At about 4pm last Friday, after picking my boys up from school, I crept upstairs and sat by an open window listening to the birds as they wound down for the day. Their song became more intermittent as the light faded, and I cried hard. The first time I’ve cried in months.
Long Covid is a term we’re all familiar with now. We know that some people are suffering with debilitating physical symptoms months after contracting and ‘recovering’ from Covid-19. But I’m thinking about Long Covid in a mental health context, because it’s something I think I’m starting to experience.
The early months of optimism
From March to September mine and my husband’s lives revolved around home schooling our two young children, interspersed with our often vain attempts to get out for a walk each day and find something resembling fun to do. We were in survival mode, like a lot of people, just trying to get through it, but with some hope in our hearts. Life was small, claustrophobic, but simplified and concise.
We both breathed a sigh of relief when the kids went back to school. I knew I’d have more time to dedicate to my journalism and content writing business, and I’ve worked flat out since then. It’s been a fantastic few months in a lot of ways as I’ve managed to get some articles published for the first time, and gained my first proper content writing clients.
But, as the kids finished school on that Friday, this immense weariness hit me all of a sudden with such force that I just wanted to curl up in bed and hide there forever. As I sat listening to the birds, I was struck by this deep sense of disconnection – from the birds, from nature, from my husband and kids, from everyone else in the world and from myself.
I’ve been okay up until now; some might even say I’ve thrived during this pandemic. I’ve returned to writing, something I loved as a kid and thought I’d lost, and my business is finally getting off the ground. My kids are happy and healthy (so far), and we’ve Christmas to look forward to, especially being able to see a few family members (although only on the big day itself now).
Yes, I’m panicking slightly that, as I write this on the eve of Christmas Eve, I’ve still got presents to buy and neither enough time nor money to do everything as I would like to, but it’s not a major crisis.
And of course I’m grateful to be ending this year relatively intact as far as Covid-19 is concerned – I haven’t experienced it or lost a loved one to this hideous virus as others have. We know as a family we have been lucky so far. My boys’ school has only just announced today the first case of identified Covid-19 there, and it’s not in either of my boys’ year group bubbles. So all in all, on the face of it we are fine, or we should be feeling fine.
But all of a sudden, I’m not.
It seems that a lot of us are struggling to cope at the moment, perhaps more so than at the beginning of the pandemic when the promise of summer went some way to preserving our sense of optimism. Our coping strategies have been consistently tested ever since and it looks like they’re beginning to break down. In April, 73% of people surveyed said that they felt they were coping well with the restrictions, but that percentage had decreased to 62% in late November.
Of course coping with all the constraints during Winter when we barely see daylight doesn’t help matters, but I think mostly we are all just so worn down. For those of us who have managed to maintain an appearance of strength and resilience for nine months, perhaps now is the time to let the walls crumble and the emotions flow out. We might not even have a choice in the matter; I didn’t expect to feel such a sense of desolation so suddenly.
I’ve been wondering why the feeling of disconnection is my overriding one at the moment.
I’m almost ashamed to admit that my life hasn’t changed dramatically during the course of the last twelve months or so. I was working from home in January, trying to start my business, so my days were pretty much as they are now – taking the kids to school, spending the next five hours in my small office, picking the kids up, making dinner, cleaning, sometimes working more in the evenings.
Of course then we had the small matter of a national lockdown in March and school closures which threw everything off balance, but come September and the kids’ return to school everything slotted back into place nicely – for a few months at least.
Now, the kids are off school again for who knows how long (as I write this it’s just been announced that where I live in Essex will be in Tier 4 from Boxing Day), and everyone is having to hunker down again.
I’ve never been a particularly sociable person, but I have missed human connection this last year. Being an introvert, I prefer fleeting interactions rather than prolonged ones which leave me drained, but I’ve missed those small moments of contact.
Life has felt devoid of colour for a while now, and lacking in fun and joy. I think we are all just bored stiff, fed up of looking at the lounge and the kitchen, the TV and the tablets, at each other’s faces. And I haven’t got out in the fresh air as much as I should have done; I know being outside, even if just for a little while, massively helps my mental health, but for some stupid reason I never prioritise it.
Other than getting outside more, how can we get some colour back when everything is closed, when we can’t see each other to draw strength?
I think we all felt a little more hopeful a few weeks back upon news of the first proper vaccine and our hearts soared slightly as we saw it being rolled out. But I’m worried, and I have to say it here, as I don’t feel like I can say it to loved ones.
I’m worried that the vaccine won’t work as well as we need it to. I’m worried this virus will find a way around it, as many viruses do. I’m worried that my kids or husband will catch it, that I will catch it and struggle due to my weight.
I’m worried about my parents who are in their sixties, and of course other family members. I’m worried this sense of disconnection and despair will get worse. I’m worried that there isn’t enough light at the moment to get us all through.
I’m worried that my kids are forgetting what fun is, what makes them happy away from a screen. I’m worried that we’ll all never find our way back to ourselves, or each other. I’m worried for this country.
It’s hard to contain that worry in the darkness and not let it run rampant. I’ve seen a lot of people summarising their year on social media and ending on a hopeful note. But I can’t pretend I feel the same way at the moment. I’m just worried, and scared.
I am determined to make Christmas day nice for my boys and we will see my parents on the day, but that’s it. I can’t think beyond it at the moment. Right now I fear that a lot of us just won’t want to get out of bed come Boxing Day. It’s actually my 36th birthday on that day, but it means nothing to me at the moment. It’s just another day to get through.
I know I should perhaps practise more gratitude, and learn to enjoy the small things more. That’s what everyone says. But it’s not something I’m finding easy right now, and I’ll wager I’m not alone in that.
But I’m not completely hopeless. There is a small sliver of optimism left in me. I’m not giving up.
I’m not going to wish anyone reading this a happy Christmas. I don’t think we should force happiness when we don’t feel it. But I do wish you too have some hope left in your heart and can see brighter days on the horizon – even if their light is a bit dim at the moment.