Is this virus messing with my head?

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What odd times we find ourselves in. The onset of Corona virus has forced sudden and significant change across the globe. It has, and continues to presented a plethora of challenges to the entire human race at every level. None of us will escape this crisis without it impacting our lives in some way and sadly, for too many it will end life. Each of us already have our own unique story to tell of the challenges that we and our loved ones have faced and hopefully overcome. With such widespread and significant change we must all adapt and change with it. This is essential to our survival.

I, like everyone else have been forced to change many aspects of my life in recent months. This has presented me with some surprisingly positive outcomes and has of course also presented some challenges. Today I want to write about this process of change, the journey so far through this crisis and my learnings from it. We must all learn from our positive and negative experiences. More so now than ever before. In order to come out of this, we need to reflect on our feelings, actions and experiences and learn to adapt ourselves both mentally and physically in preparation for whatever kind of world we find ourselves in on the other side.

I’m pretty cool in a crisis. When the impact of Corona virus first started affecting the people in this country I, like most people felt scared and worried. No surprise there! I wasn’t panicked though. In my usual way, I assessed the situation and quickly implemented the changes to mine and my families way of life. I was able to keep an optimistic outlook and embraced the situation and drew on all of the opportunities that it presented me. For every negative that this crisis had presented me I was able to find the positive. I was all too aware that for some this was impossible. People all around the world were dying and were struggling with the most basic of human needs. As unsettling as this was, my first action needed to be ensuring my family were ok and make the best of the situation. To be honest, I enjoyed this period of the journey and I don’t think I was the only one. The lockdown in Britain was enforcing many of the aspects of life that I already valued such as not spending so much money, enjoying the more simple pleasures and spending quality time with the people around me. Aside from the obvious carnage, in my little village in rural England, I was happy. For me, the best bit was the thought of educating my son. I had always fantasised about home educating my children as I think that there are so many benefits that it offers. That ability to perfectly tailor the learning to their needs. Finding that sweet spot between support and challenge. The freedom to explore things to deeper levels and letting them take the lead in their own learning. I bloody love it! On the other side of the coin, with all things considered, I think that state education offers the best all round package for my children so that is where they went. Having this window of opportunity to have a go at home education though was very exciting for me.

My mind raced off with a million ideas and my son and I set off on an adventure to experience some first class education. It was bloody good, even if I do say so myself. My wife works for the NHS and one of my daughters who is living with us works in the care industry so my other role was to support them and run the house. I had created a new role for myself very quickly that supported my family in every way. I took care of financial issues which I could see on the horizon, cooked great meals, supported emotionally and managed to fit all of the usual chores of a house into creative and engaging education. I was nailing it! We all were. There was a sense of calm and positivity in the house while we watched the world around us struggling in all sorts of ways. My home was fine, so I now wanted to help others.

During education one day, I proposed to Charlie that maybe we could help other people in some way during this difficult time. We came up with the idea that we could make videos of our education days and share ideas, principles and inspiration to other parents who might be struggling. So that’s what we did. Jamie Oliver had recently brought out a new TV programme that focused on principles of cooking rather than specific recipes during this crisis. The idea was that you didn’t have to have all the ingredients that a recipe states, you can swap things and change things to suit your situation. This focus on principles rather than specifics is at the heart of my approach to learning and teaching. I had made a successful career out of this approach in the past and thought that this would be a very poignant time to get back on the horse. Charlie and I set out making videos of everything that we were doing, full of enthusiasm and drive. Nothing kills that enthusiasm and drive quicker than a computer! We were pretty new to video making, editing and you tube and I think it probably shows in our videos. They were entertaining enough but they weren’t doing what I wanted them to do. I was struggling to do the house stuff, complete orders for work, educate Charlie and make inspiring videos of all the above. That first week I worked my socks off and by Friday I had decided that videos needed to take a back seat from then on. Instead of trying to get a video out each day, we would try and get one out each week. We had reflected, learned, adapted and changed. This was a model that I would come to use over and over in the coming weeks.

The Easter holidays came. My wife had some time off so we stopped education and busied ourselves in the garden. We built a hot tub from scraps in the garden, built some decking, walked and enjoyed the sunshine. Bloody lovely!

Although in many ways the Easter holidays were amazing, something happened during those 2 weeks that would derail my positive approach to this worldwide crisis. As I am writing this, I am just starting to come out of a little blip of depression. Nothing serious but serious enough for me to call it depression. Its the first bout that has been more than a few bad days or a bit of a low that I have had in maybe 10 years. I have always had ups and downs but as I have gone through life I have learned to manage them well and my downs never go down very far these days. I have learned strategies that I use to reflect and identify when I might be going down as well as strategies to grow out of the downs. I manage pretty well nearly all of the time and have done for years. So, imagine my surprise late last week when I find myself becoming less and less motivated and starting to struggle with the basics of life (a classic sign that I need to do something). Somehow, I had managed to let myself go past where I would usually do something. It scared me! How had I let this happen? Its been a rough week and my first class education has been far from first class. It has taken me until today to really get to grips with it and start moving up again. That’s the trouble with depression in my experience; by the time you realise that you are going down, you don’t have the right tools (motivation) to get out of it.

Anyway, I wanted to write this because I suspect that I will not be the only one who is experiencing some sort of low after the initial shock and dare I say excitement at the start of this crisis. I wanted to share my experience as well as to offer some sort of rationale to why. Here is my best guess….

I see mental health in a similar way as I do to physical health. We ALL get ill sometimes in all aspects of our health. Sometimes its really serious and sometimes its not. My physical health is affected when I get a cold. I don’t need to go to hospital or see a doctor. I probably don’t even need to take any medication but I do need to expect a little less of myself while I recover. Mental health is the same. Some mental illnesses are very serious although I am pleased to say that most of us don’t experience this very often. We do however experience bouts of mental illness from time to time. As with a cold, we learn that there are things we can do to recognise and address the symptoms. In most cases we are able to find the support we need or take the action we need to take to get ourselves better. Most of us also understand that we need to expect a little less of ourselves during these times. We understand that to maintain both physical and mental health (to keep ourselves well) we need to constantly take action by eating healthy diets, by taking part in physical exercise, by stimulating our brains with challenging but achievable tasks.

Corona Virus has changed people’s day to day lives so much that for me, I wasn’t able to access some of the things that usually keep me physically and mentally fit. as well as some of the things that usually make me better. For me, my mental health is maintained by having some level of structure to my days, weeks and months. I get a top up of achievement each day when I complete my work well, my self esteem is maintained by making money to support my family, I feel appreciated and wanted when I visit friends and family. These ‘top ups’ are all things that usually help me feel good and highly motivated but that I wasn’t currently able to access in the usual way. So that is why I think that this bout of depression was able to sneak up on me. The answer to why I struggled to make myself better is similar. If a bit low, I usually sulk for a day. Its not really sulking, I am actually letting myself off the hook and accepting that I am not at my best right now. It also allows me to take stock ready for the climb back up. Then I challenge myself a little more each day (usually through my work) until my self esteem and motivation levels are back where they should be. Its something that I do without thinking and have mastered. I tweak my expectations of myself and my strategies all of the time and that it what keeps me level headed and mentally fit. The trouble is, I hadn’t considered that it would be any different during the crisis.

As I sit here knowing that I am on the mend, I am most annoyed by the fact that there was no need for this to happen. All I needed to do was realise that my usual supports and strategies needed to change because the world around me had changed. I needed to acknowledge that educating my son and supporting my wife and daughter is valid work and should result in me feeling proud and therefore maintain my esteem. I should have let myself off the hook for not bringing in very much money at the moment. Our family needs are just different now and we are a very long way from not being able to pay the bills and eat. It sounds so simple now. Put simply, if I had spent the time at the start to acknowledge that my usual mental health supports and strategies needed to change like I did for the practical aspects of my life it would have been ok.

Finally, my last realisation as I reflect on this journey is this; if I have allowed my metal health to slip (and I am usually pretty on top of these things) then there must be a lot of others who’s mental health is struggling right now. We all have our own ways of managing and maintaining our mental health but I think that there are some generic steps that we can take to keep our peckers up during these unprecedented times.

  • Get up at a reasonable hour, get dressed and washed every day (maybe with the odd exception). This helps establish a positive mental approach that says you are ready to achieve something today.
  • Except that you and your life style needs to change at the moment. The people who do this best will come out of this crisis best. Physical changes are easier and more obvious but don’t forget the adjustments you need to make mentally.
  • Create some meaning for your day at the start of the day. Make a realistic plan for your day. Not too hard, not too easy. Too much unstructured time is hard for us to manage and will result in lower motivation tomorrow.
  • Let yourself off the hook. These are difficult and scary times and it is very likely that we will not be at our best right now.
  • Find the positive in this. There are always positives to all situations but they might need searching for.
  • This crisis is a team effort. Each person in the world has their part to play in getting us through it. Whatever your role is in this, do it to the best of your ability.
  • Continue to REFLECT, LEARN, ADAPT and CHANGE. We are all making this up as we go along. Everyone from the Prime Minister to me, we all need to learn and change quickly in order to get through this.

I hope this has been of some help to you. If not, it has at least been useful to me to reflect on my experiences so far. Take care all

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