Today, things did not go according to plan. Today I was going to be super efficient. I got up at 6.30 when my partner left for work. He is an engineer at a power station and so classed as an essential worker. I fought the urge to go back to bed, cleaned the kitchen, fed our pets and did 30 minutes of yoga, which sadly did not register as any distance on my step counter. By 9 I was ready at my laptop, full of intentions to cycle the 13km of today’s leg over lunch on my exercise bike. But it didn’t happen. Some stuff came up that had to be dealt with, some real life stuff which needed me to spend the day listening and affirming and advocating and eating chips and cheese for lunch rather than cycling. But it’s ok. Now is not a time to be hard on ourselves.
Apart from the obvious physical health impact of Covid-19, the pandemic is having a major effect on mental health. I, fortunately, have been ok so far, bar the expected stress and fatigue of an unprecedented situation, but many people I know are not well. For some it is a resurrection of past illness, for some it is completely new, for others a light has been shone on something that had been masked before and in the harsh new reality of social distancing can no longer be ignored.
There is no one right answer. What works for me might not work for you. That there is no guaranteed way to help is one of the things that means there’s still an awkwardness around mental health. We don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to get it wrong so we do nothing at all. We put off the phone call. We stop inviting someone because they’ll say no anyway. We don’t ask for help for fear of what others will think. It’s time to stop being afraid. It’s time to start the conversation. I’ll go first.
When I’m trying to sleep but my brain is too active, busily dissecting the day or dwelling on things that are outside my control or that happened 20 year ago, I sing a song to myself. It goes like this:
Red and yellow and pink and green, orange and purple and blue, I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow too.
Listen with your eyes, listen with your eyes, and sing all the things you see. I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow, sing along with me.
Red and yellow and …
Sometimes, when the words themselves are not enough of a distraction, I try really hard to picture an image for each colour, a different fruit or animal or object. 99.9% of the time it works. Perhaps its the hypnotic repetition or the simplicity of the words, perhaps its a resetting, like holding your breath to stop hiccuping. Most likely though it is because my mum used to sing that song to me at bedtime when I was very small.
If you live in the UK you have probably noticed the rainbows that people have been putting in their windows. To make and display one is a common home-school assignment. There are certainly a lot near me, all of the images in this post are from three nearby streets. But why rainbows? There are many reasons. They are simple and easy to draw; because they are colourful they are the ideal subject for a game of eye spy to distract children from the just plain weirdness of a socially distanced walk; they are inclusive, everybody knows what a rainbow is and community is of the utmost importance in a crisis; and of course they have, for a long time, been associated with the survival of a storm, a sign of better days to come. This evening I decided to take a quick walk to look at the rainbows, and, although the streets were empty as I hummed my rainbow song, it felt as though the neighbourhood sang along with me.
If you’re looking to start a conversation about mental health, either yours or someone else’s, then this link might be useful https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus/