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Coronavirus Vaccination

To say I was excited when I received my vaccination appointment would be an understatement.

However, you would be wrong to think I’ve been living in fear since March 2020, although I’ve had a measure of concern because of my age, susceptibility to chest infections, and underlying asthma (although well-controlled). And, even though I’m generally fit and healthy, I’ve been scrupulous in protecting myself and my family from coronavirus.

Our surgery was really well organised, and the longest wait was fifteen minutes afterwards (in a marquee) to make sure I was OK. I received my first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and I’ll get my second dose in twelve weeks time.

I do encourage you to have the vaccine when your turn comes, please ignore all the rubbish that’s spoken and written about them.

The coronavirus vaccines are based on decades of scientific progress and practice. Yes, the development has been speeded up because we’re in a crisis, but scientific corners haven’t been cut. Remember, the flu vaccine is a new vaccine every year, and is based on the same scientific foundations. Be grateful for the 24/7 commitment to this cause, and please don’t spread misinformation. See here.

As a friend pointed out: The only corners that have been cut are the waiting for funding for each step through the process (it’s been made available immediately instead of waiting until the next financial period or whatever), and the hunt for a suitable selection of people to test the vaccine on (they have been inundated with volunteers). It just shows what can be done when there is the motivation.

Five Covid-19 vaccine false theories – debunked

BBC Headroom

I’m a great supporter of the BBC and all the services it provides (advert free) funded by a licence fee, one which is fantastic value for money. BBC Headroom (an excellent example) is a mental health toolkit, a site that’s especially important with all the current challenges created by the coronavirus lockdown.

We know we can’t solve all your troubles, but we can give you tools to help.

Whether it is everyday tips, sounds to relax your mind, strategies to cope with parenting right now or films to get you talking, we are here to help you look after yourself and your loved ones.

It’s a really helpful site, one that’s well browsing. Lockdown or not, we all need to look after our mental health and wellbeing. So, why not check out these great resources?

Social Distancing Reflections

There are so many health benefits of human contact and hugs, and these benefits have been denied many during the current coronavirus pandemic. In addition, dating for single people is fraught with difficulties, and it’s a total nightmare for tactile individuals.

As Virgina Satir, a respected family therapist said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” It concludes that hugs are having a great role in improving our life’s quality. In addition, hugs also have many health benefits you have never expected before. Source

You can easily find out more by clicking on the above link (and Google is your friend), and it’s well worth doing so. I might blog about it sometime, but it’s not the main subject of this post.

One friend commented that being safe (in lockdown) isn’t the same as being alive, because alive isn’t the same as thrive. I know that many can identify with this inability to thrive in lockdown. She also said, “I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life. I’m losing both good and bad parts of me. I’ll never be the same after this”.

Since the start of pandemic I’ve been reflecting on how social distancing might affect our long-term human interaction, especially with strangers. Initially, I discouraged handshaking in Wallsend Corps, greeting each other by touching elbows. This was met with a mixture of amusement and anxiety, the latter due to the uncertainly of what the future might hold, but it wasn’t long before the first lockdown was announced.

A phrase I coined at the start of the pandemic was: Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection. If I could go back twelve months I would change it to: Physical distance with emotional and spiritual connection, as this better reflects my considered thoughts. We need all the social connection we can get within the restrictions. But laptops, tablets and Zoom meetings have their obvious limitations, we need actual human contact to thrive. That said, video calls have been a lifesaver for many.

Another friend said, “Our [adult] son has profound and multiple learning disabilities including autism. He is in a care home. He is non-verbal and touch is how he communicates whether it’s to hug you, hit you or take you to something he wants. Needless to say social distancing hasn’t been good for him. When he sees us to wants to come over to us but can’t. Socially distanced walks with a carer bringing him in the wheelchair to make sure we don’t get close to him is the best way to deal with. Once when on the walks he tried reaching out to stroke a dog that came up to but had to be pulled away. When the dog came up it was lovely to see his smile but heart breaking to see his disappointment when he wasn’t allowed to touch the dog. I dread to think how all this is affecting him long term. However one lovely thing when we’ve done video calls with us, he will touch the screen to acknowledge us.”

I’m not coming to an overall conclusion, but these are personal reflections. We all know how physical distancing is affecting us and our loved ones, but we can’t be sure of the long-term effects. Will we remain ‘distant’ from others, even when we go back to some sort of normality? Reaching out to others, with its associated physical contact, is vital for us to thrive individually and collectively. May we never lose this.

Reject Blue Monday

Today is the third Monday in January, a day designated as Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year in the northern hemisphere.

Unfortunately, this trivial label actually damages our understanding of mental health, just for the sake of a superficial piece of clickbait. Yes, I guess my title is itself clickbait, but if this article helps you to understand actual depression better it will have achieved its purpose.

We all know that in a normal year January can be a difficult month for our mental health (for a variety of reasons) and 2021 is not a normal year. So, even though the concept of Blue Monday appears to make sense, I feel we should reject it even more this year. The very real challenges we face this January make my premise even stronger this year, Blue Monday just isn’t real.

You’ll hear people say that it’s been worked out using a ‘scientific formula’. In fact, it first appeared as part of an advertising campaign for a holiday company, hardly the rigorous, evidence-based approach we might expect. Even the person whose name was on the original press release has since distanced himself from Blue Monday, admitting he was paid to help sell holidays. He now campaigns against Blue Monday.

Having said all that, the date continues to surface every January, and is increasingly linked to mental health and depression. In fact, it’s simply a day when we’re all supposed to feel a bit down, but even that is far-fetched if you give it some thought and view it through the lens of common sense.

A few years ago, the charity Mind attempted to dispel the myth that Blue Monday had anything to do with depression.

Depression is NOT something that happens one day and disappears the next, as if it has trivial ’causes’. Blue Monday is mumbo jumbo, pseudoscience that only serves to add to damaging preconceptions about depression and trivialises a serious illness that can be life-threatening. Depression has nothing to do with the third Monday in January.

The idea that depression is basically the same as feeling low is very pervasive within society, as if it’s ’caused’ by trivial things with the ‘cure’ a matter of ‘pulling yourself together’. Facile responses to depression, such as ‘cheer up’, merely reinforce the preconception it can easily be shaken off with determination and effort. This is not the case, depression is NOT the same as having a bad day.

Depression is way more than simply feeling a bit low, and this is what’s difficult for some people to grasp. It’s about guilt, feelings of worthlessness, lack of motivation, and a sense of emptiness, with simple tasks seemingly impossible to achieve. But there’s also the physical symptoms; headaches, aches and pains, lack of appetite, and sleep disturbances. On top of this can come insidious suicidal thoughts.

It’s an insult to think that the mental and physical complexity of depression can be encapsulated in a catchy named day. The negative things in everyday life that get us down are NOT the things that cause depression, it’s NOT something ‘catch’ from our circumstances. Yes, they can affect our mental health adversely, but they don’t cause depression. Depression can happen in good times.

The ‘why’ of depression is a complex and multi-faceted question. Please don’t trivialise it by falling for a gimmick, reject Blue Monday!

Finally, here’s a Blue Monday we mustn’t reject, enjoy! Click here.

Food Supplements and Vitamins

They say that if you have a good, balanced diet you don’t need food supplements and vitamins. Now, I’m not a doctor, but I feel there is a place for them at times and in certain circumstances. I’m only making personal suggestions here, so it’s important that you use common sense, and seek medical advice if necessary because there can be adverse effects if taken inappropriately.

Because I’m over 65 years old, I take a number of food supplements and vitamins daily: a multivitamin and mineral tablet (formulated for men), a glucosamine and chondroitin tablet to protect my joints (especially as I’m a runner), an omega 3 fish oil capsule (unless I’ve eaten oily fish that day) to help maintain a healthy heart, and a vitamin D capsule.

Vitamin D is essential for the optimal performance of our immune systems, and is produced naturally in the body with the help of sunlight. Unfortunately, it’s easy to become deficient in this sunshine vitamin in the UK and other countries with short days and little sunlight in winter.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency and was prescribed a high dose of this vitamin. I now take a high daily dose of vitamin D in winter, and a maintenance dose during the summer. In the current coronavirus pandemic, it might be worthwhile thinking about taking this vitamin, but please take medical advice as you can take too much.

Each of my young children also have a daily chewable age-appropriate multivitamin pastille, and they always remind me at teatime in case I forget.

Do you take food supplements and vitamins?

Normalising Abnormal Stress

We are living in strange and stressful times. We may feel we’re coping or might be run down, weary and possibly at the end of ourselves. We may be berating ourselves for falsely believing we should be coping better. We may even have experienced the whole range of emotions and feelings over the last few months.

In this final month of 2020 there are still many signs that our lives aren’t normal, for me it’s a sense of sameness every day. Yes, I know I’ve retired, but even allowing for that there’s an absence of variety in daily life that we possibly took for granted before coronavirus.

I wonder if we’ve normalised the abnormal levels of stress that living in 2020 has created?

Back in March 2020 we quickly adjusted to our new reality and easily adapted to our new circumstances, even if it presented us with huge challenges and struggles. We generally understood the need for the lockdown. We made allowances, we cut ourselves and others some slack, remembering we were all in exceptional circumstances. For the most part, we lowered our expectations of ourselves and others.

But, here we are, nine months later, and feelings and circumstances are different. We can easily forget that life isn’t normal. We’re living with fear, uncertainty and isolation, all of which are difficult in so many ways. Have we have forgotten what it’s like to live without this background stress, this constant weight bearing down on us? Have we stopped making allowances for ourselves and others?

Don’t beat yourself for not doing more. Don’t criticise yourself for not coping better. Don’t feel bad for not being as productive as usual. Don’t expect to be upbeat all the time.

There’s hope for the future with a coronavirus vaccine on the horizon, but there are still struggles ahead. Christmas is going to be different this year, and so we can’t necessarily rely on the usual comforting traditions to carry us through. We have to find other avenues of strength and support. We’re still in tough times.

We have to make allowances for ourselves and others, we can easily act ‘out of character’ because of circumstances. Lowering expectations of ourselves and others is vital, even though it’s counter-intuitive. When we or someone else acts in a negative way, we need to ask ourselves what might be causing it.

This approach helped us recently in dealing with a problem that could so easily have resulted in a confrontational argument, but we approached it sensitively to achieve a win-win situation. The presenting problem was actually a symptom of deeper issues related to coronavirus stress. What could have gone badly wrong (we were also stressed) became a wonderful opportunity to draw closer together. I merely use this personal example in the hope that it helps you, we could equally have been the ones causing the problem because of our background stress.

Humility and thoughtfulness for others are always vital.

Coronavirus Emotions and Feelings

Last month (October 2020) I posted this on Facebook: Coronavirus frustration, tension and weariness seems to be a thing (or rather three things that are linked) right now. Please feel free to share your experiences, which I’ll possibly compile into an anonymised blog post. It might be cathartic. There’s a lot going on in everyone’s lives at the moment.

I received a number of replies, but the first one (not in response to my invitation) is particularly helpful and is shared with permission. I have simply removed one sentence (and part of another) to make it totally anonymous.

I don’t usually share how I’m feeling, especially here on Facebook, I normally just share the good stuff and keep the rest to myself, part and parcel of being an introvert I guess. […..] For sometime now, I’ve recognised that I’m not struggling, that’s not the right word to use, I’m simply overwhelmed with everything that is happening at present, you know when you reach saturation point? Well that’s me. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to watch the news (not constantly) without just wanting to close my eyes and hope and pray that this pandemic will simply disappear, puff, and it’s gone, but it won’t, will it. I desperately try and stay optimistic, and yes I know that one day, all this will be over, we will pull through. I think what I’m trying to say, is that I recognise that at the moment, I know it’s okay, to not be okay, and I’m not! I’m finding that at times I am anxious, fearful, trying to live in hope, but failing miserably! I know that everyone is struggling, some days for me are better than others, I wasn’t going to do this, but I feel I have to, for the sake of my own mental health. [….. I fear it’s only going to get worse.] I just feel, that at times, sharing how we really feel, when it’s safe to do so, is so important as we move forward during this time. I am not wanting or needing attention, that is not my intention, I just want to share, how I’m really feeling without any stigma or judgement.

Here are the replies I received in response to my invitation, each in a separate paragraph. They are posted in full and unedited.

  • I think lots of uncertainty causes the most issues with me and being away from all family for 5+ weeks now!
  • I live alone and I work alone (from home). I’ve been pretty much isolating since the start in February, mainly because both my parents were ill and moved into separate care homes and I wanted to be virus free in case I got the chance to visit them. I saw my dad in July at mums funeral, then last week dad died. It’s not the virus that bothers me, as much as the people who are dying alone and the families that are unable to see the people they love. My dad was so much in love with mum and hadn’t seen her since Valentine’s Day. If he wanted to talk about mum, if he wanted to share memories, if he wanted to be comforted it had to be done with a stranger in a care home and not by his family. It’s the craziness of the rules why you can buy vodka in Tesco’s but a child’s winter coat is taped off as non essential. It’s the pubs opening and closing suddenly at 10pm then the complaints that people are all leaving the pub at the same time and too drunk to socially distance. I’m fed up of the ****** four walls but there’s no escape. I’m fed up of people complaining that some stranger in the supermarket didn’t wear a face mask, I’m fed up of others complaining that it’s a hoax. I’m just fed up of the endless nothingless of it all.
  • We have been in strict lockdown for about 3 months here in Melbourne – this included curfews, not being allowed to leave your home except to work (if deemed an essential worker), exercise (for 1-2 hours a day depending on what month it was) or shop for essential items (and only one person from the household once a day). I’m not going to say it was easy, it truly wasn’t. I’ve been in relative isolation since March 17 as I have chronic health conditions and my doctors felt it was best, but knowing that even if I wanted to bend the rules I couldn’t made feel harder than it was. Having said that, every day watching the numbers tumble from 700+ positive tests daily to double digits to single digits to two days of 0 positive tests (and our testing numbers have still been quite high) actually gave me genuine joy. Knowing that we are protecting our health system and the vulnerable made it seem worth it. Today I went out for about an hour to grab some firewood and get our weekly shop because finally the restrictions are lifted (though we still can’t go outside our 25km radius of home, and I can’t see my family because they live in regional Victoria which has its borders closed to us suburban Victorians and city folk!) and to be honest, I was actually a little scared. I don’t want the numbers to go up again because people flaunt their new “freedom”, as I’m worried that will mean that we can’t see family for Christmas! I know things will normalise into whatever CoVid normal is in the future but right now it still feels a bit surreal. I feel blessed to still have my health (though I did spend 8 days in a hospital without having any visitors due to the rules during lockdown) and I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home, but I’m sad I haven’t met my 8 week old niece, and I’m sad I can’t see my parents, sister and other nieces. Overall though, I’m just thankful for the life I have, for a warm and safe home, for technology to keep in touch with family and friends and for the ability to continue to work and earn a living when so many others have lost their jobs.
  • I came home from my after work walk yesterday and began crying uncontrollably as I approached and entered my home. I turned to tiktok, and even though I spent 2 hours on it instead of eating dinner, I was super happy! It makes me feel more connected to other humans than any other online platform. I think it’s because we enter one another’s homes and lives in a unique way there. And it’s silly as all get out too!

You might like to add your responses in the comments.

Mental Health Impact of Lockdown

A report has been published today (Wednesday 21 October 2020) into the mental health impact of the first six weeks of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. Research by the University of Glasgow reveals they had a major impact on the mental health and wellbeing of the population in the UK.

You can read the report here, along with some first-hand stories from my friends I’ve previously published here.

The report says: As we move through this pandemic, investigating the trajectory of mental health and wellbeing is crucial to giving us a better understanding of the challenges people face during this difficult time. By having such analysis and information, we can formulate targeted mental health measures and interventions for those most in need as this pandemic continues, as well as being prepared for future.

How are you coping?

There’s a deliberate double-meaning in the title of this post. It’s asking (1) how are you coping in the present difficult circumstances, and (at the same time) it’s asking (2) what positive things you are doing to help yourself cope with life right now.

In difficult and unsettling times, it’s important that we remain grounded.

Grounding exercises are things we can do to bring ourselves fully into contact with the present moment, the here and now. This is where we live, breathe, and have our being. They can be quick strategies like breathing deeply and consciously, or longer exercises (of which there are many).

Different strategies work for different people, and there’s no right or wrong way to live in the present.

If you think about it, we can only live and breathe in the present. We can’t live or breathe in the past, any more than we can live and breathe in the future. We need to be present fully in the here and now, it’s a way of coping with an uncertain future.

Breathing exercises can help, and there’s an app for that, although you don’t need one. Here’s a helpful page from the NHS, but Google is your friend.

So, I’ll ask the double-meaning question again, how are you coping?

The Story of Alex (Jemma Smedley)

On a special anniversary (16 February 2020) my friend Jemma Smedley posted the story of Alex on Facebook. I was so moved by her story that I was prompted to ask if I could share the story here. With Jemma’s permission and final approval, I’ve edited her words to tell the story as a guest post in Baby Loss Awareness Week.

13 years ago today at 5.30 am our beautiful boy Alex came into the world sleeping, a day when I really thought I was going with him, but let me rewind and tell you the story of Alex Smedley…

It was the day before Valentine’s Day 2007 and off me and Richard went for my 20 week scan at QMC, we were so excited to find out whether our baby was pink or blue. We left Leah and William with my mum and promised to bring a present back from the baby, so first stop when we got to QMC was the shop a Barbie for Leah and a teddy for Will.

Then round to antenatal, booked in and sat waiting for my scan. You watch smiling couples walk out the scan rooms clutching scan photos, thinking that will be me in a minute. My name is called, yeyyyyyy our turn! I lie on the bed, cold jelly on my tummy holding Richard’s hand excited to see our baby, chatting to the lady doing the scan.

I can see the screen, then after a few seconds…silence and the screen is turned away…sorry I just need to get someone else. OK Jemma take a breath, this isn’t happening – I knew what was coming!

I’m silent, yet in my head I’m screaming. Another senior sonographer comes in, and they whisper while I stare at the ceiling in the dark and Rich squeezes my hand then the words, “we are so sorry we can’t find a heartbeat your baby has died at around 18 weeks.”

I ask them to check again, “there is nothing we are so sorry.” I see for myself, hands feet arms legs nose and face perfect outline of our baby, but no heartbeat. Gone, but still there inside my tummy, safe and warm. I cry, the tears won’t stop, I’m trying to wipe the jelly off my bump while I stand up. Now what do I do?

We were taken into a side room with pictures of lilies on the wall, and Miscarriage Association leaflets on the table with a box of tissues. This is the room no parent ever wants to enter, but here I am with Richard and a lovely woman. She’s talking asking me how I want to deliver my baby. What I think is, is she joking, not a chance they are taking him, I’m off home. I heard inducing labour with tablets or operation, at that I was out of the door, nope I’m keeping him, and I was sobbing and crying for Rich to take me home!

That’s where I went, home. I walked into the house and straight upstairs, I sat there numb. Leah and Will came up, I gave them their presents and told them that Alex sent them, but he had to go to heaven.

The hospital rang to say if I hadn’t started to lose Alex in 2 days I had to go back, that gave me 2 days with him. So, Valentine’s Day came, and Rich had twelve roses delivered from Harvey Nichols, they were stunning. I stood up to sort them, and blood was gushing everywhere. Shit, what had I done by coming home!!

An ambulance was called, and off I went to hospital. I was admitted onto the gynaecology ward to save me having to go to maternity with all the new mums and babies. By now it was late, the bleeding had stopped, and I was told get some rest, we will scan you in the morning…and they did. Great, back to antenatal to sit with all the pregnant women going for their scans!

I’m sat in my dressing gown hooked up to a drip in a wheelchair with blood shot eyes when just 2 days ago I was one of them, into the scan room I go.
Cold jelly, screen turned away, until I say no I want to see; and there again is my perfect beautiful boy. still safe in my tummy. I remember smiling just looking at his silhouette, and I asked for pictures of every angle, as I knew this was the last time I would see him.

Up on the ward I’m told that I’m booked in later for that day to have an operation. The anaesthetist came, forms were signed, I asked for the Chaplain, and I cry as she prays for Alex and tells me about the ceremony and cremation he will have at Wilford Hill. I felt better that he was going to have a Christian funeral, and we could go to the service of remembrance. The day dragged, I’m nil by mouth, waiting, waiting, waiting, then I’m told my operation will be tomorrow as they’d had an emergency. Fine, I get to keep him a bit longer. Richard visited me; we didn’t have much to say as we were both just numb. What do you say?

I lie awake watching the car park out of my window. I must have fallen asleep as it’s still dark outside. Suddenly, I’m woken by pain ripping across my stomach, I manage to get to the loo on the ward and OMG, blood everywhere again, I pull the red cord, alarms go off, I’m put in a wheel chair, and taken back to my bed. The contractions are coming thick and fast. I’m screaming in pain. At 5.30am I push Alex out, still in his amniotic sack, protected in his little bubble. The lovely young nurse carries him in her hands out of the curtain as I lie there, I feel a warm sensation by my feet, I look down and the bed is soaked in blood. I’m surrounded by doctors sticking drips in every vein possible, being told I need to go to theatre as the placenta is just bleeding out and it’s stuck.

The red button’s hit at the back of my bed, alarms sound. I’m dizzy, not quiet with it, and absolutely terrified, screaming for Richard. The porter comes with a bed, the nurse said no time to transfer me, I need to get to theatre now as they were waiting for me.

The porter runs with my bed, all I can see is the lights on the ceiling flashing by, the young nurse that took Alex is running by my side holding my hand, I feel the mask on my face and I’m gone…

…I wake up shivering in recovery, hooked up to fluids and blood. I’m soon back on the ward. I’m now known as the lady that lost her baby. The other patients were lovely, one even ringing her sister to bring me a cake in at visiting time and asking to see my scans.

The doctor that looked after me came to see me and hugged me. He told me I was as white as a ghost, but at one point he thought I was going to be a ghost! Two days later, I went home. I had Alex’s remembrance service at the hospital to go to, losing Alex broke me in more ways than I can say. When I lost the twins, we didn’t have any other children. People understood that we were childless, so we got support then. With Alex, it was “Oh, at least you have Leah and William.” The support wasn’t there. I do remember Richard’s dad buying me three boxes of chocolates. though he said nothing. But he didn’t need, to it was his way of saying sorry.

Today, I tell our story. We remember you; we miss you, but most of all we love you. Happy 13th birthday, my beautiful boy.