children, health, mental health, Uncategorized, wellbeing, Writing, Youth Work

Hope for the future

In a time of uncertainty, is there really hope for the future?

It was only the other day that I was thinking I really must blog again. I knew it had been a while, but I hadn’t realised quite how long it had been – two months to be exact. Well, ‘to be exact’ is wrong. To be exact, I’d need to wait a few more days. I’m not doing that. The thing is the world has moved on somewhat, times have changed, and are continuing to change. The days now roll into one. In a strange twist though, whilst tidying the office, I came across a magazine article about blogging, so it seemed like an omen, and here I am.

It’s Easter Sunday. Whether we had been in a global lockdown or not, it’s a strange one. This is England and it’s sunny. Thin wisps of cloud glide carefully across a pastel blue sky, and it’s warm. If you’re reading this when I post it, you’ll know all about the lockdown. If you’ve stumbled across this in 10, 20, or more years time, then we’re all currently living through a piece of history that our planet has never lived through before.

If you go back two months, I was at work, having meals out, taking part in a community garden project, and having countless conference calls for projects I was involved in. That’s all stopped.

I’d volunteered at a first aid weekend doing the makeup for the injured, and running activities and a sleepover for my youth club, as well as dealing with all of the planning that goes with it. I was house viewing with the intention of buying my first property, doing several jobs, and generally plodding along as we do from day to day.

The one big change though was that I was actually starting to book in more time for myself. A few weeks before the lockdown, I’d been to London (Dear Evan Hansen is a fantastic show!), booked in several other theatre experiences for this year (including tonight), arranged a couple of holidays, and generally felt life was on the up.

Then it wasn’t.

Coronavirus COVID-19 hit. The global pandemic swept the planet. The name implies it would. As of this precise moment, 1.8 million people worldwide have been infected by this killer. That’s what it is. Let’s be blunt. It kills. Whilst most will have minor symptoms and 412,000 have recovered, to date, more than 110,000 have died. In the UK our figures have almost overtaken China where the virus originated – our death rate is already triple theirs. We have 79,000 cases and nearly 10,000 deaths – it certainly will be by the end of the day.

It paints a very morbid picture, but if we are to believe what our government tell us, and I’m not one to get into a political debate often, then the advice they are offering has slowed the spread from the trajectory it was on. Could they have done more? Perhaps. Should we argue that here? No. Why? Because actually, when you look at it, through the doom and gloom (and it is very sad and it is very scary), there is hope. Hope for humanity, and my aim is to always try and shine the light on the positives as that is better for our wellbeing.

When we knew that lockdown was likely to be imminent our country went crazy. Our neighbours who had forgotten how to wash their hands were suddenly learning how to do so, although the amount of toilet roll they were stockpiling for a virus that didn’t require it meant that they’d have probably been better off wrapped up as a mummy in it and being locked away until it had passed. These were the same people fighting in the supermarkets over bread, hand soap, and pasta leaving our elderly who fought for our right to have a free country with nothing but tears in their eyes and despair in their hearts.

With a few weeks of being stuck at home vegetating having passed, people realised that they could actually get by without eating their weight in garbage, and all the food they’d bought was being chucked. Why? Our shops are still open, we can go out, and if we’re careful, we can look after ourselves and each other, and this is where I think people are slowly getting the message.

When I think of what I would normally eat, which isn’t an horrendous diet, it’s a stark contrast to now. I’ll go without breakfast and eat mid-afternoon (and not a lot), with my evening meal following closely behind. We’re on smaller portions too. The country is confined to its homes, we don’t need to eat as though we’ll not see food for hours. Most are sat around doing nothing, although why, I’ve no idea (come on people – we’ve a massive obesity issue). I’m doing an online exercise video each morning (taking part, not leading), and still getting my one hour of exercise in the evening, meaning in a couple of weeks, through exercise and good eating, I’ve lost half a stone.

Lockdown has actually been great for my mental health too. That’s right. Whilst the chaos goes on around us, I’ve limited my media time. I don’t want to be reminded how many people have died, I want to be told how many have recovered. I’m not some hard nosed bloke who doesn’t care, but if I watch the death rate rise every hour that the news channels infect me with their own negative virus, I’d be a wreck. When lockdown was on the horizon, I didn’t stockpile food, I topped up on books, paints, and made a list of films and podcasts I wanted to enjoy. I knew if I didn’t, my mental health would take a massive hit.

In three weeks of confinement, I’ve had about 15 minutes of impending doom anxiety and one day of feeling a bit lost for what to do physically when I fancied something a bit different. Other than that, I’ve enjoyed getting up, exercising, reading in the garden to the sound of the birdsong orchestra, cleaning my bedroom and office of things I’ve kept ‘in case’, eating more fruit, eeking chocolate out to last a week rather than scoffing it in an evening, painting in acrylics for the first time, and remaining in touch with friends and family.

That’s of most importance and where turning to tech has been so beneficial. Being able to use conference call facilities to keep in touch has not only been a learning curve but hilarious too. I’ve been able to continue running Relax Kids and coaching appointments, virtual youth club evenings, script readings, and I’ve even taken the plunge into doing LIVE Facebook videos for the business on a fairly regular basis.

It’s clear that things are changing. As a community we are united every Thursday evening at 8pm when we stand outside our homes (at a socially accepted distance) and applaud our NHS and other key workers keeping the country from complete collapse. Last week we even had a musician play Over the Rainbow. I think it was a cello but couldn’t be sure, but it was a touching moment nonetheless. Community emails and street coordinators have been set up to ensure that we support each other. Proof that when the going gets tough, we have the option to fight for ourselves or draw together for the good of humanity. It’s a touch of the Blitz spirit in the modern world.

As I sit here enjoying the sun, I feel lucky. Lucky firstly that, as it stands, I’ve not contracted, to the best of my knowledge, the dreadful virus (I am so fortunate and I appreciate that greatly). I feel grateful for the time to reevaluate life and what is important. I still have work emails to do, but my creative writing was taking a bit of a back seat as the year went on. I’ve managed to try new forms of writing, enter more competitions, reach the Top 30 of the UK Film Festival, but most of all stretch the imagination in new and exciting ways.

On the imagination and creative front, how lucky are we to have children around us, either within our own households or from the other side of the garden fence? As a Youth Worker by trade, I know the immense struggle our young people are going through at this time. The uncertainty, cancelled school exams, being forced to stay at home when they want their few minutes of freedom, but they are the ones who are also continuing to create their own magic.

Take my neighbours this morning. Two girls playing together. ‘You can play mummy,’ says one. ‘I’d rather be a horse,’ replies her sister. They agreed to be a family of horses as a happy agreement, and with the sound of seagulls overhead one pipes up ‘Maybe the sea is moving closer to us’. Wishful thinking perhaps, although as the furthest county from the sea, it’d be marvellous if it would.

Our children, our young people, our future, are getting creative, doing what they do best and seeing things from a completely different angle. An angle that we lost and left behind when we became adults because we weren’t allowed to think differently, to use our imaginations, to be creative.

They’re designing and manufacturing essential protective equipment for key workers, Scouts are holding virtual camps (sounds crazy, but is amazing), and we’re seeing the talents of some fantastic up and coming potential singers too. There is so much that we can learn about creative resilience in the face of adversity from children. Who knows, maybe somebody somewhere will finally recognise the benefits of them in our society as well as that of youth work and pump some money into this field?

Whilst the world still has a way to go towards recovery, when we truly stop and look at what good is coming from this massive ‘pause button’, there is hope not only for our fellow human, our wildlife, our planet, but most importantly, our future.

(Banner image by Peter H from Pixabay)

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