When Mental Illness Meets a Virus

Into my third week of a virus which is draining my energy, causing a painful chest and plaguing me with coughing fits at least every half an hour, I don’t feel great. The physical illness itself is bad enough, but my mental health is also taking a battering.

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Cold/flu type viruses can make people feel depressed even if they are otherwise healthy. Some symptoms are common to depression: lethargy, general achiness, lack of motivation. However, when you already have a mental illness, the effects are exacerbated.

In addition to being ill making you feel like crap, it is difficult to keep up self-care when you are ill.

Apart from having very little energy, I can’t exercise because my chest hurts. I have been walking the dog, but at a glacial pace. The cold air aggravates my chest and breathing heavily is even more painful. This means I have lost one of the key methods I use to manage my mental health.

As my motivation has waned, it has become harder to practice self-care. It seems to take an incredible effort to switch on my SAD lamp in the morning. Eating healthily is already a challenge thanks to the kitchen renovation, but the illness has made it harder to prepare healthy meals because of the effort involved. It’s easier to grab a cereal bar or a packet of crisps.

I have to turn to the self-care strategies I use when my mental health is worse than it currently is.

I’m focusing on self-care activities which take very little energy. These include listening to happy music (which includes Xmas music now it’s December!), soothing hot drinks (also good for my sore throat and general stuffiness) and trying to be mindful. I have also been reading a little more, which might not be classified as self-care, but is very enjoyable.

More than anything, I have to remind myself that this is a temporary setback. I will feel well again — hopefully soon! — and I will be able to think clearly again. I will be able to be more proactive, so hopefully will feel less overwhelmed.

In the meantime, I believe it’s my prerogative to feel a little sorry for myself and drink lots of hot Ribena…