This page contains a shortlisted entry by Ruth McShane for the RCPsych Future Archives Competition.
COVID-19 and my mental health
Today, it's my sister's birthday. It makes me think back to February 2020. We were in Spain, enjoying the sun and discussing the Wuhan virus. Do you think it will come to the UK my sister said? Yes, I said, with conviction. Her head shot round, staring open-mouthed and in disbelief. No... she said... it won't.
A month later on the 23rd March l remember watching Boris deliver his speech to the nation. The time had come... to lockdown... and we were stay at home. I felt a mixture of fear for the unknown. I remember watching the BBC live updates but after a while, anxiety set in and l stopped watching them. I remember shouting at the TV "for goodness sake, close the damn borders, close the airports. Don't let the virus come in," …but they never did.
I remember the silence in my village, the roads being quiet, nature reclaiming the land; the boar and the deer in abundance, wandering along what used to be a busy road. I remember people buying loads of toilet rolls... and me thinking about what to do if we ran out. I remember finding an online food delivery slot but had to wait two weeks for it. I remember the weekly soaps stopping. No Casualty, no Holby City, no Neighbours and these were replaced with endless repeats of A Place in the Sun, A New Life in the Sun, Border Patrol, Motorway Patrol and Nothing to Declare... in Canada, in Spain, in England and in Aussie Land.
However the sun was hot, the flowers were blooming, the bees hard at work and we could sit outside and enjoy the sun. The days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months and l got into a routine and got on with life. I did the washing, the gardening and I cut the grass. I didn't wash the car because I was too scared to go out. I saved money on fuel, on clothing, on non-essentials, on eating out. But even so, it was still strange... very strange.
I remember my NHS mental health trust setting up a weekly virtual chat group. At the time it was so needed... l listened to how people felt in lockdown and the anxiety it was causing. l felt l wasn't alone.
I learnt new PHRASES such as... “the new normal" and "you're on mute"... and I learnt new WORDS such "bubbles" and "shielding" and "conference calls"... and I learnt new SKILLS on MS Teams and Zoom. Never did get my head around either. Spent so much time working out how to comment in the chat box that by the time I'd worked it out the moment had gone. And then somebody leading a training session said "do you want to ask a question". How did you know l want to ask a question l said? …especially as l couldn't find the hand up icon. Well, she said you're looking at me and with intent. Yes, you're right l thought, l am looking at you with intent but not to ask a question... it's only because I'm wearing bifocal glasses and l can't see you properly. I sat in virtual meetings in a smart jumper and l wore a pretty scarf. But down below I wore leggings with flip flops on my feet.
I remember contacting a solicitor to make a will. He was SO busy because everybody was doing it. I decided to update my financial affairs, just in case... l caught COVID-19.
Forward wind to 2021, and lockdown number 2... but life was different. The evenings were dark, the skies were grey, it rained and it was cold. We were tired, we were worn down, we didn’t want to do it anymore. We missed our family and our friends far away. We wanted a hug. We missed Captain Tom who made us laugh and made us smile. What a wonderful man he was.
But the lockdown DID bring some positive changes to my life. l enjoyed a more rural way of life. I liked the peace and the quiet. No passing traffic, no street lights, one bus an hour and a mobile post office van for two hours a week. No popping to the shops when you've forgotten something. You do without.
The lockdown made me reset my life. With help from my GP and an NHS physiotherapist l could bend my knee again after a skiing accident. It meant l could exercise again and improve my fitness levels. I never thought that l would be able to exercise again but l did... and still do. I walked everyday, trying new footpaths for several miles. I hadn’t been able to that before.
I remember a footpath that took me WAY into the countryside. All l could see for miles were fields and huge, old, British oak trees. So, so beautiful. No buildings, no livestock, no cars, no people, just me, and the only sounds l could hear were the fledglings nestling in the hedgerow and the crunch as l walked on cobbled stones. I watched the red kites above me. Their call was so distinct as they circled above, floating in the thermals. Sometimes they were so low that their white markings were crystal clear. I noticed the seasonal workers in the raspberry fields preparing the canes for the new season.
COVID-19 helped my mental health but it was only the fear of getting COVID-19 that made me change. l still isolate myself far too much and still get depressed but at least it’s less severe and more normal for my age... and my diagnosis.
I met some lovely people in our chat group. A talented and compassionate group of experts by experience. We were so lucky that our trust valued us and allowed us to work together with trust staff and for this l say thank you to you all in our trust. Bless you, stay well and stay safe.
So... that's it folks. My story is at an end.
Thank you for reading it.