People, like locusts, stripped the supermarket shelves of everything they could get

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Contribution by
MariaPaola Ditch

The News Harvester

The night away in Edinburgh had been a great escape, but before leaving, I wandered into a huge souvenir shop to pick up some family gifts. I panicked when I saw two Asian ladies in masks. Did they know something I didn’t? Feeling very hot and stuffy in a very large shop was a strange feeling! My heart started racing and I felt trapped. As I rushed quickly outside the shop, I gasped in the cool air. I was shaking! I quickly realised, as a mental health nurse of 35 years, that I was having my first ever panic attack. It seems I was afraid of the face masks.

On the way home, we stopped off to visit family. My new baby grandson was asleep, so I didn’t get to cuddle him – crucial, as it turns out. We excitedly planned Easter, which is always a huge celebration in our home.

I dispelled thoughts that Easter may not happen for us this year. . .

The following days, I struggled with work. The more I heard about Coronavirus, the more I checked the News on the radio, TV, online, but I checked… and checked… and then some more. My sleep was beginning to suffer.

I live in a small town, but I had to drive 35 miles to deliver mental health training to new NHS staff. They were a brilliant group, thoroughly engaging in the session. I made a joke of coughing people, asking if they’d travelled to Italy or China.

Then it happened. I felt ill. I had a headache I just couldn’t shake for several days. I was exhausted with temperature of 38.7C and I knew it couldn’t be flu, because I’d been vaccinated against it. I panicked. I cried. I have severe asthma and now I knew I’d die.

After a week of self-isolation in my bedroom, I fed my anxiety even more. My mood plummeted. What was the point of getting up to have a shower, only to stay in my 4 walled prison? I was exhausted. I slept so much. I only had a tiny cough, nothing much. I couldn’t cope any longer with being trapped in a bedroom, where I couldn’t even see people walking by! I took the decision to leave my room and go downstairs, where my other half sat as far as possible away from me.

We tried to buy some shopping online but couldn’t get a delivery. We hadn’t bought any food for over 3 weeks now. Lockdown came in. People, like locusts, stripped the supermarket shelves of everything they could get, especially pasta and toilet rolls, but we couldn’t go out. We were self isolating.

I hadn’t died! Had I had Covid19? I didn’t know. Later, an antibody test would prove I hadn’t had it.

My brain worked overtime to find answers to questions I repeatedly generated.

I spent waking hours harvesting News. From the moment I awoke, until the moment I fell asleep, I absorbed all the news I could find. Wuhan – how could a place I’d never heard of, strike terror into my heart? I’d said back in January that this virus would become a pandemic, but I was ridiculed. Well, if I’d been right about that, I’d reasoned that surely I’d also be right with my fear that it would kill millions of us in the UK.

I still couldn’t get any shopping delivered, so I cleared the shelves at home of 4 year old tins of pilchards, tuna, lentils and pasta! The local Polish shop delivered biscuits and cakes we’d never tried before. The food was outstanding and full of flavour. I’d developed a new passion – FOOD! I say new passion, but I’ve struggled with my weight yoyoing for about 45 years. I’d recently lost a lot of weight and had become very fit and healthy, going to the gym daily. Lockdown put an end to that. Over the next few months, I ate my way through anything and everything I could get my hands on. I started to feel physically uncomfortable. My legs were always hurting.

Then I got a shielding letter. The terror of not having had one in the first round of letters was horrifying, but here it was. I managed to get one supermarket to deliver food to us. I included biscuits, crisps, high sugar and high fat content food. I even included wine. I rarely touched alcohol. In rubber gloves, I wiped every single item with disinfectant cloths before quarantining them for 4 days.

My descent into a 3 stone weight gain was a tasty one, filled with cakes, bread, pies, pasties and pizza. I was soon glugging alcohol every Friday night. Before long, I thought it would be okay to drink on a Thursday night too. Those fruity gins are nice! For some reason though, I choose to drink them with diet tonic water. Why waste calories?

Work. Oh yes! Work! Well I was working from home. How exciting to see colleagues online! Ah I could do this shielding lark. As soon as work was finished, I had a large G&T waiting to cheer me up, and a delicious meal. Working from home was good, surely? I didn’t have to face Covid19, apart from watching the News and following it on my phone. I also checked the daily world statistics. The trouble was, I knew my colleagues were donning full PPE and working on the frontline, so how could I feel happy at home? Guilt crept in, but gin and crisps helped me cope in the evenings.

The empty gin and wine bottles were building up, along with my weight. I wanted to go for a walk, but Boris said I had to stay home. So I stayed home. My weight increased. The shielding was keeping me alive, wasn’t it?

Shielding and working from home is tough. Whilst not taking anything away from those braving the now familiar ‘frontline’ and everyday work, this is all too often a forgotten or group in hiding. How can you admit to feeling guilty, exhausted, demotivated, depressed and fearful, when your colleagues are out there, day in, day out, wearing restrictive and frequently uncomfortable PPE? Yet this is true. So many shared their stories with me, with which I can associate, as I’ also shielding and working from home. I’d like to reinforce that it really is okay to not be okay. Let me share a few thoughts….

I had a meltdown last month. I have struggled to get a supermarket order until very recently, so imagine my absolute delight when I could order a new, fancy frying pan from a supermarket to be delivered along with my weekend breakfast items! I was so giddy! No more ruined sausages or eggs! I even ordered a few extra items just to get a cheap delivery. Just a few hours before it was due, I received notification that my frying pan wasn’t in stock. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue. BUT IT IS! I can’t go out and buy one! So, instead of shopping at that A-word online retailer, I emailed the supermarket to explain my disappointment at not getting a frying pan. Imagine my reaction at their reply: “please return the item to our store for a refund”. SERIOUSLY? How can I return something they haven’t delivered?! Instead of laughing, I became very angry. I asked if they were taking the mess! All emotional intelligence went out of the window in one fell swoop. Small things were becoming very meaningful.

This week, someone said that they experience the highest of highs and the lowests of lows, with very little in between. I was baffled! Then I got it! That excitement when an online order arrives (notice I avoided the A word), or when we see a social media post of our loved ones laughing. That heartbreaking moment when you realise you’ve lost 6 months of hugs, cuddles and time with your loved ones. Mother’s Day, Easter, Father’s Day, holidays, Formula One, football. That moment when you can’t go to your loved one’s funeral. There are too few in-betweens to fire up many other emotions, so you start to feel the same, day in, day out. You used to look forward to weekends, but the only thing you’ve got to look forward to is a day without the laptop – that isn’t so, but it feels like that sometimes. You start to catastrophise and become annoyed far too easily….

The sheer frustration of Microsoft Teams not working, or of having to stumble from one meeting to the next without so much as a moment away from the laptop. Bad backs, aching knees, shoulders, arms, all of those places that aren’t used to working such long hours at a table or chair that weren’t made to be worked at for long. How can you complain when your colleagues are in a really bad place in PPE? So you don’t.

You start to think that because you’re working from home, you should be proving you’re working hard, so you put in even more hours than you usually would. You’ll justify your role one way or the other, and you’ll prove to your manager or team that you’re working, so you take less breaks (is that possible?). Before you know it, you’re spending hours longer doing much less, because you’re burning yourself out. Wow. How did that happen when you’re only working from home?

Home. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like home! Your office is your lounge or conservatory. Your dining table is your workspace. You haven’t got a table so you’re struggling. Reclaim that space! It is still your home, but now I’m tidying things away after work, so that I can’t see them. Lines become blurred. Social media is no longer just for home life, you’ve joined the wonderfully supportive staff group online. People contact me out of hours through it, not just through my work email. This wonderfully supportive group becomes intrusive, as well as a brilliant, supportive and interesting place – truly interesting. I put boundaries in place. No more Sunday check ins.

If I hear “THE NEW NORMAL” just one more time….. Initially, I’m happy for those of you that aren’t shielding, because you can mix with others, but that doesn’t last as well as I’d like. People are now able to eat out and mix in bubbles, but I can’t get into a bubble because everyone has already made their own whilst I’ve been busy shielding! Loneliness and feeling sorry for yourself soon creeps in. How could I be lonely when I’m not at home alone. My other half, furloughed since March, is now redundant. He’ll never work again. He’s old enough to retire early. Now I find myself in that bracket where I’m working all the hours… and he’s relaxing (I doubt it with my constant whinging, but I like to think I’m right – the martyr effect!). Emotions run high. Ohhh the amount of people that have looked at their loved ones with resentment would be funny, if only it weren’t so true. Admit it. Accept it. Let it go….

He now likes a glass of wine in the evenings, but I’ve started saying no. I don’t want to drink. It isn’t special anymore, it isn’t just something I have on birthdays and special occasions anymore, so I’m not really bothered about a drink. With absolute horror, shielding has ended, but I’m still shielding. I’ve started to go for walks. Socially isolated walks.

My son won’t let me cuddle my grandson, because I’m clinically severely vulnerable and “the virus hasn’t disappeared”, so he informs me. He doesn’t want to put his son at any increased risk. Neither do I, but if I don’t get a hug soon, I wonder if these daily tears will dry up…

The News says we’re entering a second spike in Europe….

There’s no way I’m going into a supermarket!

I still haven’t got my frying pan though!

Let’s get better mental health support for all

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