I am thirty-six years old and I have been a resident at a mental health rehabilitation unit in Stockport, Manchester for more than two years.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic we did not have many restrictions and I could freely visit family, go shopping or to the cinema. Over the past few months life has changed a great deal. However, rather than be bored, inactive or watch TV all day, there is so much we can do, we just need to be positive and optimistic.

I have suffered from schizophrenia for the past thirteen years and have had several long admissions in hospital. My symptoms include paranoid behaviour and periods of low and high moods. To help me, doctors decided I needed to be at a rehabilitation unit.

We are encouraged and supported to be independent so we would go to local car boot sales, group walking trips and visit the mosque. I also regularly went home at weekends and studied GCSE Maths at the local college.

Things have changed a lot since the lockdown and life on the unit has become harder. Leave has been restricted and many activities have stopped. Unfortunately, my GCSE exams were cancelled but I was awarded a pass based on my predicted grade. Staff are now wearing protective personal equipment at all times.

The staff here are caring and understanding and do make things bearable for us. They arrange pool competitions and other activities to keep us entertained. We have a great occupational therapist, who keeps us busy with different activities and whatever our interests are, such as scrabble, cooking or maths. 

The hardest thing is not being able to go home to see my family. My family originate from Bangladesh, they live in Oldham and have been very supportive of me over the years. Visitors are not allowed on the ward yet, but we can use Skype and Facetime to keep in touch with friends and family.

Group and individual psychology sessions have continued. I have learnt many distraction and coping techniques from the psychologist, including mindfulness and compassion focused therapy. I still enjoy studying maths as it is a mental challenge and the focus stops me from rumination and worry.

I think it is important to realise that hundreds of millions of people have gone through the same problems as we have, locked down, isolated and unable to see family. At least we have shelter, clean water and food, unlike the displaced Rohingya people in Bangladesh or the Syrian people who regularly face bombs and bullets.

 I believe we can all use our free time to do something positive. My religious faith has helped me through many dark times. I pray for myself, my family and friends and all of humanity that we can get through this ordeal.

I find the unit to be a safe place where no one will judge you and you will be treated with dignity and respect. I have a degree in English and politics and had started an MA in Journalism before my first admission to hospital. I have always enjoyed writing, so have used my free time to fulfil my dream and have written a novel. I have written the first draft of my book. It is called The Fire Mage and is a fantasy story about a bullied child who grows up to become a great magician.

I have now started working on the second draft. I have been encouraged by positive feedback from family and staff and I hope to publish it one day.

I also run a blog about mental health in the BAME community, it is starting conversations and countering stigma post by post.

Although I am coping well under the circumstances, I know other people with mental health problems may not do as well. People who are suffering from severe depression or schizophrenia will be affected more by the lockdown than most people. I hope for the day when I will be able to go home and see all my loved ones again and go out whenever I want, wherever I want.