As millions of people around the world practice social distancing and are staying at home for weeks on end, many people may find themselves feeling lonely and alone, maybe even anxious or uneasy, for the first time.
Others are all too familiar with the emotional impact of feeling alone and separated from friends and loved ones while also managing their emotional health. Among them are people who live with a mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety, who sometimes opt to social distance because being around other people makes them uncomfortable or self-conscious.
Many adults live with some
form of mental illness and many also deal with a relatively unknown
involuntary movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia (TD). TD is
associated with prolonged use of antipsychotics prescribed to treat
mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, and
schizophrenia. The physical symptoms of TD can impact one’s emotional
and social well-being, causing them to feel embarrassed or withdrawn
Shelly, a married mother of one, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and spent two years with her physician trying to find an antipsychotic medication that helped. After being prescribed a few different options, she finally found a treatment that worked for her. Just as things started to get better, however, she began noticing uncontrollable movements in her legs, mouth, and tongue.
After noticing these movements, her doctor advised that she might have TD. She learned that while the symptoms can look and feel different from day to day, they may remain persistent and often irreversible. Shelly’s symptoms sometimes embarrass her so much that she often avoids communication with others. “The days my TD symptoms are really bad, I won’t answer the phone because my voice is so slurred from my tongue movements, it’s hard for people to understand me,” Shelly notes.
One memory is especially painful. “I was at a parent teacher conference,” Shelly relates. “My hands were swinging all over the place and I could feel the teachers staring at me. My husband and I tried to explain what was going on, but they didn’t believe me. It was very hurtful.” She explains that situations like those are difficult to handle.
“I was working so hard to be a better person and deal with my mental health issues, and strangers who didn’t understand were judging me for things beyond my control.”
As Shelly reflects on how her mental health has been impacted by the global pandemic, she says it “brings so many overwhelming thoughts and emotions to the forefront. I know what it feels like to not want to go out and stay at home so, for those people who are dealing with it during this pandemic, I can relate.” To cope with these challenging times, she notes, “I try to keep up to date with current events but also try to read uplifting and funny articles.”
It is especially important that people are aware of the challenges of living with mental illness, including TD, and that they can reach out to their physicians and have access to the appropriate therapies. During this time of unprecedented anxiety, treating TD is a critical strategy for maintaining overall mental health and wellness, so that those living with the condition can live an active and productive life.
Whether people are in self-imposed or mandated social isolation, Shelly offers the following suggestions to weather the storm:
Seek virtual support groups or connect with family and friends. Comparing stories and information with others facing similar challenges can be enormously helpful. “It’s so important for people with TD to feel connected and have a community, because we are often so isolated and stigmatised,” says Shelly. It is important to stay connected to family, friends and those who make you feel supported, listen and can help uplift your spirits. “I know what it feels like to be alone, so I can relate to those people out there struggling through this tough time.”
Reflect on your individual needs. Acknowledge and legitimise your own feelings. Know that your feelings are valid. Connect with people who make you feel better and avoid those who bring you down. “I call my friends and family weekly and my mother daily and I set a weekly phone session with my therapist to help me cope,” says Shelly.
Stick to healthy routines. Do everything possible to take care of your own physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Take time for yourself to exercise, try meditating, and connect with loved ones. “Taking short walks with my husband every evening around my neighborhood makes all the difference,” Shelly notes.
Optimise resources. Take advantage of the wealth of online mental health resources. There are a lot of advocacy groups who have support services available to help manage your mental wellbeing and if you are living with the challenges of mental illness, including TD. – BPT