There’s a knot in my stomach. I’m going into the university where I work to do an interview day for new social work students. How many will turn up? It’s hard for anyone to know what to do at the moment with the coronavirus situation changing daily. We have about half the normal number of candidates and we try to carry on as normal.
The truth is I’m struggling to think straight. Like everyone else, I’ve got a hundred things going around in my mind. There’s my underlying respiratory health condition, elderly parents miles away, the children’s school, and all the stuff that’s getting cancelled. I’m also worried about my husband, J. He runs a mental health charity providing mental health support services and also supporting carers and service users with Alzheimer’s. Last week the thought of suspending those vital services seemed infeasible; now it seems almost inevitable.
University students are anxious. There are all kinds of implications for teaching and exams, as well as particular concerns for students on placement. A few students come to my office asking about what is going to happen.
“I just don’t know,” I keep saying. It’s not what people want to hear, but I have nothing else honest to offer.
When I get home, J tells me he spent the day making decisions about what services to suspend and writing policies and messages to staff. Then at the end of the day the new announcements came from government and the situation changed. All face to face services will have to be suspended.
It’s 4 am. I can’t sleep. The space next to me on the bed is empty, J is already downstairs on his laptop. He can’t sleep either; the decisions he is making will affect very vulnerable service users and they weigh heavily. He also has his employees to think of and the financial implications for the charity.
I spend the day at home trying to keep up with the tide of emails. I take part in my first online Zoom meeting and update myself on the technology which will mean we can carry on teaching students remotely. The tech is good; we’ll be able to keep going.
The sick feeling in my stomach continues. I’m due to meet a group of friends tonight. I very much want to see them. The ironic thing about social distancing is that I seem to want to be with other people to talk and process it. We decide we will meet anyway and keep a good distance from each other. My head knows meeting friends has to stop but there is so much information to adjust to, my behaviour hasn’t quite caught up yet with the new reality.
One of my friends is a children and families social worker.
“What about people stuck at home in domestic violence relationships?” she asks.
It’s yet another shocking consideration.
I drive past the train station on my way home. The cab drivers are all lined up outside waiting for the commuters who aren’t going to be getting off the train any more. My heart breaks just a little bit more.
It’s probably my last day in the office for a very long while. It’s been another night of not sleeping. It’s as if my body’s threat system has been activated and I am constantly on high alert.
I try to gather my things together in order to have everything I need to work from home. There are so many plans to cancel. My head knows that these are not important in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still a mental adjustment to let go of so many things at once.
I go to the library on my way back to the car in the hope of collecting some interesting social work books to keep me stimulated for the next few weeks. I’m too late. The library has closed early. I’m unreasonably annoyed with myself.
When I get home, my children are adjusting to the news of the school closures. We talk together about how we are going to have to live very differently, the ways we can look after those around us, and how there will be so much learning from this period. J tells us how his staff are already coming up with lots of creative ways to keep supporting people. It’s good to have a few moments of hope to break up the feelings of anxiety and distress.
“I can’t believe it’s only Wednesday,” J says. He opens the fridge wistfully; we’d given up alcohol for Lent.
“I think the time has come to abandon Lent,” I say. J nods and reaches for the corkscrew.