It’s 2am and my mind is racing.
I can’t sleep – and in any normal blog this would be the point where people would probably roll their eyes and say ‘he’s overthinking everything because it’s Friday and he has to weigh in tomorrow.’
However it’s not a normal blog. Nothing about anything is normal any more and I find that my mind has begun quietly screaming in silence as I’ve slowly watched things begin to turn both inside out and upside down around me.
I’ve internalised my feelings so much more than I have for many years lately because it’s been necessary. I can’t write with honesty and expose the lives and personal problems of others – and for the last two months this has largely been my issue.
Around the time I stopped writing (an unfathomable month and a half ago) a person close to me (not my partner) suffered a serious medical event that has had far reaching and long term consequences for their life.
They’ve moved from being independent to dependant practically overnight – and to see the deterioration whilst they fought to survive in hospital for two weeks was heartbreaking.
This was not just because of the pain and discomfort that they were experiencing at the time, but the emotional torment that it caused, both to them and those that care about them.
I started losing sleep almost immediately – and I’m not sure I’ve managed to sleep properly since.
Now in any normal blog this would be the root of my trauma, I’d talk through my feelings around how worried I am about them, why it’s meant I can’t talk, and why it’s de-railed my eating (which it has).
Biscuits have been a thing. I’m not going to lie.
Like I said though – these aren’t normal times in which we live and a sudden impulse to indulge in snacks seems to be relatively insignificant – because this person is not just gravely ill now – they’re classified as someone with a ‘significant underlying health condition‘.
With the last two months heralding the arrival of Covid 19 and the world turning upside down this person is also no longer the only and most significant thing I have to worry about.
Since I last wrote, pubs, clubs, restaurants, bars, cinemas, and leisure centres have all been told to close down.
All of a sudden there are people I love with ‘significant underlying health conditions’ all around me – and they all have to self isolate for 12 weeks.
Furthermore in our suddenly virus obsessed world people with a persistent dry cough and a fever have to self isolate for seven days – and anyone in their immediate household for must do so for 14 so they they don’t pass on the infection on to others.
I’m in a bizarre reality now where it’s a worry to myself and my brother that my 80 year old father is taking public transport to a launderette to do his washing.
The television and radio are drip feeds of fear and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m terrified for what this could mean for myself and those I love.
Day to day I manage to hold it together and I do my job – but when I get home things are different. My partner can see it in my eyes just as I can see the weight of it all in hers. We’ve been sinking into each others arms for increasingly long hugs filled with sighs and occasionally tears too.
I’ve moved from what seemed like relatively minor worries about not having a career or working direction in life to getting a temp job in early January which now (in mid March) places me on the government’s ‘key worker’ list.
This is because my new job (although I never said at the time) happened to be a supporting role for the NHS.
I’m far away from front line that all of the doctors and nurses are on – but I’m close enough to them to get a sense of the scale of what is unfolding in the UK. Like me they’re nervous about what it means for the coming weeks and months as well as what the cost will be for their families, loved ones and personally.
There’s no hand sanitiser left in the world – and even if there was it probably wouldn’t matter.
On top of this the (surprisingly large number of people) I know who are suffering from ‘underlying health issues’ have almost overnight become ghosts and now I have an insight into what’s developing I fear for their wellbeing like I never have in the past.
In our developed and modern world we’ve been in control for so long – and now it seems like that (illusion?) is slipping.
All of a sudden (if like me you try to shop after work) every shelf in every supermarket is empty – and even the most basic items are now seemingly out of reach to normal working people.
Furthermore they are fighting over toilet roll – and it makes my blood boil when every day when I walk past Aldi on the way to work at 8.30am I see people pushing trollies containing nothing but four packs of 12 roll toilet paper.
Who seriously needs 48 toilet rolls?!!!
It’s darkly comical that in a world where every breath we take contains the possibility of ingesting a potentially lethal virus we seem to be far more concerned about being unable to wipe our asses.
The memes are everywhere – and yet I’ve found it hard to laugh at the humour of it all.
Almost overnight (relatively speaking) I’ve moved from someone who usually wears his heart on his sleeve to being someone increasingly quiet and with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
I know I’m not alone in this.
As social media organises itself around the problem of sudden and enforced isolation for the majority of the population I’ve seen the words ‘looking after your mental health’ again and again wherever I look online.
There are tips for staying fit and healthy, ideas about how to cope if you’re struggling with the enormity of Covid 19 and online sessions where people are forming choirs, orchestras, self help groups.
There are now and even online weigh ins.
You know it’s serious when Slimming World cancels all groups.
I’ve been off plan for two months now and in this respect things have not gone well diet wise. Loads of bad habits that I thought were gone forever have crept back in and I’m struggling to eat properly.
It doesn’t help when there’s absolutely no fresh food in the shops – but I’d be lying if I said that’s the sole reason I’m not coping with my food demons.
It’s comfort eating, plain and simple.
The mad thing is that this (a situation that would have filled me with a sense of personal failure in the past) is so far down the list of identifiable concerns in my life that it practically doesn’t even register.
I’m walking to work (I still need to go in to the office) along increasingly empty roads, on ever more silent pavements and the people I’d slowly begun to recognise every morning have withdrawn from sight.
The elderly Sikh lady I with oddly bright and clean trainers I passed daily down the road from her temple (presumably on the way to help or pray) is now gone.
The man in a high visibility jacket who rolled past me on his mountain bike always looking hung over near Sainsburys every morning is no longer there.
The student who was always smiling to herself whilst listening to her tunes that I passed by the recycling centre is now no longer walking to college with her brightly coloured blue laniard and badge.
The father and his son who every day sported a cheerful orange anorak (and is always in deep conversation with his dad) no longer walk hand in hand together along the road by the guide dogs for the blind.
The lady by the pub who always seems late and rushes past me to open her garage to get her little red car out is no longer turning the key in her lock.
The girl who stands by her garden wall near my house in a school uniform texting her friends as she waits for them is absent.
There are some people – but the faces I know are gone.
When I get to work there’s often barely anyone around – and I’m now sitting in a small room largely on my own (with occasional visitors) and working on the phone to try and help people who are just as worried and preoccupied as I am.
One area that I’m sure I’m not alone in though saying that I don’t know how to process what’s happening.
My partner is a teacher – and every single day that I’ve watched her leave for work recently (until yesterday when all the schools were closed to everyone but children of key workers) I’ve done so with a sense of dread and worry.
Five years ago I was alone, drunk, morbidly obese and flushing my life down the toilet. I didn’t have any fear of loss because I was certain I’d die through my own selfish and self destructive hand before anyone I loved.
Now that’s almost certainly not going to be true – and in the coming weeks things may well happen to reverse that stupid assumption in ways I could never have imagined back then.
Furthermore the spectre of my mother’s death suddenly looms large.
She passed away fighting for breath as her lungs filled with fluid – suffering from the side effects of chronic smoking.
Her hospital was calm, organised, well equipped and (despite what we may expect given political rhetoric about pressures on the NHS) well staffed and resourced.
She had a room to herself and the nurses caring for her appeared to be busy – but used to and capable of managing their workloads. They were able to respond to changes in her condition, and (somewhat amazingly) kept her alive much longer than I expected them to.
If what’s happening in Italy is going to happen here then we can expect a lot of very different outcomes and radically different care situations not just for people like her but everyone that needs support.
My primal fear of suffocation is (and has been for a few years) now inextricably linked to how she passed away – and the distress that I witnessed in her as she fought to breathe with her oxygen cylinders has never really left me.
Now it’s all back in my mind – because it’s on the horizon once more.
It’s real – and whilst I want to sit down and blog about positive things at the moment I just can’t.
I just need to start writing again, now more than ever – and share that I am struggling just like everyone else, but trying to find a way to cope. I want to reach out to the world once again and begin to talk openly about what’s going on inside my head, because it might help someone else as much as it helps me.
As we become more and more physically distant whilst we lock our doors and move into quarantine we must (as much as humanly possible) remain close and look after one another.
Plus – I’d like to finally blog at some point in the increasingly near future about the reality of what happens when the apocalypse arrives and there’s only one sheet of Andrex left.
Let’s face it – the puppy is soft, absorbent, loves to play in the shower and is infinitely re-usable. Furthermore if you have one with a darker coat (especially a puppy that doesn’t moult) then it’s practically the perfect crime.
So I guess I’ll leave you all (with a no doubt delightful) mental image there. It’s now 5 am and I’m no closer to being able to sleep – so I’m going to play a video game.
Part of me feels better for writing all of this down but I know there’s a lot more to come in the days, weeks and months ahead and I’m probably going to get deeper as time goes on.
I want you all to stay safe, stay healthy, and keep going – if only for the purely selfish reason that it would be nice to have someone left to read what I write when the dust settles and life eventually begins to return to normal.
Keep yourselves safe.