After what seemed like the open of a normal new year (if such a thing exists) in March this quickly and unexpectedly changed. We were all forced to live under special conditions we never could have imagined, in the confinement of our own homes. One of the major by-products of the confinement was a big effect on mental health. The enormity of this problem has been talked about by the media, but perhaps the depth of the problem has not been fully looked at and the consequences fully exposed . We know that a lot of people suffer from mental health and they themselves are aware of their problems, but confinement meant those who thought they had good mental health found themselves suffering under confinement.
The life we are used to, of being able to walk and go where we want, as well as see the people we want to see, was taken away from us. On top of this there was and indeed still is the fear of catching Corona 19. The media showed disturbing images of people fighting for their lives while the doctors and nurses cared for them, being shown walking around in protective clothing, looking like they were in a futuristic disturbing film.
We also had to live a lot in our own heads, without outside stimulus. Parents like myself had to manage children, whose lives also had to adapt to these new extreme conditions. Luckily for me I think my child adapted well on the whole (he had moments, which I will refer to later in this article) and we as a family are lucky enough to have a garden, so my son was able to release his boundless energy. People living in restricted spaces were not so lucky.
Also I think having a dog also helped us. We could laugh at our dog’s unpredictable behaviour and taking him for a walk was also beneficial to our well being, and this gave us a sense of our usual routine. Incidentally in France where I live we had to have a document with us, even just to go on a short walk with our dog.
For my own part I found myself writing poetry. I have written poetry off and on for many years. Poetry can be spontaneous and you can express an idea in a fairly short time, let out a flurry of words, so for me, this was a perfect tool during lockdown.. At first my poems were about making sense of everything that was happening.
My first poems were dark, trying to make sense of what was happening. Something that triggered this need to express myself on the confinement, was when I was with my son and workmen arrived with barriers and closed down the playground he is so used to playing with. It was at this moment a nightmare seemed to be unfolding and the seriousness of the situation began to set in.
We Live in prisons without walls
And cages without bars
Living in perfect isolation
Hidden from devastation
We shy away from people
on our permitted walks
and the party has been cancelled
as the curtain calls
We need to come together
Our patience is on the line
Hold in check our feelings
As we pass away the time
For my own part I remember at the start of the lockdown, I was anxious about having enough food provisions, that we would be able to feed ourselves or even feed the dog. Irrational fears entered our minds, because the media was presenting a bleak situation and life seemed moving further away from the norm. We were able to order online and collect provisions safely from a drive in super market. During lockdown my mind often thought about how to evade any risks, like contact with people, to minimise risks.
While stuck at home, with time on my hands, I was in contact via e mails with poets and writers during this period, because I began to put together an anthology for a charity Marie Curie Nurses, the confinement affected different people in ways. With my anthology I contacted poets, writers and illustrators to send me work, on the theme of “confinement”. Some were happy to do so, and from reading their responses to my e mail, it seemed that life was carrying on as normal (writers and poets spend a lot of time by themselves secluded anyway). I have received quite a lot of feed back from poets as I have done a lot of Poet interviews to build up people’s awareness about the book I am working on. I asked poets if they found writing of therapeutic value during lockdown and and on the whole this seems the case.
I remember one message in which a poet said poetry was the way she earned her living and that she was too traumatized to write poetry at this moment. I had to respect her feelings. I myself was on a mission, I was getting up in the morning and driven to write poetry or short stories or to paint and draw. It was my way of sorting out my thoughts. We are a family of three and even my wife and son were being creative some manner, which I am sure helped us get through this testing period.
Confinement meant we re-evaluated our feelings for one another as well as for our house and surroundings. Before the confinement, we were considering moving to a totally new location, but the consequence of the virus and confinement, made us realize, that our home was safe and adapted should there be another pandemic similar to Covid 19.
Confinement was a test, a test of keeping our control, a test of staying together in a pressure cooker situation confinement tested our ability to control our emotions. People’s mental health was certainly more fragile while being in lockdown and the stress of it all brought about tensions within families. I recently saw on a news programme about children hitting their parents, leaving their parents in a terrible situation, without anyone to turn to. These children were perhaps older than my son, but at times his frustrations did boil over, in part because of “home schooling” and having to do mundane school work at home, where he is more used to doing on leisure activities. There was also the opposite of children also being abused by adults.
Some of the poetry I wrote was for about my son. He is an only child and my wife’s pregnancy was
an anxious time, due to my wife’s age and an insensitive gynaecologist who put the idea in our heads that we might lose our son, during one of the earlier scans. As a consequence I am certainly a self-confessed over protective parent. Maybe there is the consequence of being a parent later in life.
I worried that my son on a walk might touch something which had been contaminated. He has always been incredibly precious to me but with the confinement this augmented how important he is to me and this is reflected in my words. A need to protect the family and guide them through this difficult period
One of my poems was dedicated to mental health. It is called Mind Matters. It talks about the need to do physical exercise to keep our minds healthy. During confinement, this was restricted to short jogging sessions and physical exercises in the house,for example .my wife and son did a bit of physical training, based on yoga, and cardio work out. Being in the garden, doing jobs also was a good thing to alleviate anxieties.
Another by-product of confinement was strong vivid dreams. I myself have had some powerful vivid dreams. Apparently this phenomenon has cropped up a lot of google, during the lockdown period. Apparently according to an expert, this is because our minds have had more to process than in more normal times. There is even a term for this -“pandemic dreaming”. The dreams are retained in people’s minds rather than quickly forgotten and perhaps the shadow of the virus also comes into play. People also were perhaps sleeping longer as they were not required to get up early to go to work and therefore dreaming.
Writers may be under new stresses but it is significant that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine from the bubonic plague, which must have been an even more terrifying at the time, than the present pandemic.
My advice is
- Put your thoughts and fears onto paper letting them flow out spontaneously onto paper. One of the original ideas for the anthology I am putting together was for poets and writers to write poems that would be therapeutic and helpful during lockdown. If you find it hard to communicate by way of words, try simple pencil or pen drawings in a book, like a diary. Sculptures with clay is another possibility.With any creative activity don’t feel self conscious, do it for yourself, not for other people.
My second piece of advice, is
- to do some kind of exercise every day. If you live in an area where there is a park, or other open space, do a bit of jogging. Jogging is not for everybody, and if you are averse to jogging, exercising in your house is a possibility, take a look at some websites to see different possibilities.
This is a part of my poem that prompted what I have written in this article.
Yes mind matters,
We have to keep it moving
fill our heads
keep it positive
those dark thoughts
go for a run
exercise the body
for a sense of well being
self esteem massaged
a Yoga body mind
a gardening body
a Tai chi body
movements of a snake
a run away body
all run out
a cycling body
back and forth
out in the rain
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash