict a huge impact on people's mental health and have committed to investing an extra £1 billion in mental health care by 2021 and a million more people will get mental health support.

It’s time to be pro-active and to try and remove and any additional triggers you can to improve your mental health. For example, I am aware that social media can make me further unwell. If I am not in a stable place, turning off social media and asking friends for updates is a good idea. If it’s moderate, turn off the social media that raises fear, anxiety, and anger, and focus on what creates positive feelings. In my case it’s a long Epsom salts soak in the bath! If the isolation is a trigger for your own mental health, then call someone right now.

In a nutshell here is some of my advice during this time: 

Plan your day: We are all adjusting to a new, rather strange, way of life. This can be a risk to our mental wellbeing. As tempting as it might be to stay in PJ’s all day, regular routines are essential for our identity, self-confidence and purpose. Try to start your day at roughly the same time you usually would and aim to set aside time each day for movement, relaxation, connection and reflection. I am making sure I get up and washed and dressed every day, even if this is a challenge mentally in itself. I know if I can’t do this then I am really unwell and seek support and develop additional self-care. It is however so important to try and fight the urge to stay in your PJ’s 24/7. When I have a day off at home alone with my daughter who is seven I start the day writing a list of what we are going to do that day i.e. reading, exercise, craft, baking, cleaning etc. and we tick it off as we go. This somehow makes the day go quicker!

Move more every day: Being active reduces stress, increases energy levels, can make us more alert and helps us sleep better. Explore different ways of adding physical movement and activity to your day and find some that work best for you. Even at home, there will be lots of ways to exercise and keep your body moving. My daughter is a fan of various HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) sessions online which range from 15 – 30 minute sessions and therefore easy to fit in around commitments. I try and commit to either walking around the block for 20 minutes or stick on a HIIT sessions when the little one is in bed. I have also dusted off the bike and gone for some family bike rides, lovely on a sunny day. 

Try a relaxation technique: Relaxing and focusing on the present can help improve your mental health and lighten negative feelings. Try some different meditation or breathing exercises to see what helps. For example, sometimes we can be so tense that we do not even remember what being relaxed feels like. Progressive muscle relaxation teaches you to recognise when you are starting to get tense and how to relax. This is a very difficult one to actually practice at this time. I think the way I can adapt this is by ‘turning off’ the noise of the world around me and having that lovely hot bath! I am only watching the news once a day. I have a massive love of film and music, so I dedicate the last few hours of my day watching a movie or music. I am a massive fan of classical music especially music from the movies so listening to Hans Zimmer/John Williams is my top tip. I try and avoid binge-worthy episodes otherwise this will impact on my sleep, so just try and watch a feelgood type of movie. I love comedies (Wedding Crashers) and old school movies (Singing in the Rain) are a few examples. For people who know me well I love a good old bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and it’s OK to drink in moderation, we all know that! I am aware that I am becoming unwell if this level increases. Just know that drinking to relax on a large scale is not productive and something that everyone needs to watch, especially at the moment being isolated. It’s a worry that booze sales have increased by 55 percent during the lockdown, just a warning to not develop new habits long-term and I do know that if the level is stepping up it is usually a warning sign.

Connect with others: Staying at home, especially if you live on your own, can feel lonely. Find creative ways to keep in touch with co-workers, friends, family, and others to help you (and them) feel more connected and supported. Explore ways of connecting that work for you, whether that’s by post, over the phone, social media, or video-chat. This could be anything, from sharing a cup of tea over a video call, playing an online game together, or simply sending a supportive text message. I am connecting in a healthy manner (limited social media) with friends via WhatsApp and messenger and telephone. I even arranged a Zoom afternoon tea with my husband’s family for his birthday. Let’s find the not-so-awful part of this current situation for example spending that quality time talking to people that we often crave during the normal pressures of the 9-5. It is important to reconnect with old friends and think and develop opportunities to come up with when the world slows down.

Take time to reflect and practice self-compassion: Make time every day to reflect on what went well. It's important to recognise your successes and the things you are grateful for, no matter how small. Consider keeping a gratitude journal each day where you could write two or three of these things every night before you go to bed. Mindfulness techniques may also help you focus on the present rather than dwelling on unhelpful thoughts (though they may not be helpful for those experiencing more severe depression). I know a lot of people find the ‘mindfulness’ craze a little bit airy fairy and hard to adapt, but you can do it in a way that works for you. I try and write down 3 things every night (if I have time) which have made me happy that day. My three yesterday were: 1. Taking time to complete a 20 minute HIIT session and feeling brighter mentally afterwards. 2. My husband cooking a beautiful home cooked meal and enjoying this in quiet together. 3. Talking to my mum and dad on the phone with my daughter and to hear the joy in their voice. There are many negatives in life at the moment, but its training your brain to focus on the good points, this is personally a powerful strategy.

Improve your sleep: Feelings of uncertainty and changes to daily life may mean that you have more difficulty sleeping. This is one of my major issues with my bipolar. There is a lot you can do to improve your sleep. Aim to go to bed and get up at the same time each day, even at the weekend if you can, and try to get some natural sunlight (by opening your curtains and windows) where possible. This helps to regulate your body clock which can help you sleep better. Wind down before bed by avoiding using your phone, tablet, computer or TV for an hour before bedtime. I must say this is a very hard one for me as my condition makes it hard for me to often switch off and I have to fight this. Although not easy for me, I have the self-awareness to fight it as much as I possibly can. For example, last night I did not get to sleep until 1.30am, as I was fighting the stresses of the world, but took some natural remedies and burned lavender in my room at 12.30 and this helped.

Getting support from your employer: I can only personally give praise to my managers and my workforce for their support over the last few years and their committed support, non-judgmental approach and person-centered approach to managing my condition has been outstanding. So, for any of you who feel that they would worry about raising this with their manager or workforce, from my own personal experience, I would encourage this. I spent years hiding my condition which is more tiring than standing up strong and developing coping strategies collectively with your support network. Any managers here that have either not dealt with this issue before or are concerned about a member of your team, please do develop open channels of communication. It is hard to support someone when you have no first-hand experience of mental health, but there is a wealth of support out there, including speaking to workforce team. I have had additional support from Bipolar UK through Access to Work supported by workforce and the benefit of this has been huge. Accessing advice through your HR, ACAS and bipolar charities are a few examples. 

There are also going to be times that the strategies just do not work and you become unwell like I do, however if you can try and keep that 5 percent of your brain fighting when 95 percent wants to fail then every day this fighting percentage will get bigger and you will get stronger. 

What we are going through now is not permanent. Seasons change, and the world is up for the task. We are working together. We are in control of ourselves. Let’s use this time to be smart about mental health symptoms that probably will show up, get help, and then take the time to reflect on what we want in our lives. And I urge you to look after your mental health, do not ignore it, do not burn out, be kind to yourself, step up if you need support, be proud in yourself for recognising the need for help, adapt your own coping strategies, these will develop and become stronger the further you commit to identifying the need for help and in my case lifelong recovery. Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope that it has either given you some ideas of how to develop self-care, ask for additional support, the courage to speak up, the strength to support others and comfort in knowing you’re not alone


Follow Heidi’s journey @TopsyTurvyBipolar on Instagram

Last updated: 22 November 2023