Coronavirus: Life in Southwark - "Some days the whole experience seems very unreal, even imaginary"

Read our first blog about how daily life has changed during the outbreak, and the mental health impacts of this. Part of our blog series 'Coronavirus: Life in Southwark'.
sofa besides window in dimly lit flat
We have been keeping our thoughts and plans short-term taking each day as it comes because looking into the unknown future drives you mad.
Written by Anonymous

Our comfortable certainties have been upended. We are living in new times in which the shape of the future is hard yet to discern except that things are going to be different. It is our collective choice what those times turn out to be: a greater sense of solidarity, of truly being in it together, or a dispiriting descent into greater disregard for others, what one writer has called “a nation of shop fighters”? Don’t worry. No sermons from me or any better insight than you can find in countless articles published every day.

One of our most immediate challenges is to stop falling into the vortex of unease and potential depression.

Like many, we have moved through various moods, probably the five stages of grief, as we confront this very different reality in which it is, at the moment, impossible to either know or plan beyond the end of the day. We are suddenly faced with our inability to shape more than the immediate present and to come to terms with who, rather than what, we are. And everywhere people are learning new things about themselves and others. We are practicing social distancing when we need solidarity. The last thing we need is to see the other as a threat.

We have consciously slowed down, rationing our news exposure and our books. Some days the whole experience seems very unreal, even imaginary, and then you see the masks, the social distancing, we read the news and it brings us back to reality. We have not watched any TV…maybe that helps to a degree. But we have kept in constant touch with family and friends even more intently than before.

Unknowingly, we have been following the advice of a psychotherapist who specializes in grief counselling – because this experience is a kind of grieving. So we have been keeping our thoughts and plans short-term taking each day as it comes because looking into the unknown future drives you mad. We spend an hour or so each day walking around the grounds of the apartment building as movement helps relieve stress. We do occasional breathing exercises. Give ourselves treats. And, of course, we connect with others by email or video link. We are a fortunate generation in that respect.

The days pass relatively quickly in chores, communications various, and walking. Some days are better than others. We can sense the tendency to do an inner lock down.

Will we learn from this to make something new and better for the future? Danger on the one hand, and opportunity on the other. A return to the bad old ways or a readiness to forge something new. As an Italian writer put it: “Literati who had been omnipresent in the news will disappear, their opinions suddenly irrelevant; some will take refuge in rationalizations which will be so totally lacking in empathy that people will stop listening to them. People whom you had overlooked, instead, will turn out to be reassuring, generous, reliable, pragmatic clairvoyant.”

We are currently experiencing a world where what was once forbidden – huge Government intervention – is now compulsory. If we truly are all in it together, as the virus is blind as to wealth, status, colour, creed or national boundary, can we build from that to break down inequalities and build up community at every level of our world?

The paradox is that as our lives have been confined to the enclosure of our flat we are reminded each day of that much larger world beyond us but also of the things we can no longer do. Pop around to the Market, see friends, visit our favourite haunts. We miss all those things keenly. Zoom and FaceTime are a boon but they are not the same as the physical contact. And, of course, we have no idea when we will meet again. 

But we have adjusted as best we can. The days pass relatively quickly in chores, communications various, and walking. Some days are better than others. We can sense the tendency to do an inner lock down.  We have to keep reminding ourselves of our own advice: one day at a time…

We both stay in daily contact with our charity teams, museum colleagues and our various communities. They are doing an amazing job in holding things together as best they can and finding new and creative ways in which to go on providing support.

If the Financial Times can see some writing on the wall, there is hope. Who would have expected to see this in an editorial posted in the newspaper of the corporate world:

‘The way we wage war on the virus benefits some at the expense of others. The victims of Covid-19 are overwhelmingly the old. But the biggest victims of the lockdowns are the young and active, who are asked to suspend their education and forgo precious income. Sacrifices are inevitable, but every society must demonstrate how it will offer restitution to those who bear the heaviest burden of national efforts.

Radical reforms — reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades — will need to be put on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy. They must see public services as investments rather than liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure. Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly and wealthy in question. Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.’ 

We live in hope.

The opinions in this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Healthwatch Southwark.

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