Knowledge is power. In some situations, knowledge can be the difference between safety and danger, life and death. And so, like many people at the start of the pandemic, I scrolled frantically looking for any information that would help me navigate.
I’m fortunate in that I’m fairly bright and decently educated and I know how to pick out good information from dross. I know how to read scientific content – I can’t read papers but I can get through a synopsis at least. I’m not unsettled by talk of probabilities- science rarely deals in certainties. I was looking for things that would shift the odds in my favour, and I found those – masks, ventilation, meeting people outside.
However, by the time I’d found what I needed, the habit of hypervigilance was back in, and I was also struggling to sleep. Hypervigiliance is not a new issue for me. It’s a problem common for people who have endured bullying or lived with abuse. You pay attention to all the details, looking for signs of threat. When the rules change all the time, the goalposts shift, the hazards are unpredictable, when anger and blame can result from the slightest mistake, you learn to be hypervigilant to survive. And with the covid rules changing all the time, and the science evolving, I fell back into that, and it got into other areas of my life.
I found out quite by accident that I had been running high levels of hypervigilance for months. It explains the levels of body pain and exhaustion I’ve been dealing with. Being on high alert all the time is expensive. Scrutinising every detail is hard on the brain. Never relaxing, never feeling safe… it takes a massive toll and I’ve been doing it for months. Having broken out of the space where I was doing that, I feel hopeful that I can make a recovery. I’ve done it before, but this part of the process is challenging because I feel alarmed by not sifting for data all the time.
If you’ve found the last year exhausting, it may be that you’re in a similar process – with pandemic information, work upheavals, financial pressures and home schooling all likely sources of incentives to be hypervigilant. Not seeing friends and family may mean you’re trying to divine from facebook posts how they really are. If some of them are vulnerable, this may be really hard work. If stepping away from the information sources is also stressful and scary, that’s a strong indicator of hypervigilance. It takes time to get over it, but knowing that the initial stages of breaking away feel awful may make it easier to navigate that.
If you’re going through anything similar to me, I wish you peace and calm. If the first steps towards that are hard, don’t be daunted, this is the way out. If you feed your brain less data to obsess over, it will eventually start to calm down.