We’re hearing from experts in the field of psychology and mental health who are warning us of an epidemic that is on the horizon. This isn’t the pandemic. This isn’t an impending third, fourth or even fifth wave. This is a global mental health crisis on a level that we have never seen before, and almost everyone is feeling it.
As someone who is no stranger to mental health issues, I entered the first lockdown in March of last year in a surprisingly calm state of mind. I embraced the quiet and the solitude. I sought to find the beauty all around me, to treasure every moment, and to take advantage of the world standing still. My head became so clear that I was able to write a book in just under six weeks, something which up until that point I had struggled to accomplish in a little over a decade of trying.
Of course, it helped that the weather was absolutely gorgeous and the whole of nature seemed to come out to play with a greater exuberance than I had seen in a very long time. Or was it just that my world was previously too noisy and too cluttered for me to notice? Anyway, I had my encounter with a Queen Bee, I went for walks in the stunning countryside that surrounds my home, I sat in the shade of my garden studio while the waterfall bubbled into the pond and the bees buzzed from bloom to bloom and felt quite content.
But then came the somewhat messy and hesitant emergence from those first three months. I’d lost three friends in the beginning of the pandemic and countless others that I knew had lost family members. I didn’t realise how sheltered I had become, and how for many others life had just carried on. From a social perspective I had been left behind. So much so, that on my first day out of my cocoon I had a massive panic attack and wondered if I would ever step out in confidence again.
But within the new limits of social distancing, I soon learned what I could cope with and what I could not. For example, I wasn’t ready to go swimming again, but providing the restaurant was spacious enough, I was happy to have dinner with a friend. I was even fortunate enough to get to go for a short holiday in September. The weather was amazing and I even took a trip to Highclere Castle for all your Downton Abbey fans.
But then came the headlines, “Christmas cancelled,” and with them the hopes and plans of millions. That was a low blow for the nation. Some reacted in despair, others in anger, while some, like me, girded our loins and kept calm while we carried on, preparing to take one for the team in order to provide for the common good.
January brought with it dark days and cold nights. For myself personally, it also brought me close to losing my mum after a bad fall from a ladder and catching COVID in hospital. Where was the honey bee now, where the bubbling waterfall, where the clear headed writing? This sucks. Sod keeping calm and carrying on, sod showing the British resilience akin to the forbearance of those caught in the Blitz, this is really really hard.
As I emerge from yet another lockdown, as I go out into the world, I will confess to having a small amount more confidence than I did last summer. I’ve had one dose of the vaccine and should have the second in the next few weeks. There is that thin veil of protection, that increase in probability that if I caught COVID now I might yet live.
You would have thought that would make this emergence thing easy. But in reality it is still really hard. Everything I once knew to be true has shifted. I can’t remember the last time I had my five a day, and my body is really suffering because of it. I don’t mean fruit and veg. I mean hugs. Will the word tactile cease to exist in this new world? Where will affection find its way? Am I the only one who is feeling more isolated than I ever have before now that we are coming out of lockdown? Am I the only one who is struggling, whose anxiety is through the roof?
And in the midst of so much uncertainty, in the midst of so much grief, it’s easy to look at the horizon and feel like we are all at sea. It’s easy to feel that there is nothing out there which is permanent, reliable, and built on rock. The shifting sands of our current existence lead us to being anxious about everthing, fearful about much, and struggling to look forward.
Yet that’s all I have left. Hope. To dream of a time when we will be able to hug one another in greeting again. To dream of a time when the smile on the face of an old man as he takes his wife round the supermarket will touch my soul and cause it to sing, when we’ll be able to plan freely and look forward, and dream up a world in which we can live that is better, kinder, freer, and more joyful than the one we face now.
In the mean time, as trite as it is to think that misery loves company, we do share in a common struggle. So long as we keep it real, listen to one another, and be patient and kind, we will remember that we’re all struggling, that this is hard for everybody, and it’s in our pain that we receive our five a day and we find our common ground and know that we may be isolated, but we most definitely are not alone.