Mental Health Awareness Week: Quarantine insights

What an extraordinary time we live. We may be on lockdown, but, at least for me, it has been a time rich in insights to my life.

This week is both Global Tracheostomy Awareness week and the Mental Health Awareness week. The theme this year is kindness, a very appropriate topic in these stressful times. This gave me a boost to finish this piece, that has been work in progress for a while…

Before I start, let me just say that I don’t want to preach about how we all should use the lockdown as some sort of self-improvement marathon. I think we should all live our lives at the moment the way we feel we best support ourselves. If it means working on writing that elusive novel, go for it. If it means watching disproportionate amount of Netflix and implementing an extra meal a day consisting of nachos do it – and don’t give yourself a shitty time over it.  In fact, I can recommend you plenty of shows I’ve been indulging in.

Lockdown in our household has looked a lot like Freya’s early years – self imposed isolation is something many families like ours do every snot season to a varying degree.  Imposing further limits on our inherently restricted life has been easier than I thought – there has been sense of familiarity, an odd feeling of home coming. It helps that my household consists of the two people I most like spending time with and that our video conferencing  social life is buzzing  — often exceeding the real life (an improvement to our previous lockdowns as previously our friends were not as available for online fun as they were not locked up).

But one thing that has been bubbling up to me in the recent weeks  is whether all the components of my life still fit in my lockdown existence.  At what point is it best call it quits and get back to the drawing board? Should giving up always be labelled a failure, even when it actually increases our quality of life?

I have always been suffering from what I like to call a “good girl syndrome” – the instinct to turn inwards to look for a reason if something does not work, asking myself “ Am I doing something wrong? Am I trying hard enough? Is there something more I should be doing to make this work?”.

Best example of this was when we first brought Freya home from hospital – a little, snotty baby hooked up to oxygen, being fed through a little tube through her nose every 3 hours.  I was so keen to get home I willed superhuman powers on my family: We should take turns to nurse her and sleep in shifts. And on paper it my calculations made sense to me (though in hindsight lacked any real insight to what it actually is looking after a baby on end of life care).  Unsurprisingly it was a total catastrophe and 8 days later when we found ourselves in hospital again I was exhausted beyond anything I had experienced before.

It took me a long time to shake off the feeling that we had failed somehow, that I had failed somehow. But putting my foot down, insisting that looking after Freya with no external care was the best thing I could have done – and it started a long road for us as a family to recover and actively reach for happiness.

So what does this have to do with lockdown or the theme of kindness? It has shown to me that when extraordinary, wholly unexpected things happen (like having a seriously ill child or a shitty pandemic) we need to be kind to ourselves, particularly if we find that we cannot do it all.  We may well need to prioritise things and accept that some “failures” really are just a mechanism to set us free from ideas in our heads about what things should be like and which often cause us more stress than are worth.

For me, it has been to make the decision to stop working  during this pandemic, concentrating on keeping us all healthy and happy and allowing me to pursue projects close to my heart.

So my friends, in these challenging times be kind to yourselves. Looking after kids during pandemic for weeks on end IS tough. Living with innate, nagging fear eats up our energy. Sometimes there is only so much you can achieve. 

It is, therefore, worth looking at this extraordinary time through lenses of curiosity: When this is all over will we go back to before or will there be things that will always remain only pre-COVID to us? Has this time shown us what is important and – perhaps more importantly – what isn’t? Letting go of things that no longer serve us can often be the kindest thing we do for ourselves.

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