Or should that be the ‘c’-word…? Or the ‘v’-word…? Many infinitely more qualified writers than me have shared their experiences of the strange and unfamiliar ‘new normal’ we have all had to adjust to in the last twelve months, but I am going to throw in my two-pennyworth anyway. For me, it is a good illustration of how torn I feel about certain aspects of my life and how hard it is to explain myself to others, especially those who don’t understand the true nature of depression and anxiety.
I am actually amongst the extremely fortunate: as far as I know, nobody in my family nor any close friends have been struck down with this awful new virus – so far – and let’s hope it stays that way. One or two friends of friends have been infected, and a retired GP in the UK I knew tangentially and met once, died after he came out of retirement to help out early in the pandemic and caught COVID. But for us, as for many of the luckier ones, this Plague Year has mostly been about the side-effects.
When the first lockdown started here in France, I wasn’t too bothered by the prospect. For one thing, I’d been in a sort of self-imposed house arrest for several months anyway, so it was almost a relief not to have to find an excuse not to go out. And of course, at that stage none of us knew how long this was going to last. But there was some cause for concern: our elder daughter was due to give birth in May. As her profession was on the frontline – she is a family doctor in Leicestershire – she was forced to shield for the remainder of her pregnancy. In addition, our younger daughter is also a key worker, helping to keep the trains running in the west of England. So both had to continue working – one from home, one in a regulated environment that is not without some risk.
I am happy to say that despite the limitations imposed, all went well with the birth, and Martha and Luke have a beautiful, happy, lively little boy to complete their family. But it has been very hard for us being so far from them at this time. Naturally, a mother wants to support her daughter through those difficult early weeks and that simply wasn’t possible. We didn’t get to meet him until July, and Geoff and I each managed one more separate visit in the autumn before France locked down again. Our Christmas plans had to be cancelled at the last minute due to the UK’s lockdown, and the truth is, we miss all the grandkids terribly. Whatever else is happening, however bad I am feeling, those four little people (or not so little now, in the case of the eldest) always make me feel better. Like many grandparents across the world, we are finding these times very tough. The predictable omnishambles of Brexit has only added to our woes.
Family separation aside, I’m not sure that being forced to remain at home has been a problem for me, per se. As I said, I had been finding going out, and especially travelling long distances, quite difficult for a while. My partner found lockdown very frustrating, and that was my main cause of stress. Because he was unable to go out, apart from once a week to shop and short dog walks, there was quite a lot of enforced togetherness, and without the moderation of time spent with friends. He wasn’t even allowed to go for a ride. Currently – although this may change in the near future – we are not locked-down, but it is February and we are just coming out of a cold snap, so travel isn’t exactly desirable. Geoff does have a gorgeous Honda motorbike and he loves to take it out on the wonderfully quiet country roads around here, but he’s in the middle of a major maintenance job so the front wheel isn’t attached… something of a snag, even if the weather were suitable!
When I feel ‘low’, I often simply need to be quiet, and alone. Distraction can help, but only in the form of some mindless TV show, or a familiar film, or perhaps a favourite podcast. Reading can be difficult because concentration becomes an issue. It’s so hard to explain, but the last thing I want to do is go out when I feel at my worst. Sometimes being in nature can help, but crowds and busy places are definitely a big no-no. I am aware this can make me a less than helpful companion; looking back, I see now that I have felt this way regularly over the years, but frequently went along with the plans of others, mainly to keep the peace, or for the greater good, as it were. It’s only in these last couple of years, as my mental health spiralled down, that I was unable to carry on doing that. Increasingly, I have found the stress of trips away made them more and more of an ordeal, rather than something to be anticipated with pleasure. More than once I have been tempted to try to remain at home.
At least now that my depression and anxiety is out in the open, and I am comfortable speaking about it, I feel able to say when I can’t face something, and be straightforward about why. I am hoping that when life eventually returns to something more like ‘normality’ (whatever that is), I will feel able to return with it, to go out and to travel again, to go to the places we both want to visit, and perhaps even watch a MotoGP from the stands. But I know what my first priority is: giving all the grandchildren, but especially that little boy a big, squeezy, Grandma-hug.