Well, I guess everyone gets that title, right? Not just that, but a quick Google will confirm that everyone’s thought of it already. Which, under normal circumstances, would compel me to think of something more original.
As you may have noticed, these are not normal circumstances.
One month on…
It’s just over a month since a) my previous post and b) the start of the official lockdown in the UK. This is another placeholder really, as I have found better things to do than go over some of the causes of my breakdown in the long-planned H7 and H8.
The publication date has been carefully chosen. Today would have been Day 58 of LEJoG: Kirk Yetholm to Jedburgh. As expected, all accommodation for the southern Scotland leg has been cancelled – some places even did so before I could. The Central Belt bookings for May will soon follow. The West Highland Way remains in place for now. As for sidetracks, the Lake District family holiday has also been postponed for a year.
There are no guarantees of returning to normality any time soon, which means my LEJoG plans remain extremely uncertain. Even the completion date of October 2022 may be out of reach. Reviewing what I wrote in H5, I foresaw this possibility, so can’t feign surprise or even disappointment. Very little about my mental state has changed over the last month.
Social and economic implications
That said, I decided to take the opportunity to make this post a little more than a placeholder. One of the arguments made against extending the lockdown has been the impact on people’s mental health. Now, I should say straight away that I am vehemently against lifting the lockdown prematurely. I’ve always been the kind of person that puts health and humanitarian concerns over economic ones. I grasp the desire to return to a fully functioning society, and I appreciate the considerations of long-term economic damage and its implications for the health of millions of individual people.
However, in some cases, the economic argument has come across as utterly heartless borderline eugenics. In this context, concerns for people’s long-term mental health sound like so much cant. Throughout this blog I’ve tried to stay away from politics. Here it’s unavoidable. Listening to some of the arguments advanced by the economic determinists, we don’t seem all that far from Swift’s Modest Proposal. Almost exactly a year ago, I was on the Pennine Way and musing about many of the same people’s attitude towards climate change when Swift sprang to mind. So the latest developments tend to reinforce my view that humanity hasn’t really progressed as much as we like to think, and may actually be in reverse evolution. Certainly moments like this, and the breathtaking hypocrisy and collective self-sabotage it demonstrates, should tell us that Swift and Adams had a point. You’d say it was “beyond satire”, if you weren’t aware that these men operated on a much higher plane than Have I Got News For You.
The mental health implications should be obvious.
- people’s social contact is restricted
- people can’t even go to work or shop without taking extreme care
- people are forced to spend much more time alone
- people cannot even see their families – as an aside, the sight of chalked Mother’s Day messages at the bottom of local driveways still chokes me up five weeks later
In my case, I live alone and (somewhat ironically given my past) perhaps I’m finding it easier than many people. It’s one of the rare events in life that’s made me grateful for not having children to think about. The hardest day to day activity has been shopping. I’ve been to the supermarket as rarely as possible – about every 10-14 days. But keeping two metres distance still feels unnatural, “aisle fever” is magnified, going around a corner is stressful, the sight of masks is faintly terrifying, and if it’s busier than expected there’s a low level dread in your mind for the next 5-14 days. I use a local shop once to twice a week for essentials such as bread and milk. Even they have a rule about no more than two customers at any one time.
And what of my hobbies? Well, my weekly outlet for going out and dancing has been temporarily closed and I do miss that. I also feel a quiet anger that the happiness of the last two years, lost for so long due to mental health, work and weight issues, has now been tempered by unforeseen external events. But as ever, perspective is important and I have to remind myself how lucky I am in times like these.
And then there’s walking, of course. You’d think, if ever there was a bombproof hobby, walking would be it. But no. Derbyshire Police have shamed people getting out into the Peak District, even as their Met counterparts gather in a massive crowd on Westminster Bridge…. I won’t take the risk, and so I’ve restricted myself to an hour a week on much the same local route. Even that involves social distancing, constantly crossing roads, waiting for people to pass, etc. I don’t mind admitting that this is probably the biggest challenge to my mental health. All my plans, previously curtailed only by money or (in the case of Olympus and Kilimanjaro) fear of flying, are on hold. LEJoG is postponed. This blog will see only mental health posts for the foreseeable future.
Stoicism, a wider perspective and a philosophical attitude all help. The pandemic has also introduced me to a new sensation – being somehow grateful for my post-breakdown experiences. At the time of writing, this experience doesn’t remotely compare with the endless, paralysing despair and self-hatred of 2006-07, or even the inferiority complex and weight gain of 2010-13. I’m also acutely sensitive to people over-stating their own difficulties. Not being dismissive of their feelings and concerns, but simply pointing out that some people are losing loved ones before their time, and the situation remains a long way from peaking or resolving.
Incidentally, the number of UK hospital deaths is more than twice the confirmed number of cases at the time of my last post. If that sort of statistic doesn’t sober you up, nothing will. Not being able to walk as often as you’d like… that’s nothing.
What am I doing with myself instead?
- I joined Twitter about five weeks ago. The best bit has been Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties, in which people join in with responses and memories as they all play a classic album at the same time. I’ve participated in
fivesix so far. for Exit Planet Dust, The Soft Bulletin, Different Class, I Should Coco, Dig Your Own Hole and (last night) Since I Left You.
- Good old Chart Music (Al, really) has provided a weekly quiz, Here Comes Quizm, since 3rd April. Still trying to get the magic 30 points, but a couple of hours of this with a couple of drinks makes for a great Friday night. The podcast itself is rarer than ever, but I’ve listened to all past episodes since the turn of the year.
- I’ve been playing a lot of the wonderful strategy game Through The Ages on Steam and mobile. It really appeals to the historian in me, and I love the way it challenges the brain. Have worked my way up to being able to beat three ‘Hard’ AI players, which is very satisfying.
- Continue with the home Body Pump workouts.
- Joined a couple of dating apps in the last week. Very early days.
I hope any readers are finding their own strategies to cope with the mental burden. As a self-sufficient person who rarely ever feels bored, I’m not sure I’m the best person to offer general advice. I’d like to be, and some people I know appreciate things I’ve said to try and help.
But I will keep writing on here, and next time it really will be Part I of “why I ended up having a massive breakdown”. Time to go all the way back, as Al would say, to January 1994…
Until then, stay safe and well, and take care of yourself. In every respect.
Picture (26 April 2020) shows an array of maps and guides to the walks I had planned for 2020 and 2021.