What Is ‘Normal’ Now?
I’m not sure anyone’s life has been ‘normal’ over the past week or so. Mine certainly hasn’t.
Two weeks ago, after days of watching the news with increasing anxiety (and increasing obsessiveness) my husband and I decided to take our two children out of school. The schools were still open, but it just didn’t feel right to be sending them in as Covid-19 gained momentum around the world, and in the UK. I’m not saying that this was the right thing to do, but it felt like the right thing for us.
Five days later, schools across the UK closed their doors. This is probably how P3 ends for my son and P1 ends for my daughter.
We bought an iPad which we use to Face-time my mum and my husband’s parents every day. Indeed we speak to them more now than we ever did before Covid-19. We don’t talk about the niggling fear that we might never see them again. The unspoken what-ifs.
Supermarket shelves emptied, pubs, restaurants and ‘non-essential’ shops shut. We all learned to stand 2 metres apart. Lines were taped on floors. Now we scroll through pictures of venues which were never meant to be hospitals, now equipped with row after row after row of beds. Just waiting.
And now we’re all waiting. We’re waiting for a nightmare to unfold around us and wondering who, and what we will lose.
Counting Our Blessings
In my little household we count our blessings and realise how many of them we have been taking for granted:
- All my work has been cancelled, but that’s not a disaster as my husband can work from home and his income can support us all.
- All four of us are fit and healthy – we don’t have underlying health conditions, the children aren’t tiny, we’re ‘only’ in our 40s.
- We have enough space in our house for us all to find (relative) solitude if we need it.
- We have a garden, a trampoline, a big bag of compost and lots of seeds to plant.
- With little or work to do for now, I am free to supervise the children.
Compared with many thousands of others, we are phenomenally well off. I cannot imagine what people are going through living with ‘underlying health problems’, working for the NHS, working in supermarkets, losing their jobs, losing their businesses, and so many other life shattering consequences of this pandemic.
And so I just have to ‘keep calm and carry on’.
I have been doing just that. We are stumbling into some sort of pattern of a bit of school work, lots of time in the garden, baking, reading, watching TV, talking to friends and family on Facetime, Skype or WhatsApp.
I read that back and it sounds kind of idyllic. Life with no pressure to be anywhere or do anything at any particular time.
It’s All Fine…Isn’t It?
For the first week it was kind of idyllic. The garden was weeded and mowed. The kids thought it was brilliant – the longest holiday ever, what more could you want when you are 7 or 5 years old? OK, so I couldn’t seem to find the will to ride my bike. OK, so I was struggling to get to sleep at night after scrolling through news channels and social media far too late. OK, so I was maybe having a glass of wine or two every night, and that was rather more than is strictly healthy. OK, so I was struggling to focus enough to read a book. But it was fine. We were fine.
But it’s not really fine.
Last Saturday I was watching from an upstairs window, as my children and husband played hide and seek on the little hill opposite our house. Out of nowhere I felt as if a wave of emotions had crashed over me and I sat down and sobbed and sobbed.
This is really not like me.
I think it was watching my children and realising that there is no more normal for them. Not now, and not in the foreseeable future. They don’t really understand what is happening and I really do not want them to know an awful lot about it. They just know that there’s an illness going around, and because of it the schools are closed and they can’t see their friends or their grandparents, and we can’t go anywhere much further than the end of the street. I watched them and I just felt so unutterably sad for them.
This Is No Ordinary Crisis
I am not a particularly anxious person. I am known to be great at coping in a crisis.
But this is no ordinary crisis.
My mum and her partner are in their seventies. They’re both pretty well for their age. But they’re in their seventies and we have all seen the mortality statistics. We have all heard the stories coming out of Italy about doctors having to make appalling choices over who to save and who to leave to die. It doesn’t help that my mum took a long time to take this seriously. Along with most of my generation’s parents, they carried on as normal for far longer than they should have done. My mum joked on the phone – ‘life’s not worth living if we can’t go out for lunch.’ It doesn’t help that they live an hours drive away from us.
Now my mind has conjured up an image of my mum gasping for breath, alone, and it haunts me.
Last Wednesday I got a text from my GP practise. It was a link which they were sending out ‘to all our patients over 40’. The link was information about organising wills, power of attorney, advance directives and end of life care.
‘All our patients over 40.’
We have wills written. We have guardians appointed. But then we started wondering if we need a ‘chain’ of guardians. What if the children’s appointed guardians are affected? How many people are we all going to lose in the coming months? A few weeks ago that would of sounded over-dramatic, but today it doesn’t, and that in itself is terrifying.
Two weeks ago, when we took the children out of school, for a few days I actually wondered if I might have Coronavirus. I seemed so tired. My breathing seemed shallow. My heart rate was higher than normal. Perhaps I was one of the millions who have very few symptoms? But my ‘symptoms’ never got worse. What’s more, if I got really involved in what I was doing, they went away.
That’s not Coronavirus. It’s anxiety.
Last week I developed the feeling of a lump in my throat which comes and goes all day. It’s like that feeling you get when you are trying really hard not to cry. I have come to the conclusion that this is also stress. I think it is because, whether I realise it or not, most of the time I am trying really hard not to cry.
Something Very Serious Is Going On
For the first week, my seven year old son was over the moon to find he wasn’t going to school. He tends to measure the quality of his day by the proportion of the morning spent in pyjamas, so unlimited Lego and trampoline time sounded just brilliant to him. But last week he seemed sad. He would be happily playing and then a look melancholy would drift over him and he wouldn’t talk anymore. My husband and I are trying not to talk about the news too much around the children, but we are pretty much failing on that one. After all, what else is there to talk about just now?
I think our son is realising that something very serious is going on. He is realising that he is not going to see his friends for a very long time. We haven’t discussed it but I think he has realised that this year there will be no birthday parties, no Easter egg hunts, no celebration on the last day of the school year. I know that there will be other years, there will be other celebrations, but still my heart breaks when I see the sadness on his little face.
I am known for coping in a crisis, but I am also known for not dealing well with uncertainty. I like to know what’s coming next. I wanted to know the sex of my children before they were born – boy or girl made no difference to me, but I wanted to know.
Right now we are all facing a massive amount of uncertainty. How long will this go on for? Will there be more restrictions? What about our jobs? What about the schools? Who will we lose? Will ‘normal’ ever look the same as it once did?
The truth is that there are no answers to these questions right now.
I find that uncertainty hard to deal with.
It’s Good To Talk
When I read back what I have written, it seems self-indulgent. My problems right now are absolutely trivial compared with the stress so many others are under just now.
I have two reasons for posting it anyway:
- Writing is a kind of therapy for me. It helps me to make sense of the jumble in my head.
- I suspect that I am not the only person feeling like this right now.
Anxiety is a difficult thing to deal with. It hides and lurks and jumps out at the most unexpected moments. I don’t really feel like I am anxious, but I know that I am snappier than normal, less focused than normal.
For anyone else who is feeling like this right now, there is plenty of advice doing the rounds on social media on how to cope. Find something, anything, that works for you. It’s good to talk, but I’m not good at talking about how I feel, I’m not good at talking about my vulnerabilities.
It turns out that writing is just another blessing that I have been taking for granted.