How was Christmas and New Year for you?

21st Jan 2022
Challenging mental health inequalities
New Year

This content discusses trauma, which some people may find triggering.

A blog by Jolie Goodman

I’m writing this in mid-January 2022. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the new year; the 'new you' push in January. Feeling that despite the continual barrage of ‘advice’ to make personal changes and new year resolutions, ultimately, we still take our head with us. It may be a new year, but it’s the same old you.

This January we’re all experiencing the accumulation of many not-so-small traumas and challenges that have been accumulating over the last couple of years. For people working in the NHS and social care environments, the challenges of managing their experiences, keeping going and having the ability to replenish their resilience, remain inconceivable to those of us on the outside of those worlds. I have written before about loss, but loss in this pandemic is cumulative and 22 months in we are all heavily burdened.

In the virtual world of my workplace, I have been hearing about the small and not-so-small traumas of colleagues’ December. For me, my December was about dodging COVID-19, particularly Omicron, as cases in London soared. First, my daughter caught it, then my mother (who is now in a care home). Both recovered. There was the suspense of who we would be able to see over the festive period, and then wondering if it was inevitable that we were about to succumb.

There doesn’t seem to have been enough discussion about how we look after ourselves considering the extra stresses and uncertainties that COVID-19 continues to bring. Acknowledging the issue seems an important starting point. Why should we be ok when our lives are so different? It may well be a helpful idea to embrace uncertainty, but the volume is so very loud, the noise is deafening.

For me, it’s acknowledging the changes in our lives, how complex issues are; like having a mother in a care home, which is all so much harder, even though we’re not in lockdown. When we were in lockdown there was less ambiguity, at least for those of us who kept to the rules. I’ve found conversations with colleagues and friends help to see ‘my December’ in the context of a collective experience.

I’m feeling relieved that COVID-19 cases are down to 120,000 rather than 200,000. It’s not only what happened in December, it’s what’s going on today. We have all struggled and made sacrifices about social distancing - when those in charge appear to disregard their own rules about this. This has had an unsettling effect on many, particularly those who lost loved ones last year and couldn’t see them. This is leading to a lack of trust in those in power. (Now it seems that rules are being relaxed which may feel like another uncertainty).

Lots of people have said that adjusting back to work has been particularly difficult this month. It’s hard to concentrate in this ongoing heightened state of alert. Today I’ve been in a meeting with someone who had just tested positive, someone who’s feeling a little better after being ill for a week and someone else who is working very flexibly after being ill over Christmas.

Things that may be helpful in seeing us through the winter

  • Talking about our experiences with others
  • Keeping to our usual routines of exercise, even when this feels particularly difficult
  • Prioritising things we know we enjoy. From buying flowers for ourselves, watching a favourite film, escaping into a book, or having a relaxing bath
  • Remembering that spring is only a couple of months away and the evenings are becoming lighter

When an MP on Channel 4 news is talking about how many years it will take to address the trauma and long-term impacts of the pandemic, there’s a sense that perhaps the conversation is shifting towards a greater acknowledgement of all our traumas. Since the start of the pandemic 2.3 million people have come forward for NHS talking therapies. The Mental Health Foundation highlights the importance of thinking about what a mentally healthy society looks like. As far as I’m concerned, it’s when we can say that we are struggling and have that validated as acceptable, given the circumstances in which 2022 has begun.

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