Rick Dean’s three week holiday in the Philippines promised to be the adventure of a lifetime – a big personal challenge and one he was looking forward to at the end of a particularly tough year.
COVID-19 wasn’t even on the radar as he booked his ticket but concerns started to grow as the take-off date got closer. By the time Rick and his mate landed in Manila, the first COVID-19 patients were being reported.
“Isolation, mandatory or not, does not have to define our existence.”
For Ruah’s Peer Community Worker, testing the limits of his own courage and resilience has been one of the ways he has successfully battled a lifetime of anxiety and depression.
“Fear has often been the reason why I’ve done many things in my life. That is much of the reason why I decided to go to the Philippines when my life came a little unstuck at the end of last year and I needed something to look forward to,” Rick said.
For about half the trip, the pair managed to stay a day or two ahead of the wave as terminals and ports closed behind them. But the trip was cut short as the Philippines prepared to close its borders and Rick’s relatives found him a seat on one of the last flights out of the country.
But the biggest challenge was waiting for Rick Back home in Perth, as the 35 year-old went straight into 14 days of quarantine in his own home.
“Firstly, not my worst holiday ever, but it definitely challenged me in ways I didn’t expect,” he said. “The greatest thing though, is how some of my family and friends rallied around me and made sure I was good. I often wasn’t but the efforts that people made, made a massive difference.
“Without them, and especially when I was in isolation in my unit with just my cat, I probably would not have very good mental health right now.”
Staying positive for two long weeks on his own was tougher than Rick expected.
“Things started out well and I tried to keep occupied but it really challenged me and I started to go downhill. The first three days I focused on exercise – it’s not easy to do 10,000 steps in a 70sqm unit. I found myself drinking too – not heavily – but it didn’t help my state of mind.
“What I missed most was the face-to-face contact and being able to talk to people. It can get very noisy up in your own head.
“Once a week I have a regular card game with two of my neighbours who have become dear friends. They skyped me in for a bit while they played cards. It isn’t the same, but it made a big difference and gave me some of what I need.”
As a child, Rick was impacted by his mother who was emotionally disconnected as a result of her own mental health issues. By the time he was six years old, Rick was experiencing behavioural problems. He spent several months in an institution before his father won custody of Rick and his four brothers. They grew up on a near Albany, part of an extended family, but Rick’s drinking and aggressive behaviour intimidated his stepmother and he was turned out of home in his early twenties.
“The turning point was late July 2009 when I did a couple of silly things – overdosed on prescription drugs, crashed a car and was left with a huge bill. There were no excuses, no-one knew how to help, I ended up in a men’s hostel and lost almost all contact with my family.
“That was when I connected with Ruah as a client and started rebuilding my life. They gave me wonderful support. That continued for a couple of years until I realised I was looking for things to work on, basically sabotaging myself so I could keep working with them.
“I found I had a passion for groups and began volunteering. From there I was encouraged to apply for a job and I became a peer recovery worker. It is a real advantage to have your own lived experience because you can work with people on a mutual, more equal basis. It can be a frustrating job at times but I get a lot out of supporting people too.
Rick’s tips for surviving and thriving in isolation:
- Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge the situation is tough and it is OK to be not OK.
- Stay connected as much as you can – video chats, phone calls. Talk to at least one person a day. I have a whiteboard with a list of people I can contact if I am feeling low.
- Try to be moderate with coping tools – don’t smoke or drink too much. Now probably isn’t the time to quit – it’s not the best time for a big life change given all the stresses.
- Give yourself things to do. Make a list of things. Don’t make it overly complicated. I have given myself permission to play video games.
- A good meal is a great treat. I have cooked more in quarantine than in the past six months.
- My cat makes a big difference, I wouldn’t trade her for the world. I also have five plants – all succulents because I can be very forgetful about those.
“Isolation, mandatory or not, does not have to define our existence. I have reached out to people I have not had time or energy to talk to for a long while,” said Rick.
“There are some things that are even better now, like a lot more people appreciate what we do have when things are running more normally and many children get to spend more time with their parents, which is a blessing and/or a curse depending on who you talk to and what has happened that day.
“My advice? Stay connected, stay safe, don’t give in to fear and find something that you appreciate in all this madness that is Covid-19.”