• Expert By Experience

Isolation Series: Coping In a Toxic Environment During Lockdown

Written by Kirpa Mohr

I am certain that almost every single South Asian person living in the U.K right now has received WhatsApp chain mail messages from relatives claiming that COVID-19 is either a government weapon, a hoax, or a 5G virus- yes Aunty Ji, I know that “this message is from an NHS nurse!"

Collectively, we are witnessing a worldwide phenomenon that will go down in history. Prior to this, COVID-19 has never occurred, so you can only imagine the amount of uncertainty and anxiety surrounding people on a day-to-day basis. Maintaining your mental health is an already difficult task to pilot but maintaining your mental health whilst living through a global pandemic is a whole different story.

For those forced to return home, as a subsequent result of the pandemic, many will be met by toxic family members- if not already stuck at home with them. Navigating the ins and outs of South Asian family dynamics is tedious. For example, Aunty Kiran may not be talking to Aunty Simran, because allegedly her daughter’s a slut! Confusing and silly, right? But also familiar for many. I am going to narrow it down to a big bowl of emotional manipulation, mind games, and a lack of privacy with a side of slut-shaming - all common themes within many South Asian households. Having grown up in an environment like this, I cannot imagine going back. I know that many of us are fortunate to have supportive people around us, however, others are not as privileged.

Those of you who already feel restricted as a result of your mental health, may find it even harder to voice yourselves to your family. There is a lot of sharam in our community surrounding this specific topic. We all have a story of someone in our distant family reaching a breaking point and being sectioned off into a mental health facility whilst Bibis tut away in dismay. It becomes hard when there is strong societal pressure to conform, with many feeling as though they have to walk on eggshells. Suffering from poor mental health can be seen as an act of defiance. This in turn, completely invalidates the person’s experience. Customs are set in stone and it becomes hard to break patterns of abuse when they have become normalised. It is important to recognize these patterns and to reach out for help, there are many trained professionals just a phone call away. Please refer to the list of helplines provided below.

So, what can you do?

-Allow yourself to adjust

We are now in lockdown. Under current UK guidelines, people can only leave the house for necessities Leaving the house for anything other than necessities directly clashes with the government guidelines. It should be noted there is no need to feel as if by not doing anything, that you are not being productive. I guarantee you that people on social media are stretching the truth with their productivity levels. It is going to be challenging when you have negativity spewed your way by toxic family members but remember to give yourself time to adjust. That this is temporary.

-Create a routine

The easiest way to feel a sense of normality with all of this is to instil daily rituals. Perhaps start working out? Doing some art or even picking up a forgotten hobby. If it is difficult in your environment to do so, remind yourself once again that this is temporary. I am not an advocate for lying, however if you feel that you need to lie to be given the space and time you deserve… do what you have to do - this is for you. Be empowered by your motives.

-Be understanding

This is not your fault. You have to understand that toxic individuals will project their issues onto you and make it your problem. Once you recognize this, things naturally fall into perspective. During these trying times, venomous people will blame you for everything going wrong in their lives, to make you a scapegoat. Understanding your role in this is essential, so be kind to yourself.

-Speak to people

We all know the classic technique of changing names on your phone, so your parents do not question who you are speaking to. I did it when I was growing up. If you need to do it, do it. Keeping in touch with your loved ones will not only benefit your mental health, but also make them aware of the situation you may find yourself in. By conversing with others, you will come across different perspectives that you may not be able to see, as when you are in a toxic/abusive environment it becomes easy to believe that you are part of the problem. You are not part of the problem. So, keep chatting away.

Self-isolation may not be unfamiliar for those who are constantly isolated by their own family.

It is hard to narrow down real experiences into words. As mentioned before, we are living through something extraordinary. The key for me so far has been to keep a positive mindset, although easier said than done. I miss the little things like being able to leave the house on a whim, being able to sit down and just seeing my friends. I then realise that I am lucky. My heart truly goes out to those who are suffering during this pandemic. You do not go unseen.

Police: 999 press 55 when prompted if you can't speak https://www.met.police.uk/contact/af/contact-us/

Refuge UK wide 24-hour helpline: 0808 2000 247 https://www.refuge.org.uk/

Welsh Women's Aid Live Fear Free 24-hour helpline: 0808 80 10 800 https://www.welshwomensaid.org.uk/what-we-do/our-services/live-fear-free-helpline/

Scotland National Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriages 24-hour helpline: 0800 027 1234


Northern Ireland Domestic Abuse 24-hour helpline: 0808 802 1414