This image is a visual representation of how my anxiety about catching covid has altered over the last 18 months. I'm not entirely sure what prompted me to create this today, other than that we're facing the great unlocking in a few weeks time and that rather than it feeling like "freedom" day, it's actually raising anxiety for those who are vulnerable to Covid.
Let me take you through the sections of my diagram, both for those who have visual impairments and for those who would like a bit more information.
Before Covid: Yellow
At the end of 2019 life was anxiety free, I was out and about in the world, constrained physically but not emotionally. As the first cases of Covid were reported in the Far East I was quite dismissive of the possible risks. Even when it was in Italy I was writing poetry saying we didn't need to panic. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I was keeping a careful eye on the news and science though.
Whilst Shielding: Red
As soon as Covid reached the UK I knew I needed to take action. Seeing how quickly it was spreading we decided that Mike and I would stay home at the end of February. By the start of March I had told the school that Rachel wanted to stay home to help keep me safe. I was officially told to shield by the middle of March and we didn't leave the house again until Summer 2020.
Shielding was the safest I felt for a year. We were well supported by friends and the local community and we were busy with church, work and school. It was strange, it was lonely, my depression increased, but I wasn't anxious. I am incredibly thankful to the NHS who provided amazing mental health support at this time, as they have continued to.
Summer 2020: Purple
As the Government relaxed the lockdown rules and allowed everyone to eat out to help out we tried to go out and about a bit, but it was terrifying. Whilst everyone else had spent a few months going out, we were suddenly faced with lots of people and we were very out of practice. This was before mask wearing became normal and we all found it really hard to even cope with people close to us in the open air. But we worked through it and we had a little bit more freedom whilst the sun shone.
After catching Covid: Orange
September 2020: back to school
We knew it was the best decision to get Rachel back to school for her GCSE year and after a few days she overcame her anxiety and was pleased to be back with friends. But then she caught covid and I caught covid. I am indebted to the NHS for their care of me at this time; so much treatment and compassion and healing. I was extremely lucky to have caught covid after so many lessons had been learned and to have recovered from the initial affects quite quickly. However I didn't fully recover and developed long covid.
I'm not sure whether my increased anxiety as 2020 turned to 2021 was a result of the Covid virus on my mental health, or the trauma of catching Covid, or part of feeling weakened by long covid; it doesn't really matter but my anxiety left me feeling terrified and weak.
Spring 2021: Green
This was the peak of my anxiety. As the roadmap out of lockdown was announced and everything started to open up I felt trapped. Trapped by my body, trapped by my vulnerability, trapped by everyone else's confidence, trapped! I knew the reality of catching Covid and I knew I couldn't catch it again and yet we were expected to somehow just get on with it.
Getting the second vaccine helped, it gave me the confidence to have friends into the garden; but I still didn't feel safe enough. It was clear now that my anxiety had grown beyond scientifically informed caution. I was really struggling so I turned to my therapist for support and guidance.
June 2021: purple
Just a month ago I was invited to exhibit my Caring for Creation Exhibition in Reading at the end of July. Now I had a huge motivator to work towards. This was the key I needed; a purpose to get back out in the world. Suddenly I was able to face my anxiety for what it was - partly informed and sensible, but also irrational and worth challenging.
I agreed a simple four step plan with my therapist to move forward in simple steps. Of course I've always been an over achiever so I conquered all 4 in less than a week, with Rachel cheering me on and encouraging me - she doesn't know how much she helped, but maybe one day she will read this and be proud of her part in this.
July 2021 - blue
So here I am feeling safe in shops and around people, knowing that a double vaccine, masks, social distancing and isolation systems are helping keep the actual risks low.
Of course in two weeks time the Government plan to end lockdown and remove all legal systems to require social distancing and face mask wearing - things could feel very unsafe again - but that's for another day. One day at a time, today I'm feeling ok.
If you would like to use my diagram to plot your own covid mental health then feel free to use this template. I'd love to see what you create if you'd like to share it. You can tag me @emmuk74 on Instagram or Twitter.