Mental Health Awareness Week

“Our streets are not empty.  They are filled with the love and the care that we have for each other,” as the Queen said.  The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week is kindness; and I’m extremely grateful to everyone who’s shown that to me, and to other people, especially to those in vulnerable groups.  However, obviously these are very challenging times.  I’m actually getting quite a mental health boost from working from home – it means that I’m much less anxious, and have got more time to exercise and to enjoy spending time in the park; and I’m not having anything like the usual eating issues.  But that hardly makes up for all the other difficulties caused by this horrible virus.   Please take care of yourselves and, if you’re in a position to do so, of others.  Please be kind.  And, if you’re struggling, please do as Tears for Fears said (shout, shout, let it all out).

We’re separated from our families and friends.  We’re concerned that we or our loved ones may contract the virus.  Many lives have sadly been lost, and the bereaved haven’t even been able to have the comfort of a proper funeral or other religious/cultural mourning rituals.  If people have got other health concerns, they may well be nervous about seeking medical help.  Whilst it’s great that we’ve got the furloughing scheme and its equivalent for self-employed people, which is far more than many countries have been able to offer, it unfortunately seems inevitable that many businesses will not survive this, and that others will have to make redundancies.  Parents are having to try to school children at home.  Holidays, sporting events, theatre trips and weddings have all been cancelled.  We can’t really go for days out (public toilets are closed!), or even for a cup of tea and a cake in a tearoom.  Feeling that you look a mess because your hair urgently needs cutting and dyeing doesn’t help matters any!  And there’s no prospect of things returning to normal any time soon.  So Mental Health Awareness Week has even more significance than usual this year.

However, it’s not all bad.  Despite having long-term issues with anxiety and depression, I have to say that, during the working day, I actually feel far better working at home than I do at any office.   I’m probably getting much more done, without the constant interruptions of phone calls and general mithering.  And it’s a much healthier lifestyle.  I’ve had a lifetime of weight struggles and eating disorders (and am getting rather concerned about the recent trend for coronavirus to be used to demonise overweight people), but I’ve (touch wood!) been able to lose a bit of weight during lockdown, because I can go out for a long walk every day (ahem, dinner hour tends to be more like an hour and a half).  I do go to the gym twice a week normally, but, when you’ve been trapped in an office all day and are tired, hungry and fed up, you tend not to achieve brilliant results: it’s much easier to exercise earlier in the day.  And, without the general anxiety of being trapped in an office, I don’t comfort eat/binge eat anything like as much.

When lockdown first started, I found banks of daffodils in the park which I never knew were there – even though I’ve been going to the park since I was a baby.  We used to go for primary school “nature walks” in there!   The daffodils went, but then the bluebells and the blossom came.  Everything’s come early this year: it’s as if it knew we needed cheering up.  The azaleas are out now, and the rhododendrons.  I saw the ducklings and, these last few weeks, the goslings, as soon as they were out in public.  Even the peacocks from the farm centre have flown out to see what’s going on.   Compare that to rushing along the pavement, breathing in the rush hour traffic fumes, on your way to being trapped in an office all day.

There isn’t that awful pressure of having to be somewhere at a specific time, even if there’s a problem that you need to resolve.  There’s no frantically rushing about in your dinner hour, trying to get things done and meeting long queues everywhere because everyone else is in the same position.  There are no queues for the kitchen.  And, hooray, there are no noisy people bellowing down the phone on hands-free, with no thought for anyone else, or coughing, sneezing and snivelling all day!

One of the main reasons I had severe anxiety issues seven years ago was an ongoing saga with my boiler. Whenever you need to get an engineer in, you’re told that they’ll come “between 8 and 5” or “between 12 and 6”.  I quite understand that they can’t give you a specific time, but how do you manage if you’re trapped at work with only the legal minimum number of days’ annual leave?  Usually, in my case, ask my wonderful mum and dad to house-sit … but then I feel guilty about it, and also worry because I can’t be there to oversee it myself.  Same issue if you’re waiting for a delivery.  Or what if you need to sit in with someone who’s not well and can’t be left alone?  I’ve known desperate people send sick kids to school.  And I’ve also known people have their pay or their annual leave docked when they’ve been physically unable to get to their workplaces due to extreme weather.   Working from home has an awful lot of things going for it!  I hope we’ll see a lot more of it in future.

Having said all that, I live in fear and dread of problems with something happening which can’t be sorted out by an engineering visit.  Every morning, I feel ill in case there’s a horrible scary update on my phone, or an issue with the internet, the computer or Sky TV.  We’re very reliant on technology.  But thank goodness it’s there.  Imagine doing this thirty years ago.

I’ve seen Mum and Dad (at a 6 foot difference!), and some other relatives and friends whom I’ve been lucky enough to see whilst out for my daily walks, but my sister, brother-in-law and nephews live 200 miles away, and I haven’t seen them since February.  Nor have I seen most of my other relatives and friends.  But we’ve got Facebook, and WhatsApp.  To go back to the theme of kindness, people have been amazing, over social= media.  I’ve had friends tagging me in posts about things they think might interest me, and sending messages to ask how I am, and there’ve even been Facebook “parties”.  Plus, of course, so many things have been made available for free online.

And, whilst I can’t see many of my loved ones, I’ve had chats (at a safe distance) in the park with people I barely know, or haven’t seen for years.   The window cleaner asked how I was.  So did a delivery driver dropping some stuff off for one of the neighbours.  So have neighbours, even those I don’t know very well, and casual acquaintances, some of whom I don’t even know by name, only by face.   I’ve asked how other people are too, I hasten to add!

There’s been so much kindness.  People helping to raise money for good causes – Captain Tom Moore’s a national hero.  All the people who volunteered to help the NHS.  People doing shopping for vulnerable people – so many people cannot leave their homes for 12 weeks, or aren’t under official shielding orders but are still nervous about going out.  Football clubs and other organisations helping out in the community.

Of course, sadly, it isn’t all like that.   There are the inconsiderate people who leave their horrible dogs to bark in their gardens all day, play loud music at unsociable hours, or jog or cycle past you at a distance that’s more like six inches than six feet, not giving you time to try to get out of the way.  And, far worse, there are the vile people who are more interested in political points-scoring than in the general good.  The Guardian newspaper (in its case, I use the term “newspaper” loosely) has seemed at times to be stopping barely short of celebrating every British and American death, and will no doubt greet every business collapse with great glee.  Despicable people like Miriam Margolyes have spoken of wishing that the Prime Minister would die.  Instead of being pleased to see that some small businesses are still able to operate, and offering them their support, some people have made spiteful comments about the fact that gardeners and window cleaners are still working, even though they don’t come into contact with anyone else and are wearing gloves.

I’ve been very saddened by some of the things I’ve seen on social media and in the general media – at a time when we need to be united, some people seem intent on promoting division and trying to whip up hatred.  The spite, the venom, the bitterness – even in normal times, never mind troubled times, is there any need for this sort of thing?  But I’m trying to ignore it, and to focus on the majority of people, who, regardless of their political views, are kind and decent.  It’s not good for anyone’s mental health to get worked up about the nastiness of a minority.  Nor about the fact that, in eight weeks of lockdown, my employers have not once so much as sent round an e-mail saying that they hope everyone is well, although individual colleagues are asking each other.

Focus on the nice people!   But it’s a tough time for everyone, despite the fact that so much kindness is being shown.  There’s no denying it.  I’m one of the lucky ones – I’m still working, I’ve got a garden, and I’ve got a big park within walking distance.  But it’s still so tough.  And there’s no prospect of things getting back to normal any time soon. Even when football, hopefully, resumes, fans won’t be allowed to go to matches.  There’s no likelihood of professional tennis resuming any time soon.  Nor of theatres reopening.  I can’t even see that the Christmas markets will be allowed to operate this year.  I miss the Lake District.  I miss Old Trafford.  I miss my favourite cafes.  I miss the National Trust properties.   I miss the cinema.  I’ve only even been into town once since lockdown started, and that was for blood donation.  And I miss my hairdresser!!

I’m very, very upset about the travel situation.  Coach trips are the high points of my year: the prospect of them has kept me going through some pretty grim times.  Even if sunbathing holidays become possible again, what about coach trips?   And when will it even be possible to go away for a few days in the UK?  My first choice would be the Lake District, but it keeps giving out a “no visitors, please” message, and I respect that.  The National Trust are saying that, when properties or even just car parks reopen, it’ll be for limited numbers and you’ll have to book – and, if you live in a densely-populated area and have to work during the week, you’ll be very lucky to get a slot.

And when will we ever get to be with our families and friends again?

There’s just the general disruption, as well as all the specific things.  Any sort of major change to your routine takes some getting used to.  When everything changes at once … that’s a lot to take.

We all need to take care of our mental health, and to keep an eye on those around us – not easy, when we aren’t seeing those we care about and who care about us.  But kindness is a very fitting theme for this year.  There’s a lot of it around.  We all need to try to contribute to it as much as we can.

If you’ve read this, thank you.  Be kind.  And stay safe and well xxx.






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