Tag Archives: mental wellbeing

Keeping in Touch – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 16

How have you found keeping in touch whilst we’ve been on lockdown?

Zoom has certainly come into its own since March, with businesses, individuals and groups using this technology for just about every event and occasion imaginable. I find myself on this video conferencing platform almost daily with a combination of management meetings, team meetings, webinars and our Sunday morning post-Church service “coffee chat”. We’ve used it for quiz nights and catching up with friends in Canada, although a number of those have also been accessed through FaceTime, Facebook Live and YouTube. I’m even about to embark on some Zoom interviews for a role within our finance team at work, although I’ve still to work out how to facilitate the excel-based competency test we usually ask candidates to complete under timed conditions in our office.

M has become an expert on MS Teams as his secondary school has finally managed to get itself organised enough to run some “live” lessons for some subjects in the last 5 weeks or so of the school year. He also uses it for his weekly lesson with our local dyslexia centre, who had everything in place as soon as the Easter holidays were over, and have offered him a week’s worth of daily lessons in August so that he doesn’t miss out too much on the learning and support they would have been doing with him since lockdown started.

G will be using MS Teams tomorrow as her tutor has organised an online face-to-face farewell session for her tutor group before she has an unquestionably late induction to the 6th form at her current school in case she decides to stay on there in September. For G, there has been very little contact with the school over the last 15 weeks. There has been no active teaching or engagement with the 300 students in her year group and many of them will not be returning in September as they move on to other schools and apprenticeships for the next step in their studies. Whilst we thought that the contact with M from school had been mediocre at best, for G it has been devastatingly pitiful and has done absolutely nothing to give her any semblance of any support during what has been a challenging time for us all, let alone for those students where the opportunity to take GCSEs and A-levels was suddenly snatched away.

As I mentioned last week, M took his first steps back to life as normal as it possibly can be these days with a return to school for a one hour session yesterday lunchtime. He was in with 8 other members of his tutor group, including 2 of his closest friends and it was a great opportunity to catch up and actually see other people for the first time in months. He wore his face mask into school, but chose to take it off during the session as the desks in the classroom had all been spaced 2 metres apart. He enjoyed the time they had and it gave him a much-needed change of scenery too.

We also met up with my Mum for the first time properly since lockdown began, although it was via a socially distanced cup of tea in our garden – Mum bringing her own flask of hot water, tea-bags, mug and chair with her! I have been either calling or texting her daily to give her regular updates about how we all are, and weekly Face Times with the children as well to give her and them an opportunity to chat. Sunday was the first chance for us all to be together for an extended length of time in person, something that I think we all needed. The weather wasn’t quite as glorious as it has been in previous weeks, but it was dry enough for long enough to allow us to sit out comfortably together and enjoy that time.

Working from Home – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 12

The last 12 weeks have seen thousands of people starting to work from home on a much more regular basis than they might have done before and I know that for some, that situation will continue for the foreseeable future, if not as a permanent change to their work location going forward. The reality of lockdown has meant that businesses have had to review and consider how they work, and can work in the future, especially where this means that potential savings could be made and help them to survive the current financial crisis.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I am carrying on working from home and will be for an as-yet-to-be-determined amount of time. Working for a charity within the care sector, we are taking a very cautious approach with our work processes in order to protect our service users as much as we can and that same approach is being applied to those of us who work in the Head Office. Our Board of Trustees and Senior Management Team (SMT) are anticipating that our regular meetings will continue to be virtual for several months and our Head Office will continue to be manned by a skeleton staff whilst the rest of us work from home until further notice.

Working from home can come with its own challenges, be that about motivation and focus, or working excessive hours because it can be difficult to switch off mid-task; or, these days, the juggling act required to manage workloads, team dynamics and meetings alongside homeschooling and childcare. I attended a webinar a few weeks ago run by recruitment consultants, Robert Half, which looked at the pressures that working parents have felt during the lockdown period and the importance of changing the way we look at things for our own mental wellbeing.

One of the key messages from this webinar was that those of us who are working parents should aim to be a “good enough” parent, rather than a “perfect” parent. We may have started lockdown with ambitions to conquer the combined dizzying heights of homeschooling and working from home, but many, if not all, have struggled to achieve their own goals and the knock-on effect on motivation and wellbeing has been huge. Seeking virtual support from friends and family as well as setting more realistic goals for what can be achieved each day and not beating ourselves up about if we don’t manage to tick everything off the list is critical.

There were also some great suggestions about how to help yourself and your children get through lockdown. My favourite ones included using your usual commute time for some me-time however that looks like for you; or as a family making notes of the things we’re missing doing the most and saving those into an empty box or jar. Once we’re out of lockdown completely, you can pick those notes out and work your way through each experience. At the end of the day, succeeding at working from home might not look quite as you imagined it would, but getting through this time relatively unscathed is, without a doubt, the most important thing of all.

Awareness in Lockdown – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 9

This week has been a focus for raising awareness for 2 causes close to our hearts: National Eosinophil Awareness Week (NEAW) and Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW). It somehow feels apt that these two go hand-in-hand this week as we have so often experienced first-hand how closely linked life with EGID is with the mental health well-being of all in our family. This year that is even more important as so many of us are struggling with the changes that the coronavirus lockdown has brought with it and none more so than the young people in our household.

National Eosinophil Awareness Week: We have been very active in raising awareness about eosinophilic diseases for a number of years, but decided to start taking a step back from that last year. Eosinophilic Colitis (EC) was the initial diagnosis that we received for M all those years ago from his consultant at GOSH, but in recent times, the diagnosis criteria for this condition have faltered and existing diagnoses have been actively questioned by many within the medical community. These days conditions such as mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) have been bandied about in relation to M, but ultimately the root cause of his health problems still remains a mystery to us all. As I’ve said so many times, having a name to put to his health issues has helped us all, even when very little is known about it, and I continue to use both his original diagnosis of EC and the newer one of MCAS when filling in paperwork or talking about M with other people.

Despite our own uncertainty about whether EGID is the correct diagnosis for M or not, I will always continue to encourage and support the fundraising and awareness-raising efforts of organisations seeking to research and understand this family of conditions more. Lockdown maybe stopping us doing anything active to raise awareness this week as we have in the past, but it’s good to be able to do my bit even from within the constraints of my own home.

Mental Health Awareness Week: Mental health well-being has been a buzz word in our household for a number of years and never has that been more important than now as we see the impact of 9 weeks in lockdown on us all. I’m a happy introvert, who enjoys spending time in my own company and so, in many ways, lockdown life is suiting me quite well. Regular contact with my work colleagues through Zoom and conference calls, webinars and online catch-ups with other friends is keeping me in touch with the outside world, which is especially important at a time when my T1D is keeping me at home.

However, I see a greater effect on Mike and the children and I think a lot of that is due to the changes to their daily routines. I am still working 9-5 every weekday, albeit from home and more often 8-7, but the 3 of them are going through a very different experience to me. Mike was furloughed from his job as a chartered surveyor on 1 April and for someone who is very used to being out and about as he values or surveys properties every day, the restriction of staying at home has been difficult. He is also much more of a social bug than I am, so not having daily face-to-face time with anyone other than the children and me has also taken its toll. However, that being said, the online capability to chat to family and friends across the world is something he has definitely embraced, even taking part in his regular whiskey-tasting evening via Zoom the other night!

As for the children, well G and M are almost a perfect reflection of Mike and me. G is comfortable entertaining herself and being in her own company, whereas M thrives on spending time with his peers as well as being constantly active and mentally challenged by them. Both have found lockdown difficult and we have worked, and continue to work, hard together to find the best outlet for their emotions as well as effective ways to meet their social needs. Chatting on WhatsApp or connecting via the PS4 has been a good solution and both are also having tutoring sessions via Zoom or MS Teams every week. This connection with people from outside of the family has been key to giving them something that is a very faint semblance of what they’re used to experiencing daily. Keeping them in a routine has also been important as Mike and I are very conscious that their return to school in September, after the best part of 6 months home-schooling, will exhaust them physically, mentally and emotionally from the minute they step through the school doors, if not before.

The buzzword for MHAW has been Kindness and considering what random acts of kindness you can do for others has been much encouraged. However, I think it’s key to remember that, whilst showing kindness to others in all situations is important, so is showing kindness to ourselves. We truly are living through extraordinary times and we shouldn’t feel guilty if we are not coping as well as we perhaps believe we should. Be that by taking some time to do something we love to do as an individual – bubble bath anyone? – or spending time relaxing with our family or even reaching out to a friend because we just need to talk, being kind to ourselves will improve our own well-being, which is something we all need right now.

Honing lifeskills – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 5

One of the unexpected advantages of living in lockdown has been seeing G and M start to take on a little more responsibility at home and honing some important lifeskills to see them surviving when they hit adulthood. I started with expecting them to fend for themselves at lunchtime, avoiding too many snack-based choices and including some healthier options to ensure a relatively balanced meal and, after a first week of moans and groans about what they were eating for dinner, sat them down to meal plan their dinners for the following week. They had to work together on agreeing meals that they would both enjoy and, where a compromise couldn’t be reached, settling on something that would be similar, but different. An example of this was the great lasagne vs. macaroni cheese debate, as G dislikes the texture of lasagne, whilst M would choose to eat anything but macaroni cheese. They agreed to disagree and so have one night in the week where they eat their own preferred pasta option.

Whilst planning their menu for the week ahead, G and M also had to take into consideration what staples we had in the house and what would need to be added to our weekly food delivery. We have been using a local food co-operative for well over a decade for our fresh fruit, veg and meats and they have been great at continuing to provide their food delivery service during the coronavirus crisis. The natural next step from meal planning was to get them more involved with cooking dinner as well, building off the cookery lessons they’ve both had at school. They were already well-versed in prepping their own fruit and veg for a meal, but they can both now competently fully make some of the simpler meals as well as working alongside either Mike or me with the more complex ones.

G and M have an undeniable sweet tooth and the last few weeks have been a great opportunity for them to flex their baking muscles too. The interesting thing has been that they have worked both together and independently when it has come to choosing and making their sweet treats. The starting point has almost always been to see what recipes they can find on my blog and then checking if we have the ingredients in the kitchen cupboards. So far, we’ve enjoyed chocolate cookies, shortbread and carrot cake and I can’t wait to see what they whip up next.

The great thing is that G and M are not only learning to cook and bake, but they’re also honing their skills in following a recipe and realising when sometimes it might need to be tweaked slightly to make the perfect dish. They’ve discovered the benefits of menu planning and experienced the frustration of when a key ingredient is missing from the store cupboard and needing to think on their feet to find an alternative. They’ve learnt to really work together, to listen to and respect what the other is saying and, when a compromise can’t be found immediately, to walk away and give each other space. I think that they’ve also discovered that cooking and baking can bring a much-needed therapeutic release from the tensions that we’re all experiencing from living on top of each other in uncertain times and re-centre their sense of emotional and mental well-being.

The 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries – Week One

Without a shadow of a doubt, the world as we have known it has changed radically in the first 3 months of 2020. The fast spread of the COVID-19 virus not just through Wuhan, China, but worldwide has shocked us all and we find ourselves living in extraordinary times. Times that go far beyond the much-fabled “interesting times” often quoted as an ancient Chinese curse*. Life will never go back to the way it used to be for most of us, if not all and so we have to search for our normal despite not really knowing when things will start to be more “normal” once again.

Our first week at home was mostly a good one.

G and M continue with their home studies, though some days with more dedication and, let’s be honest, success than others. They’re keeping up with the extra courses they’ve both signed up to as well and we’ve found additional activities to keep them busy. G has been using the Diversity online tutorials to hone some more dance skills thanks to their 20DV website and I’ve signed M up for online tutorials for his bass guitar through Fender. Stagecoach Performing Arts has also provided some at-home online learning videos, which helps break up what can be long days.

My 12 weeks working from home is off to a good start with all finance and banking systems working well on our home wifi. There are daily conference calls with the rest of the senior management, sometimes via Zoom, to review the situation across our charity and track the progression of COVID-19 through both our staff and the individuals we support in our homes. I’ve also scheduled weekly catch-up sessions with the other members of our finance teams to make sure they are all coping okay with their new work situation. Keeping an eye on the mental well-being of all my staff is critical in times like these and they have my phone number to be able to call or WhatsApp whenever they need.

It has taken a new level of cooperation and adaption for us all. Mike is used to working from home on his own. He takes to his study in the morning, may reappear for drinks or food and then disappears again until his day is finished. M and G each have work stations set up in our dining room and manage to avoid conflict by being plugged into their own devices as they study. I have set up on the 1 remaining downstairs in the kitchen, which works brilliantly for me as I have ready access to the kettle, but can prove challenging to the rest of the family when they look to escape to the garden or make their lunch.

The last week has been filled with rainbows, working from home and trying to convince 2 increasingly grumpy teens to keep going with their own home studies…and I think we just about managed to do it all.

*There is no clear evidence that the curse “May you live in interesting times” is in fact either ancient or Chinese. It is purported to have come into more common parlance in the early 1900s, in all likelihood in the UK thanks to Sir Austen Chamberlain, brother of UK PM Sir Neville Chamberlain. You can find a good explanation of this origin here. Chinese or not, it is now widely accepted to mean times of trouble, rather than of peace,