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Sandra Dean – Registered Member

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It’s mental health awareness week; sharing the highs and lows of the coronavirus lockdown for me.

So, this week is mental health awareness week, and I wanted to write and share something personal for it, especially to say it’s OK to not be OK. It occurred to me when I woke this morning what has been good and what has been stressful about the lockdown in my experience and it was a very useful realisation and has made me ‘check in’ with myself – something I often promote with my counselling clients.

I had been following the coronavirus outbreak in China via some people I follow on Instagram who live out there. It became obvious in January that the virus would hit the UK at some point and I could see that it was a lot worse than it seemed in China. So, when it did come to the UK, I went into my own lockdown a week earlier than the government told us and cancelled all my clients booked in for the week of 17th March. It was stressful. I don’t like to let my clients down and am not used to cancelling appointments. My job is to be there for others, but I felt I had no choice, especially after a client I had seen said their husband had the virus and I work from home. I offered everyone telephone appointments while I found out about using Skype, and more than half said this was OK. I then researched Skype counselling and talked to the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP), to which I am a member, to make sure it was fine for me to offer it. I decided to offer discount rates for NHS staff.

The next day, I wrote an article on everything that could be done when we go into lockdown – it helped me to feel positive that we can still keep entertained without outside entertainment or shops and I felt positive that whatever happened, things would be a lot different after the lockdown and it could be in our control to make sure some of the changes would be positive ones. Maybe we could all work together on this pandemic and have a big check in with ourselves to reflect on what we would change after lockdown. One thing could be that we work from home more. 

Already fearing the virus myself, Michael offered for me to join him in lockdown at his home, as there’s a lot more space there for myself, my cats and hamster. So, I packed a few things and the animals and headed to his on Friday 20th March. A car load.

Michael and I agreed on the Friday of my arrival that we would not enter any more shops or indoor spaces from then on and had a walk around the local park whilst keeping away from everyone else. It seemed very odd. The next day was Sunday 22nd March – Mother’s Day – which brought up memories of my mum, so off to the cemetery we went, again keeping out of everyone’s way. A sad day.

First things first I continued working with clients via telephone and then Skype. I felt nervous as it was so different to face to face, but I slowly got used to it over a couple of weeks.

Michael’s business had to close temporarily which caused him a lot of work as to what to do for his employees. In the meantime, I found myself anxious about when we ate. I am used to eating when hungry, and not used to having to compromise on it. So, we had to sort that out. And who was to cook, how to get food etc. I had been supplying my dad with food before the lockdown to keep him inside, as he is vulnerable and now we had ourselves and dad to fend for. So, we got the food delivered to us weekly, I sanitised every product, bagged it up and took dad his supplies. Having Michael with me all the time helped me to cope with all the new things going on. It was odd to talk to dad from outside his house and be concerned with not getting near him in case either of us had the virus.

Boris Johnson began his daily government presentations telling us of his plans and the formal lockdown began, quickly followed by the media pulling it all apart and scare-mongering as they do. Then people on social media began their complaints about the government which wound me up. 

My Brighton and concert plans for Michael’s birthday had to be cancelled, as well as our holiday for the end of May. All the while, I was so disappointed about that yet so worried about the virus and dying that I was in some sort of limbo world where nothing mattered one minute and everything mattered the next. I almost wanted to get rid of all my worldly goods, then wanted to buy things online. I listened to how the pandemic affected my clients and their mental health, and my friends and my dad etc. It was very unpleasant telling my dad he mustn’t go out. He is alone as my mum passed away last year. 

Then the sun came out and we were able to sunbathe, so I went into holiday mode, and sunbathed, relaxed, worked, cooked new recipes and finished an online course I had started with the Centre of Excellence. I was in denial but it felt good. I even did my physio exercises and happily took on the cleaning of the flat. I also spent a lot of time online buying presents and a card for Michael’s birthday, working closely with a couple of people to get a couple of them sorted out. 

We both got cold symptoms on and off, and worried it was coronavirus. The slightest sore throat or cough got us thinking. I celebrated having not smoked for a year after 30 years of smoking.

I made all my books £1 on Amazon for lockdown.

We visited the local park every day, to see the ducks, swans and coots, waiting for baby birds to be born. It was lovely, but strange because it was so quiet out. All the shops had shut, the roads were quiet, and there was hardly anyone walking around. Peaceful, just how I like it, in a town that is usually super busy. 

We had to go back to my house every few days to feed my tropical fish, water my plants and get stuff that I needed and dropped food to my dad at the same time. He, thankfully, amused himself with making model landing pads from scratch for his remote control flying machine, and began gardening as the weather warmed up. One minute it was hot, then cold, then hot again. 

I got into making a curry from scratch every week; something I wouldn’t usually give myself the time to do. And I got used to having an indoor litter tray for the cats – albeit very smelly!

I got straight into doing another online course, which kept me very busy, and I did it whenever I had time, staying up late at times. My slight obsession with finishing things fuelled me.

Stress came and went, a couple of arguments flared up with Michael and I nearly went home, but decided it was much nicer if I stayed.

A client told me they were doing the Couch to 5k, so I looked that up. It’s  an NHS programme for getting unfit people to running 5k within 9 weeks. I told Michael about it and we decided that day that we would give it a go. So exercise three times a week began. Incredible as neither of us had done fitness for a very long time, bar me doing a few pole fitness lessons the year before.  I tripped myself up in the second week, grazing my knees, hands and arm, but got back into it.

The death toll was going up, people were telling me of individuals they knew who had died of coronavirus, and I decided to stop watching too much coronavirus stuff on the TV as it was becoming too stressful and upsetting.

Lockdown suited me. I like a quiet life. And Michael and I were having fun – watching a few things on TV (‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’, ‘The Young Offenders’, ‘Taboo’ and the odd Carry on film) , cooking, chatting, playing with the cats and my hamster and doing our own things. I got an art kit and easel and painted a few things. A client talked of the stress of their ‘obligations’ to others, and I could really resonate with that. Lockdown was taking some of that away for me and it felt good. Then I realised the obligations would be back in no time. Not just obligations to people but the compromise of ‘what to do at the weekend’. Michael wants to go out a lot, and I prefer to have less plans and go with the flow. I find days out quite exhausting at times.

Coot chicks were born then disappeared as we found out the big seagull that hangs around picks them off out of their nests – very sad. Then six Cygnets were finally born to the two swans on the lake, so we watched them grow every day, feeding them all and enjoying the sunshine or rain.

VE Day brought front garden parties etc but I stayed in to see the stories of VE Day on TV, so I could remember the brave people who gave us our freedom we enjoy today. All the while seeing people on Southend seafront not even able to socially distance from each other. What a contrast to the people of the past. Can people not work together and be respectful even in times of need? I cried a few times that day. I painted red, white and blue bunting for the balcony.

The government decided to ease lockdown and more people suddenly arrived on Southend seafront and in the parks, many of whom didn’t distance. I shouted at two men in the space of two days for coming too near. We needed to walk in the road more, and the disrespect for others upset me. The road got busier, the noise of people louder. Yet the virus hadn’t gone away, so what was going on?

One day, at dad’s, he told me he isn’t worried about getting the virus because he’s had a good innings (a good long life) and so if it’s his time to go so be it. He has stayed in constantly and continues to, but I wondered how long I should keep telling him he must not go out? How long do I deprive him some fun or days out? Because I totally understand what he means. Life is short, and I felt he should also be free to enjoy it.

My home was getting into a state with all the flying in and out over the weeks and Michael said I should start cleaning it and get it looking nice, as I was getting worried about the change of moving back home again. I was enjoying living with Michael and having so much more living space. So, I spent half a day there by myself, cleaning and sorting and putting stuff on ebay. I wanted to change things as I felt I hated the place and wanted it to be different to go back to. It’s so small compared to Michael’s space. 

A dark shadow came over me about moving home that night, as I do find change hard at first. Plus we had our first trip out for the day where I needed to use the toilet. It was the first time in over two months that I had been in an indoor public area, and I was quite nervous about the whole thing the day before. It’s strange how you are happy to do anything, then two months of a virus fear and lockdown can take some of that away. I said I would go as I must challenge it and not get caught up in a fear ongoing. It worked out really well and that day out tackled the fear head on. It was a lovely day and I felt a bit more free. I wonder how it will be to try to get back to normality after this? It will not be the same; it will be a new normal, and I guess it’s a concern for many as to how that will look. Going to restaurants? Cinemas etc. It has to happen, for the economy, people’s wellbeing and mental health, and for businesses. And how much longer do we tell the elderly and vulnerable they must stay in and not mix with people? It cannot go on too much longer. It isn’t fair on them.

I am still with Michael, and am still sorting my home out so I can go back. I don’t know exactly when and Michael says there’s no rush, but we will see. I feel better about it already now I have my head around it.

I may not go back to face to face counselling, I have no idea in this moment, but I know the changes of the last two weeks have taken a toll and will continue to pop up until I am back home and settle back in, but until then I will continue to ‘check in with myself’, keep Michael aware of how I feel and what is affecting me so he can help, keep working which I love, and keep relaxing. I cannot control how other’s behave, just myself, and with this constantly in mind, the actions of others are not affecting me as negatively. I am relaxed again and what will be will be.

We have nearly finished week five of the Couch to 5k programme and it feels really good!

30th May 2020 update. So, I went home to get some bits, to find a letter from my landlord telling me he is putting my rent up by £100 a month with one month notice. I was shocked, then fine, then angry, then sad, and I was glad of Michael and his calm attitude. In the morning, after a nightmare about escaping and staying away from my home, I got very sad and teary, spoke about it, then wrote out my options and took one of them up. I then got some jobs done, feeling back in control and all was better. A lot of things are stressful because they make us feel out of control of a situation we are in or we are out of control of ourselves. Once we get control back, we feel better.

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