…and our inability to do anything about it on the back of a policy vacuum in Whitehall
Of the many things that have struck me about the political response to the Corona Virus Pandemic, the difference between ministerial support for things that involve primarily spending money vs ones that involve dealing with the social and mental health fallout has been striking.
I’ve been socially isolating for the best part of five months now. I hardly left the house for the first few weeks – and even since then, I’ve only left the house either for exercise or food purchases. What little social life I had as a male adult with a chronic illness was finally vanquished upon lockdown.
It’s difficult to put into words the emotional impact of a mental health breakdown that results in no longer being able to function day-to-day in the way the vast majority of society does every day. Thus ruling out full time anything – whether work or study. A far cry from a decade-and-a-half ago where on top of a full time job and career in the civil service I was taking part in one evening class or another for up to four hours per night, five nights a week.
Any prospect that I might have been able to use 2020 as a year to try and get a grip of what has felt like eight years of amongst other things chronic fatigue has long since gone.
The uncertainty is bone-crushing
Not only that, but also my inability to be able to contribute to the solution or to any alleviation locally doesn’t help. Unlike previous crises, collectively we are all so dependent on what ministers decide day-to-day that we have to listen to the news – and take note. Yet such is the shambles that Johnson’s administration has made that more and more people are wondering what the rules actually are for responding to and containing CV19. Fleet Street Fox’s column headlines summarise the chaos of it all.
Walking with depression – you can see it in their eyes
One of the phrases that stayed in my head from listening to the radio in my teenage years was Kirsty MacColl announcing They Dance Alone by Sting on the documentary Signs of the Times – Protest in Pop Music which was broadcast by BBC Radio 1 in early 1996, in the run up to my GCSEs. Striking that so many clips from that show stayed in my memory – such as when she said “Sign of the times” – followed immediately by Prince singing “Oh Yeah” – the opening line to the song of the same name. They Dance Alone itself is a very haunting song about women of Chile mourning fathers, husbands, sons and friends who were killed by the brutal regime of General Pinochet.
The words Kirsty MacColl used describing the loneliness that the victims left behind faced seemed similar to the scenes I saw in my neighbourhood early on in the lockdown – that of solitary men walking down the road with their heads down, eyes down, and a disposition of sadness hovering over them. These were mainly men of working age, many of whom seemed unfamiliar. Was it because they were in work normally? Or exercised elsewhere? Or didn’t go out at all because of the pressures of work but were now being furloughed?
We’re now in what should be summer holiday season – only it’s not.
Sign of the times [“Oh – yeah! Da-dum-dum do.”] as the Transport Secretary has been hoisted by his own quarantine regulations. August is normally the toughest time of year for me as regular scheduled things all shut down – courses and evening classes etc. But everything has already been shut down for the past five months anyway. And how do group activities get their heads around keeping things going while we still don’t have a vaccine? This is a huge problem for team sports and music collectives. Music rehearsals were one of the few group gatherings I went to prior to lockdown. We’ve been doing rehearsals over Zoom but as any other musician will tell you, it’s not the same because of the latency/time lag problem. You’ll never be able to hear the rest of your fellow singers in real time. Furthermore, all public performances are off indefinitely. It’s hard to see how they can possibly re-open unless a cure or vaccine is found.
Getting things done – baby steps
I had been meaning to launch a follow-on blog at some stage after closing A Dragon’s Best Friend. I could have blogged daily on the chaos & confusion in Whitehall, and ministers found wanting. But in this state, blogging like everything else, uses up spoons. And without the social interactions that perhaps we take for granted, and the void left from the energising effect that such interactions have, my capacity to do anything of substance feels very low indeed.