Manitoba·Point of View

Pandemic Perspectives: Lockdown not unfamiliar to some living with mental illness

Winnipegger Bill Hunter writes about his life in lockdown and how he has learned to adapt, grow and live with less than what some people take for granted.

Winnipegger Bill Hunter says because of his experience, he finds living with less easier than some others

Bill Hunter says living with mental illness gives him a unique perspective on the pandemic lockdown. 'I am used to having little — being restricted and having certain rights take away,' he says. (Submitted by Bill Hunter)

Before COVID-19 struck, I was studying at the University of Manitoba, working toward a degree in actuarial math, something that has been a lifelong dream.

I was there on a scholarship from the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society. I was pumped, getting 90 per cent on my first two assignments. When I wasn't studying, I was volunteering at what was then called Winnipeg Harvest (now known as Harvest Manitoba).

I was an outlier before the pandemic — having little in common with people who work full time or are caring for someone else. Friends and family were busy with their own hectic lives. I relied more on professionals to get over my problems.

With so many people out of work now, I am no longer the outlier I was. Lots of people are isolated, evaluating their work life, their home life, what really matters. There is a lot of soul searching going on.

I know what it is like to be in lockdown.- Bill Hunter

What's interesting is that some of my friends, including one who is a professional, say I am doing better than them. Coping better than them. I think it's because I am used to having little — being restricted and having certain rights take away. 

When I go off my meds, usually I am misunderstood and that is something I have to take ownership of. Sometimes I am put in a hospital, my street clothes are taken away, I can't leave the building and I have to wear green scrubs.

Silver linings

I know what it is like to be in lockdown.

I am tired and angry. Tired of the constant stress. People aren't listening to what the medical professionals are saying. Some people think this is a hoax. They aren't grounded in reality.

A bylaw officer came to my block yesterday and shut down the common room because people weren't wearing masks and they were too close.

'I cope by doing things that will get me over my mental illness symptoms,' says Hunter, like practising typing skills. (Submitted by Bill Hunter)

As for me, my medical appointments tend to be by phone. I have a psychiatrist who says it is better to meet in person, but the hospital isn't allowing people in because of COVID-19 restrictions.

I live alone, so it is hard to keep my spirits up. I have a close friend, Todd, who is the only contact I have right now.  I pray with him twice a day over the phone, in the morning and at night. We say a litany of prayers to overcome fear in our lives. 

I like to look for the silver lining, though. Through a friend of a friend, for example, someone is cooking meals for me for a good price. I will be getting dinner and leftovers for lunch the next day.

There is room for so much more compassion.- Bill Hunter

I spend time in meditation thinking of ways to improve my situation. God's got my back as I struggle with mental illness. I direct my thoughts to Him or verbally pray to Him and the clearest, gentlest of thoughts come to mind, and I can continue.

With this illness there is give and take. It might give me the habit of aggrandizement. Or it might take the ability to balance my chequebook, so I might bounce one. There is uncertainty about where the money will come from. I get disability income — only $40 a week for food and entertainment. Sometimes that entertainment is a bag of Skittles!

A post-pandemic change in perspective

I cope by doing things that will get me over my mental illness symptoms. I practise typing without looking at the keyboard to improve my speed. I have sessions with a life-skills coach over the phone. We focus on steps to achieve my goals.

My association with the Catholic church is what gives me hope. I have managed to make some friends and acquaintances — and hope realized is what gives me joy. When I meditate and feel peace or can let go of something that was weighing me down, I feel joy.

University is on hold right now. I couldn't enrol this fall because I didn't get a scholarship. I can't afford to attend otherwise. But I'm a putting together a business plan for the future. (I don't want to let the cat out of the bag yet about what it is.)

I believe there will be a change in perception from some people when this is all over. I mean in a good way. People who haven't been able to work and have been stuck at home will know what it is like to be a shut-in.

There is room for so much more compassion.

I look forward to seeing more people on the streets. Restaurants with indoor seating. Meeting new people, studying and maybe finding a job. 

I am looking forward to going back to the Bridge Drive-In. Standing outside in line, even if I have to wear a mask, but just enjoying some really good ice cream. 

CBC's Pandemic Perspectives is a series that invites Manitobans to share their personal perspectives on the collective experience of life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Bill Hunter lives in Winnipeg.