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How my ‘Tool Kit’ saved my mental health during the Coronavirus lock down: A single mothers account

Wow, didn’t that all happen fast! I remember vaguely hearing about some guy in China taking a bite out of a bat, I didn’t really think much of it. I don’t tend to watch the news all that much, I find my own little bubble enough to handle most of the time. So for me the (nearly) lock down came out of nowhere and my world turned upside down in a heart beat.

Initially I spent a week on high alert, in this weird combination of fight and flight symptoms, mixed with huge amounts of anxiety. My senses were tremendously heightened, lights were blinding, sounds deafening and I jumped at the slightest touch. I stood, the Thursday before the lock down, in an extremely long supermarket que, next to the last few packs of toilet roll, my foot started tapping and my fingers started clawing at my neck. Signs I knew well. The palpitations, sweats, hyperventilating and stream of tears followed. I stood, ironically, amongst so many people feeling so alone. It had been a long time since I had been in this place. But I had been here before.

Back in May last year I broke. I’ve been told the term ‘breakdown’ isn’t very PC anymore, but there isn’t another word that describes what happened to me as well. Since then I have been on an epic journey of self-development and healing. I have been super lucky to be accessing support from, Emma, a Life coach weekly since May. In the early days, when I felt like it would never get any better she described to me how I had an empty tool kit that I would slowly fill up with tools. She told me that whenever a challenging situation would show its face, I could look inside my tool kit and use my tools to get through it. I knew I had the tools for this very situation right there is my tool kit like she told me I would.

Firstly, I had to give myself time. Time to grieve for the loss of life as I knew it and the future as I planned it. I had planned to start my new career as a Postnatal Rehabilitation Coach by starting classes in just a few short weeks, that couldn’t happen anymore. I was losing surfing, the gym, aerial hooping and adult social time. I also needed to give myself time to rage about how unfair it was that I had to single handily care for two children at home, 24/7 by myself with no respite when I only signed up for 50% of the parent load. I had to cry (A LOT) in self-pity. I was being the perfect victim and dramatising the situation beautifully. But, I knew I needed to do that, firstly, to remind myself how that place feels and secondly, to respect and acknowledge some of the feelings.

Tool Number One - Choice

After a few days in a dramatic whirlwind of rage, self-pity and grief, I took a look at the ‘tools’ and I decided I wasn’t going to feel that way anymore. I decided- it was a choice that I made. I remember the day I discovered that I get to choose how I feel about situations. That’s powerful. When someone or something upsets you or makes you feel angry, you can choose to not feel that way about it. That’s pretty neat right? Okay, so it’s not as easy as just doing it, it takes practice, but I promise it is worth it.

Tool Number Two – Acceptance

Once I decided I wasn’t going to dramatically drown in a sea of rage and self-pity I knew I would have to accept the new situation before I could move on. This is a world pandemic, it’s extraordinary, it is out of our control and there is nothing I can do about it. It sucks that I can’t see my friends, I can’t ‘escape’ alone from the house for a bit, I can’t start my postnatal classes, my children can’t go to school, gymnastics or music lessons and it sucks that for now it is not safe for them to visit their father and I am left holding the fort. But that’s just how it is and the quicker I accept it the quicker I can move onto using my next tool.

Tool Number Three – Gratitude

Whilst in my whirlwind it was hard to see past the things I couldn’t do, focusing only on what was making me sad and angry. It was certainly hard to stop and think about what I was grateful for. But, if I catch myself in a moment of sadness and make myself start naming the things that I have gratitude for its amazing how it can change your mood. If I find it hard, I just look around and start by naming the things around me. Like the nice candles I have placed on my fireplace, the cushions I have scattered across my sofa. The gratitude more easily turns towards much bigger things I am so incredibly grateful for. My grief for the loss of surfing and the gym turns into gratitude that I have artistic skills and I can turn my hand to henna or painting. My rage at ‘having to’ do 100% of the parenting turns into so much gratitude that I am not the parent having to spend an extended time away from my children. Now may well be the only time I ever get to spend so much time in our little unit of three, undisturbed from the rest of the world. Even out of this extraordinary extremely difficult situation there is still so so much to be grateful for. Now I just need to make this new life work somehow.

Tool Number Four – Adapting

I didn’t think I was very good at adapting to new situations. I like to keep order and control in what is happening around me. I love spontaneity, adventure and change but only when I can control those things. So adapting to something out of my control was something very new to me and it’s a work in progress.

Acceptance and gratitude have allowed me a better head space to work out how this new world works best for myself and my children. Some things I have just let go of for now, e.g. the surfing, accepting they aren’t going to happen just now but knowing they will again one day. Other things, like my business, I am working new ways around. Initially I thought there was no way I could run a business whilst parenting full time. But, I have found if I get up at 5:30 am when my youngest wakes up she is happy to entertain herself for a few hours whilst my eldest is still in bed. I can no longer run physical Postnatal Rehabilitation Classes but I can do them online. I can’t physically see my friends but I can facetime them. The children can’t have physical play dates, but virtual play dates are proving to be fun. It’s been about finding new ways to do things, letting go of the things we can no longer do and acknowledging the things we now can do that we couldn’t before.

Of course it’s not all plain sailing, there is an element of trial and error in all of this. I tried timetables, no timetables, lists and morning discussions about the day’s plans. Initially there was a lot of error which brought frustration and tears. But I was kind to myself, I lowered my expectations and acknowledged that each ‘error’ brought me closer to finding a solution.

Tool Number Five – Lowering expectations

Expectations equal stress. Say it over and over, write it on your mirror, and shout it from the roof tops! This was one of those eureka moments in my journey over the last 10 months. Once I managed to understand this if I was feeling too much stress I could simply lower my expectations of myself and all of the people around me.

Initially when lock down was inevitable, I pictured super mum with a timetable of ‘home schooling’ events, a tidy spotless house and producing home cooked wholesome meals. No wonder I felt like I did in the supermarket just before lock down. I had just planned my own doom. However, I soon acknowledge that this transition was going to be a really stressful time for us all so I lowered all unnecessary expectations for myself and my children. I scrapped the timetable after the first stressful day trying to stick to it, my house has not yet seen a duster, the children have done no chores and we now live in a much calmer, almost stress free household. The solution for now is to have no plan, lists or discussion and just go with the flow. I expect in time this will change and we will long for a bit more structure. When that time comes I will open up my tool kit and we will adapt again.

Karen Ellis - Postnatal Rehabilitation Coach (

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