Warning: this article contains distressing content which may prove triggering for some.
I’d accepted the “new normal” way of living over the last month or so.
I stopped and did a “phone, keys, bank card, face mask, hand sanitiser” check without even thinking each time I left my flat. I downloaded a podcast for every Tesco trip, not batting an eyelid when I joined the half-mile-long queue. I started to feel empowered about living alone, rather than lonely. I even got to grips with lockdown dating.
Then, last weekend, in the run up to 100 days in lockdown, I cried for a solid 12 hours. A deluge of tears fell. It was the kind of puffy-eyed crying that leaves you asking, “who is that mole staring back at me in the mirror?” the next morning. The last time I cried like that was four years ago after a breakup.
I couldn’t understand why the tears wouldn’t stop. Sure, the previous weeks had continued to have the usual ups and downs, but nothing that bad had happened.
The next day I finally booked a train home to stay with my family after months of committed isolation in a flat on my own. But the emotional outburst was a worrying sign that my head wasn’t in a good place, and I had to do something about it: perhaps I hadn’t fully accepted the new normal after all.
It was time to prioritise my mental health again.
Things felt immediately clearer when I sat on the empty train for two hours with just my face mask, thoughts, a gin in a tin and the diary I’ve been sporadically keeping since lockdown started.
Flicking back through the entries for the first time, I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading.
In those first few weeks, I wrote about death a lot: my death, the deaths of my family members and friends, the deaths of people whose names I would never know. Anybody can catch and die from Covid-19, and thousands of people had – why would my family be exempt from the devastating statistics? Surely, it was just a matter of time before I felt symptoms, or received a call from a nurse about a loved one in hospital?
I described the daily walks we were limited to (and how cherry blossoms really were the highlight of my day), the frustration of any fleeting optimism, and the inability to articulate what I really felt.
“Did all of this really happen?” I asked myself while taking a big sip of gin.
In my desperation to feel normal again, get on with life and put a plaster on the trauma, I’d forgotten exactly what I, along with everyone else in the world, have been through. But there it was, in my black-and-white, often hard to decipher, inky scrawl.
I clearly hadn’t dealt with it all properly, and employed a temporary coping mechanism. So, once I finally started crying, it unplugged nearly five months of lockdown emotions – it’s hardly surprising I couldn’t stop.
It’s little wonder that mental health charity Mind is urgently calling on the government for a plan for recovery from the coronavirus mental health crisis. More than one in five adults (22%) with no previous experience of poor mental health now say that their mental health is poor or very poor.
That’s why, as lockdown restrictions continue to ease, we mustn’t forget the 100 days that have led us here. It’s been a period of collective grief and trauma, and it doesn’t just stop because we’re allowed to go to the pub and cinema again from 4 July.
The pandemic is far from being over. Life isn’t like what it was before. Things are very different and probably will be for a long time. We’re continuing to go through a lot. But I do believe that right now is a moment to stop, reflect and heal.
Because, yeah, that really did all happen, and we won’t be able to move forward from it without at least trying to process what we’ve all been through.