Lockdown is back in the UK. Currently scheduled to end on December 2nd, recent experience tells us that we just don’t know what the future will hold. It’s a scary time, made all the more so by chronic pain.
Every pain patient knows that stress has the ability to vastly inflate pain levels and, let’s be honest, we all know that lockdown and the constant fear of Covid-19 is extremely stressful. But (and it’s a major BUT) the other thing we all know is that the chronic pain community is filled with amazing, strong, resilient and incredibly kind people; we’re all in this together and we can all get through this together.
So what can we do to handle this frightening and difficult time?
Remember you are not alone
The first and most important message I want to share is just this: you’re not alone. Mental health can take a beating during lockdown, with enforced time stuck in your house meaning that we all feel ever more isolated and pain can become harder and harder to deal with. I’m beyond sad to say that I’ve seen more people than ever in the chronic pain community who are reaching the end of their tether.
If you are struggling mentally, then please reach out right now. This page from the NHS contains links to organisations that can provide support with a range of issues, including but not limited to mental health problems, addiction, domestic abuse and problematic gambling. There are also a wealth of fantastic chronic pain support groups on social media with active and incredible members. CRPS talk and support UK and CRPS UK are two of my favourites, but groups exist for every geographic region and condition; find the right one for you by putting the relevant search term into the Facebook search bar.
This article (trigger warning: suicide and self harm) contains links to resources and advice for anyone who feels like they might not know how to continue. Every single person I know who lives with CRPS has hit a time when they don’t know if they can carry on. I promise you that you’re not alone. I promise you that you won’t feel like this forever. Making things better starts with reaching out.
Try something new
With that very serious message given, let’s talk about ways you can keep yourself occupied during lockdown! Enforced time at home can leave you with seemingly hours and hours to fill and one great strategy can be to learn a new craft or skill.
Crafting is a great new hobby to get into during lockdown, and it’s especially good for chronic pain sufferers who, like me, suffer a lower limb issue that means I spend the vast majority of my time on the sofa or in bed.
How about knitting?
Anyone who knows me knows that I am absolutely obsessed with knitting. I love everything about it: the feel of the yarn, the mindful, almost meditative state you enter whilst making stitches, the beautiful product you have to show for your effort, yes I really could go on and on and on.
If you fancy learning to knit, then YouTube has a vast array of beginner tutorials (or just drop me a line and I’ll talk your ear off about it and be ridiculously enthusiastic. Seriously. Find me on Facebook.) Crochet is another great yarny alternative and if you need inspiration, check out Ravelry for knit and crochet patterns of every difficulty level and a thriving support and social community. Just don’t hate me if you suddenly realise that you’re now living in a yarn shop unconvincingly masquerading as a house.
Have you tried diamond painting?
If you’re feeling artsy, then why not try diamond painting? This new craft is a mixture of cross stitch and paint by numbers, whereby you apply differently coloured tiny resin ‘diamonds’ to an adhesive canvas. The results are stunning!
Alternatively, lots of us turned to baking during the first lockdown, to the extent that flour seemed impossible to come by for weeks! Now would be a perfect time to start a Christmas Cake or if you’re a total beginner, here’s a great baking primer to get you started.
It can seem difficult to partake in these hobbies if you have an illness like CRPS affecting your hands, but here’s a page suggesting how crafts and activities can be adapted if you have hand issues. It’s designed for arthritis sufferers, but much of their advice holds good for sufferers of any type of chronic pain.
It’s really important to stay as active as we can during lockdown. Whilst you can’t hit the gym, in contrast to the earlier lockdown in the UK, this time you can exercise outside your home for as long as you like. You can also exercise with people you live with, those from within your support bubble or one other person as long as you remain socially distanced.
Whilst indoor gyms are off-limits, there are more than 1,500 free outdoor gyms across the UK. Click here to find your nearest one. Alternatively, if you’d like to try getting fit without leaving your house, here’s a great place to start.
Find your next box set binge
If you’re after a slightly more sedate way to spend lockdown, the numerous subscription streaming services out there have a great range of content. Netflix, Now TV and Amazon Prime have a vast amount of TV and films between them, in every genre you can imagine. They generally cost about £8 or £9 per month. My personal recommendations include Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix, Parks and Recreation on Amazon Prime and if you haven’t yet watched Game of Thrones on Now TV, stop reading this article right now and go subscribe (just don’t blame me for the last series).
If you’d rather not pay to stream video, why not check out one of the innumerable content creators on YouTube? Channels exist for almost any subject you can imagine, and you can also finally understand what your teenager has been going on about! (Or perhaps that’s just my teenager…)
Self care matters
Whatever activity you choose to fill your time, it’s vital to take time to take care of yourself, regardless of what’s happening outside your door. Self care is simply taking the time to do something that helps your emotional health. It can be as simple as creating a space for you to do something you love, whether that’s a home spa night, making and enjoying your favourite meal or watching a programme that makes you laugh.
Mindfulness is another incredibly useful tool in the fight against chronic pain. At its core, it’s a simple practice that involves focussing your awareness on the present moment, acknowledging and accepting without judgement your sensations, feelings and thoughts. It’s becoming ever more popular as a way of treating chronic pain and I’ve personally found it extremely helpful. I’ve written before about my own experiences of using it to manage my CRPS and where to begin if you think it might help you.
Don’t neglect your health
As important as mental wellbeing is right now, dealing with existing physical health issues shouldn’t be side-lined. Yes, the NHS is burdened by the impact of Covid-19 and yes, the thought of going to a GP surgery or hospital might not be hugely appealing right now, but please don’t abandon the medical treatment of your chronic pain because of Covid-19.
If you have appointments that have been confirmed then please attend them; the NHS is working incredibly hard to ensure patients can attend regular appointments safely. If you have new symptoms or are struggling with a flare then please don’t suffer in silence; contact your GP or treating consultant as you would normally and get the help you need and deserve. This NHS guide provides advice on how to get support during Covid-19.
If you do have to attend appointments or leave the house then please follow all public health advice to keep yourself safe:
- Wash your hands: as often as you can, with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer.
- Cover your face: wear a mask when you’re on public transport or inside any building that’s not your home.
- Make space: stay 2 metres away from anyone outside your household.
Don’t lose hope
Finally, out of all the important things I’ve listed this is without doubt the most important: please don’t lose hope.
This week we got the brilliant news that a vaccine is proving 90% effective. We’ve seen incredible feats from the utterly heroic Captain Tom to innumerable NHS staff, essential workers and ordinary people who’ve stepped up to help in the face of the crisis. 2020 has been dark for so many of us but I honestly believe that 2021 will see our lives start to get back to normal. I started this piece by saying that chronic pain patients are some of the strongest and most incredible people I know; I’ll end by reiterating the same. You lot are simply marvellous and I know in my bones that we’ll all get through this together.