Working at altitude: Self Isolation, Struggles and finding strength

Setting the Scene

The last few weeks have felt quite hard.  I wanted to open up about this so that I could hopefully help someone else too. Even if you only read to this point, know that if you are struggling then you are not alone.

Setting the scene, due to our impairments Fran and I have now been self isolating for some 15 months.  Even as I write that figure it feels like a long time.  During that time life has changed beyond recognition.  The things we used to take for granted – seeing friends and family, even a trip to the supermarket, all gone almost overnight.

I should be clear that this was a choice, but against a backdrop of some sobering coronavirus statistics, it felt like the only prudent choice to make.  By sitting it out, we could live to see the other side.  Literally.  

There have been some great positives from this time too it has to be said.  Life has become very simple, and I have learned to appreciate the little things..fresh air, flowers, even the disproportionate excitement of a supermarket delivery without substitutions!

Like many during the pandemic, my mental health has been impacted. More positively, I have found resolve that I never knew I had, and have been able to be proud of what I have been able to accomplish during this time.  

Struggling and counter attacking

I have been struggling more over the last couple of weeks, and reached out to a friend to talk about this.  I compared it to working at to working at altitude: The air is thinner, the work is harder, and oxygen needed to maintain progress.

We have also had the odd knock too lately, and because we have been working at altitude and a few have come along at once, our capacity to deal with them has been stretched. These things always tend to come along at the same time! Add in a knock or two, tiredness and self isolation and you have the equivalent of a Petri dish where depression can thrive!

I know what depression and anxiety feels like.  It positively thrives on tiredness and Fran remarks that it is a contortionist – it can find a way to get into any space that it can fill.  Once it has that foothold, it is all too easy for it to grow and it can have a debilitating effect if left unchecked and unmanaged.

My latest counter attack has begun.  I have reached out to a couple of friends and I actually had my first social trip out today.  Make no mistake..this wasn’t just tea and cake at my local pub.  This was the first time I had been out for a cuppa in over a year.  I felt apprehensive but it was quiet and I was with a dear and trusted friend.  

She knew the words I needed to hear: No pressure..anything goes.  The reassurance that provides is so vital.  For what its worth, I’d commend this approach to anyone readjusting at the moment: Be patient with yourself and each other, and just take things as they come.  Many of us have been living in ways we are not used to, and it may take some time to get back out there, and that is fine.

So what else is part of the counter attack?  Well, I have looked at joining a health club and have made arrangements to visit one.  Having a bit of an oasis where I can go and have a sauna and spend time in a nice hot swimming pool sounds like a good plan.  Fran and I are also due to have our second vaccine on Tuesday. I’m lucky to work with supportive people who have been fantastic too.

I have also been having self-compassionate but firm words with myself about self care.  It matters a great deal, especially as the world begins to open up again.  Reframing is key too.  At a time when depression does the talking a deficit model of thinking takes over and days become about not messing things up.  A positive Chris will always approach with the mindset that his experience and ability can be used to make a difference.

This blog, though slightly daunting, is also a good thing I think.  I’m always slightly worried that I’m over sharing but my fear is that in doing so, I’m sharing too much and opening myself up to negative judgement. If though it reaches one of you and makes a difference, then it has done its job. I hope it helps someone somehow.

I’m confident that I’ll be climbing again soon.

Some tips

I’ll close with some tips for working at altitude.  These aren’t medical or clinical advice but are things that I have found to work from my own lived experience.

  • Practice good self care.  Rest.  Eat well.  Have outlets to help disperse stress.  My x box has been great for this.  Reading for pleasure is another option.  
  • Develop a support network.  It doesn’t need to be huge, but having friends that you can open up to can make a difference.  I’m also a big advocate of counselling too, which can help.
  • Take things one step at a time, and reward yourself for progress you make.  Writing down positive things you have accomplished is a good exercise.
  • Breathe.  Just breathe.  Taking even just a few seconds out to take some deep breaths can help improve composure.  Listen to your favourite song.  Having a short, purposeful ‘time out’ can help you to regroup.

About the Author

Dr Chris Whitaker is a disability blogger who writes on impairment related issues.