Alone Again, Or…?

I posted this to my Facebook friends a couple of days ago:


I live alone and don’t have any signs of illness, but I could understand her precautions: as she said, the outfit was as much to protect me from possible infection as it was for her. But it was another gentle reminder of how our lives are being disrupted by an unseen enemy. In normal course, I would have been phoned by my GP practice to tell me that there was a blood test request form for me to pick up. I would then take that to the local hospital and join what always feels like half the population of our small town in the queue to be leeched. However, I had a text message on Tuesday from the practice telling me that they would only be doing telephone contacts for now, and the hospital closed all of its day clinics on Wednesday. The district nurse told me that their service had been tasked with taking on the urgent cases, which was a little scary: to be fair, she did say that I didn’t meet the criteria for urgency, but was nevertheless on the list for a visit. In all honesty it was much more convenient for me and saved me the return cab fare. But it got me thinking about how even simple tasks are being complicated, and how much we owe to those in the front line of caring for us. Would you want to be going into the homes of those who are potentially vulnerable to illness at any time, let alone in these Covid-19 days? I sure as hell wouldn’t!

The visit also got me thinking about my own precautions and care. One of the signs of Covid-19, so I understand, is a raised temperature. Time to dust off my thermometer, just in case. But then I realised that I hadn’t seen it since I moved flat nine months ago. Oh. No problem, it would be in the kitchen cupboard with my small stock of first aid stuff, wouldn’t it? Nope. Maybe it had been put away in one of the bundles of stuff that went straight into storage cupboards? Another nope. After all, thermometers are pretty small, so perhaps I’d moved it into one of the drawers in my lounge furniture – all three of them? Triple nope. Time for my usual response to this kind of situation: a muttered ‘oh bugger.’

Perhaps I could think of another way round this? More in hope than expectation I hit the websites of the major pharmacies, like Boots and Lloyds, and – no surprise – every single model was out of stock, even the ridiculously expensive ones which should really have been made of solid gold for the prices charged. Or would have been charged, if they’d had any. I then tried Amazon, to be met with a similar story. Most offered possible delivery dates from mid-April until well into May – I could be dead by then, ffs! Looking in more detail at the various offerings, I also noticed that, apart from their unavailability, they all had one other thing in common: they would all be sent from China. Now, I’m no Donald Trump (whose favourite band is presumably China Crisis), but that did seem a potentially unnecessary risk to take. So I did what any self-respecting (but not yet isolating) Brit would do in these circumstances: I made a cup of tea (not China) and sat down for a think.

As is so often the case the tea worked its magic properties. It suddenly struck me that, as this flat has much less cupboard space in the bathroom than my previous one, I had a small bag of bits in there that I hadn’t opened since the move. Hey presto! One thermometer complete with protective case! Joy unbounded! Well, ok, I’m a Brit, so I was a little bit pleased. A quick clean, to protect myself from my own ancient germs, and I gave it a test drive. All worked as it should, so I stored it carefully in the aforementioned kitchen cupboard in case I need it again. My temperature was right at the low end of the ‘normal’ range but there is no way I’m going to start worrying about that! That would be a tale for another day if there was any change, and I really hope I don’t have to write that one!

Returning to my starting point, I’ve also been spending a good bit of time thinking about those in the front line of caring for and supporting us. I worked for 20 years in the NHS and, whilst I wasn’t a clinician, I met a great many in my time there. One attribute they shared, as do all of those providing my own current care, was their dedication to what they do and to the people they treat. I didn’t laugh or scream at the nurse who came to see me: that would have been completely inappropriate. As I said earlier, I live on my own. I’ve agreed with close family that we won’t see each other until it is safe to do so: I suspect that I might be late for my granddaughter’s second birthday in June, but I’d never forgive myself if I caught something and passed it on to her, my daughters, or other family. I’m alone, not lonely. I will survive quite happily as long as I can get food and medications delivered, as now, and the nurses can work out a way to substitute my weekly bandage changes if, as I suspect they will, the premises I go to are shut down. Look back at what I said in my Facebook post: it’s good to feel looked after. However long this lasts it will be temporary, in the great scheme of life. I give thanks to those whose dedication is supporting me through this and will see me to the other side. We all owe them our gratitude.

I hope you are also taking care of yourself and, like me, feel well cared for and supported. And please heed the advice from the powers that be. They may, like ours, have initially been slow off the mark, but their advice is guided by science, which is critical at this time. Be well. Stay safe.

#TimeToTalk Day 2020


Tomorrow, 6 February, is #TimeToTalk Day. The day is run by the Time To Change organisation, and is all about opening a conversation: this may be with someone who might need support; it could be to help raise general awareness of mental health issues; or it may be to help people be more sensitive and caring towards each other. I hope you join in – no special skills or resources are required, just be yourself and talk to someone. You may be pleasantly surprised at what happens.

Time To Change is led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. If you’d like to find out more their website is here, and there are loads of resources available for you. I was particularly taken with this poster:

There are many other resources there too: from quizzes, games and puzzles to prompts on how to start a conversation. Please take time to visit their website: it is very informative and you’ll find helpful tip cards, like this one:

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece for Time To Change, but they didn’t use it – probably because I submitted it too late, and not in the way they prefer! But it gives a potted version of my story, and why I believe this to be so important, so is worth sharing again, I think:

I was diagnosed with depression in late 2011. After months of treatment, both with medication and counselling, I finally returned to work more than nine months later. Perhaps ironically, I worked for a large NHS Trust which provided mental health services – though I didn’t live in the Trust’s catchment area – and whilst I had had a fair amount of involvement with service users in my twenty years there, most of the people I worked with hadn’t.

When I first returned, initial reactions were mostly of the ‘I haven’t seen you for a while’ variety. It was clear to me that only a few people knew why I had been off work, and I decided early on that the best way to tackle this was to be open and honest with anyone who asked about it. Not that I shouted it from the rooftops, but I wanted people to know and understand why I had been away, what it meant for me, and what it might mean for them. Some seemed apprehensive – I think they feared I might ‘have a turn’ or do something strange! The difficulty with any mental health problem is that other people can’t see it, in the same way they can see a broken leg, for example. This adds some kind of aura, a mystique, and can instil in some a fear of the unknown and unseen. I didn’t want to start some kind of crusade, but I believed it important to share my experience with anyone who asked. After all, to all intents I was the same person they had known for years, so why should they now treat me differently? Some might have had an expectation that I had changed in some way, and I wanted to reassure them that whilst the illness was a part of me I was still that same ‘me.’ People who have suffered a mental illness deserve to be respected as themselves: the illness isn’t a badge they must wear or, worse, a stigma to be borne as some sign of weakness.

I retired a little over a year later, and having already started my own blog I was aware how important it is for fellow sufferers to know that they are not alone, that others have shared something similar. But that isn’t the same for those who have been lucky enough not to suffer. I probably had around fifty conversations with co-workers in that last year at work, and made a point of telling them a few key things:

1. There is no shame in having been diagnosed with any kind of mental illness.
2. It can happen to anyone, at any time.
3. It is far more prevalent than people imagine, and it was quite likely that other people we worked with had similar problems.
4. Whilst some may not, many will welcome an initial approach of the ‘is everything ok?’ type. It does help to talk, and an informal chat can often be all that is needed to help someone.
5. Don’t be judgemental – people need to be heard, not given well-meaning ‘diagnoses’ by friends who aren’t qualified to judge.
6. Having been diagnosed doesn’t change who you are, and shouldn’t change how others see you.

I’d like to think that, in my own little way, I did something to help understanding and awareness. The important part of this was that it was on a one to one basis: I’m a great believer in the need for efforts to be made to widen the general population’s knowledge on mental health, and this low key approach is a good way to do that. Just imagine how many could be enlightened if we all had just one chat!

As it says in the image below, one in four of us will be affected by mental health issues at some point in our lives. That is a huge number and, as I said in the piece I wrote (above) there are often no visible signs that someone is suffering. Mental health problems can be all-encompassing, taking over your life, and it can be incredibly valuable to feel that there is support for you. So, will you talk to someone tomorrow? Please? Pass it on!