In the weeks prior to social distancing, all sorts of news stories and tall stories were spreading around in Ireland.
“I heard there is a case in our town” was one.
“There are hundreds walking around untested” was another.
WhatsApp messages were rapidly forwarded on with supposed ‘tips and tricks’ on how to prevent yourself from getting the virus. From drinking more water to drinking hot drinks to holding your breath for ten seconds a day to check the standard of your lungs, the rumours ran rampant.
Every day we heard the harrowing updates from Italy on the news. We looked at the videos online of empty streets in China and we heard about the death tolls. As a primary school teacher, I knew I had a special role in this situation. Every week, we have all sorts of colds and infections in our classroom of 25. There are many coughs, sneezes and sore throats that are naturally passed on.
It was vital that I emphasised the importance of good hygiene and the use of tissues for sneezes, but I had to do this in a way that did not send the children into a panic. There were rumours of school closures but we had been told by the Department of Education to carry on as we were, encouraging good hygiene.
As a result, social distancing came as a shock to me. We had just had a lovely evening in our school for the younger classes to celebrate World Book Day. The next day, I was absent from school due to laryngitis – teaching is almost impossible with no voice!
And then our Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), addressed the nation to announce the measures that would come into place to slow down the spread of Covid-19 in Ireland.
For me personally, it meant that my school would be closed and the children in my class needed learning materials to bring home with them. I rushed up to school, looking thrown together and pale, and quickly organised some work for the children. I am a very organised person and feeling unorganised or rushed gives me anxiety.
So does change.
That same afternoon our supermarkets were packed full of people. No social distancing in place, instead, crammed queues and panic buying. There was no toilet paper or pasta left on the shelves. When people saw a person panic buying pasta, they panic bought pasta and so the cycle of fear continued.
The beginning of mass panic and anxiety
You could sense it as you walked around the supermarket. You could see the worry in everyone’s eyes. It was very much ‘every man for himself’ that day.
The WhatsApp rumour mill continued to spiral out of control over the next few days:
“We left it too late”
“The army are being deployed”
“They made the virus in a lab!”
All accompanied by a series of pictures of make-shift safety masks made from anything from water bottles to plastic bags!
At home we talked worriedly about the different people in our family and friend groups that could be exposed to the virus through their work, those who are vulnerable and those who live alone. We talked about how we would manage over the coming weeks, how different our lives would be and what our concerns were.
My brother teaches in Australia. They had more cases than us and hadn’t closed the schools at that stage. My sister works in the city and her work hadn’t closed yet. My mother was laid off from her work in a local hotel. My father commuted on a busy train every day. There were so many opportunities for the virus to enter our home without us realising it.
We watched videos about the conditions of self-isolation and wondered how that would work in our home.
I have asthma and so I am in one of the at-risk groups. What would happen to me if I contracted the virus?
As the weeks progressed, everyone who could work from home was encouraged to do so. Social distancing measures were introduced in the supermarkets to keep people apart. On March 11th, we lost our first person to Covid-19 in Ireland. We thought about how that person’s family could not hold an Irish wake or funeral for their loved one, or even see them for one last time.
As the days passed, every day the numbers of confirmed cases grew and grew, as did the death toll.
Over two weeks into social distancing and my dreams every night began to reflect my anxious thoughts. I haven’t slept well since school closed. I am restless in my sleep. I often only realise how truly anxious I am when I wake up from another vivid and frightening dream. In many dreams I am stuck in a poorly ventilated place, full of people and unable to escape. In some dreams, I am in the supermarket shopping and I get confronted by someone who wants my groceries. Of course, none of this has really happened but it does give me an insight into the impact this is having on my mind.
As someone in an at-risk group, I have been keeping a low profile.
I haven’t been to the supermarket in weeks. It has been an emotional rollercoaster for me and my family. Some days I feel extremely grateful for my job, my family and my home. Other days I am emotional, thinking of those who have lost family members without the chance to properly grieve for them. Other times I hear about new cases and I feel helpless and anxious.
Certain days are very productive and I do lots of activities and jobs. Others feel like I haven’t accomplished anything! I have learned, however, that certain actions can bring about positive or negative emotions. I have to be proactive in designing the type of day I want to have.
20 ways to adjust to life in quarantine
Here are twenty tips that I now follow and wish I had before social distancing began:
1. Listen to the news only once a day.
2. Find out about your role in this situation. Be clear on the restrictions that apply to you and adhere to them.
3. Don’t try to control other people and how they respond to this virus. Do your bit and try not to focus too much on those who are not adhering to guidelines.
4. Gather information from reliable sources and read or listen to it yourself, first-hand. Many misunderstandings have arisen from misinterpretations of the news and the guidelines.
5. Get fresh air every day (if your living circumstances and country’s regulations allow it).
6. Try to exercise and choose something that you enjoy. This will ensure you actually do it every day!
7. Avoid having too many late mornings and late nights. It feels better when you stick to your normal routine and make the most of the daylight hours.
8. Get dressed. Staying in your pyjamas all day won’t make you feel good.
9. Stay groomed. Brush your hair and wash your face! Trust me, you will feel better for doing it!
10. Choose tasks for each day that you never have time for while working.
11. Take a complete day off once a week.
12. Share funny videos and memes with your family and friends. This has provided so much laughter to us all during this time.
13. Pick up the phone. Have the long conversations with old friends and family members that you never usually have time for.
14. Try a group video chat. They can be lots of fun.
15. Batch cook your food one or two days a week. Having healthy meals ready in the fridge is great for those days when motivation is low.
16. Allow yourself to have a down day. Nobody knows how to cope with this situation. It’s OK to be upset and anxious. Talk to your friends and family when you feel this way.
17. Don’t read or share online articles, comments and posts from unreliable sources.
18. Don’t follow social media accounts that make you feel lazy for not filling every moment of your day at home with something productive and fabulous!
19. Don’t follow social media accounts that spread negative news and opinions.
20. Most importantly, take it one day at a time.
It’s a strange and difficult time for all of us, and especially those of us with lung conditions. Look after yourself and be kind to yourself.
UK/MED/20/0096 April 2020