Mental Health Training

My WHOLE Self: Chronicles of an Anxious Small Business Owner during Covid-19 Coronavirus, by Jane McNeice

Posted by on 26 Mar, 2020 in Mental Health |

My WHOLE Self: Chronicles of an Anxious Small Business Owner during Covid-19 Coronavirus, by Jane McNeice

So my husband says “Please stop talking about Coronavirus, you’re killing me.” And I get it, when I’m highly anxious about something I just can’t contain it. It becomes contagious and as equally painful to others as it is to me. So I’m trying to spare my husband and write down how I feel instead…

Two weeks ago, week commencing 24th February I had started to get anxious about Covid-19 Coronavirus. I’d already gone into my preferred coping mechanism of over-planning, fuelled further by the heightened anxiety. For me, maybe it was more pronounced that week because my husband was away from home in France, and also because we had an Easter holiday planned to Sicily, a holiday which I was starting to question what I should do about given the emerging coverage of the outbreak in Italy. The following week I could hold off no longer and took the decision to amend the holiday to 2021, at the painful administration cost of £1400. It’s always very difficult for me to work out whether my response relates to the catastrophising that walks alongside my anxiety, or whether I’m being totally logical and sensible in my thinking and planning. The line is inextricably blurred at the moment.

Week commencing 9th March I was due to exhibit my company at the Health & Wellbeing at Work Conference at Birmingham NEC. I was expecting the host to cancel altogether and it was ironic that on both days of the event, most other events had in fact been cancelled and theCovid numbers, mhfa, mental health, suicide, asist, SafeTALK, training Health & Wellbeing at Work Conference was still taking place, albeit with much lower delegate numbers than in previous years. Events like the Geneva Motor Show had been cancelled, though some other events still went ahead e.g. Cheltenham Festival. The fact that some large events were not cancelled was signalling to me that others didn’t fully share my concerns, as did conversations with people in similar professions to my own, and when talking to parents at my child’s school. I felt like my concerns were just mine and therefore must be irrational, I blamed my anxiety. I’d also recently undertaken a Goal Orientation Profile, a psychometric assessment with a subsequent interview that had highlighted me as a highly determined person, but also very risk averse. This too was in my mind suggesting that I was perhaps being too risk averse in my thinking.

We are now at week commencing 16th March and I no longer believe my thoughts to be an over-reaction, but time will surely tell one way or another. I now feel like my intuition, which I too often foolishly second question, is telling me we are facing impending doom. Two weeks ago I did a sum in the notes on my phone. It was based on what the BBC were saying that day in terms of infection reach per person infected. I’d already worked out (in a very pseudo fashion admittedly) the virus potential. I’d shared this with others too. I was hoping, and in fact still am, that I was/am so very wrong.

Friday 13th (I should have known!) I read this article

which for me concludes that my concerns are legitimate. I also read the Twitter feeds therein that illustrate the major catastrophe that is about to hit our NHS. Now I’m compromised. My youngest child’s birthday party is due to take place on tomorrow, Sat 14th March, at a theme park no less – could he have chosen a greater ‘petri dish’ environment for the party?! I choose to continue with the party plans to avoid disappointment and people thinking I’m over-reacting, but I have intrusive thoughts about contamination throughout the day. In the last two weeks we have lost money on our holiday, and I’ve had just short of £9k in training bookings postponed. I really couldn’t cope with another financial loss, particularly being very aware that more will be coming in the weeks ahead due to the nature of my work in training delivery.

One of the most difficult things I’m currently struggling with is the distinct presence of complacency from so many – plans for the summer, plans to visit us next weekend – and my frustrations with this. My personal view is that the complacency disappears very quickly when one of three things happens to you 1) you get the virus yourself and are unwell, or are looking after someone who has it, either professionally or personally 2) you lose a loved one to the virus, or 3) you are financially hit by the economic impact of the virus. Unfortunately the latter (or fortunately, only the latter) applies in my own case (at the moment) and I think that has added to my hyper-sensitivity. First and foremost no one wants to lose their own life or someone they care about to this virus, but the loss of losing a business that you’ve put your heart and soul into is also an incredible loss. I’ve had to do the financial planning for how long I can bank roll my business when the income drops to zero due to cancelled or no new training bookings, including numbers for keeping or making redundant two admin staff. Again I still question whether my pessimism is simply running on overdrive here. I so desperately want to be wrong, but my current lay person prediction is that on week commencing 16th March we will close all UK schools. I also think cases will quadruple or more in the next 7 days, and I think we will be on full lock down by the succeeding week commencing 23rd March. By the beginning of April when our family should have been enjoying some quality time in Sicily, our NHS and lives will be blighted catastrophically by this.

How I feel right now, highly anxious, sick inside, and powerless, my motivation is dropping and I’m resisting a constant urge to take to my bed and cry. Most often my anxiety is managed, but I’m entering into (if not already in it) a phase where the depression finds an inlet and creeps back in. My functioning drops considerably at this time, so right now I’m trying to write this out. Reading will also be my solace I’m sure. I hope that this will all go away as fast as it arrived, and I hope even more that the losses are minimal for all concerned…


Week commencing 16th March…

16th March: I enter into this week thinking a ‘plan’ yes a plan will resolve this. The news today confirms a leaked report from Public Health England suggesting that managing the outbreak could take us to next spring 2021. This confirms fears I had two weeks ago based on my sums, unlike what was being officially said last week in terms of it peaking the 3 weeks over the Easter period, and a sense that it will have been and gone by Summer. I feel today that everyone is going into mobilise mode, no longer waiting to be told what to do, just going with their own ‘gut’. My company has experienced several more cancellations today, and I feel that writing it out will be one of my coping mechanisms in the forthcoming, weeks, months, or possibly year. It’s ever more frustrating that it’s at times like this that we need to equip even more people with the skills to support those experiencing mental distress. Still, I feel many are complacent, but I can only manage my own thoughts and behaviours, not those of others. And besides, managing my own is a full time effort at the moment! On a positive, whilst the news of the outbreak has borne selfish behaviours in some, I’ve also seen acts of kindness and care towards others, and I’m reminded that from adversity comes strength, hope, and very often better things. Maybe this virus will re-connect a disparate society? It’s an absolute leveller – it couldn’t care less your class, job title, societal status, or otherwise, though sadly it is ageist in its impact, and in the impact on those with pre-existing illnesses. It’s a global experience which will make the history books, and will be talked and reflected on way beyond the time it takes to resolve it. I haven’t panic bought as I want to make sure there is enough to go around, but having had the ‘eco’ discussion with my daughter only a month ago regarding a shift towards ‘alternative’ toilet roll, and deciding this could be boil washed flannels (just like in the days of terry towelling nappies) I have ordered 30 flannels. Today they arrived!

So this evening we hear new instructions from Government, and a reality check that this is not going to be a 2 weeks thing and then back to ‘normal’, but rather months to endure, possibly longer. This is what I felt in my bones two weeks ago when everyone was giving me odd looks like I was over-reacting. I was frightened then, I am now. What I’m frightened of – I fear: that I will lose my dad who falls into an at risk group in both age and ill health. I fear for my father-in-law who is a funeral director and was told only days ago by a doctor that as workers with the deceased they should be wearing protective clothing – Covid-19 survives on a deceased body for 3 days he was told. I fear that the symptoms of this virus cause much more suffering than the “it’s just like a cold” comments we were hearing in the last week. I’m frightened for my children, my husband, my family, and myself. Tonight I will write letters to my loved ones (just in case the worst happens). This is the extent that my anxiety takes me to, or is it normal? What is normal?

17th March: Not surprisingly today steps up the mark once more. Advice is to get some paracetamol, this turned out to be easier said than done, but after a half hour wait in a queue for the pharmacy I was able to get these for my boys, and for myself and husband. Laura, my daughter is frightened too, and my husband is now recognising the economic impact. I am frightened. More postponements hit my business, and many other business are being impacted also. Box, training foldersI feel so sorry for everyone. I went into the office this evening and had to set up a filing tray I never thought I would. I can’t even begin to imagine what the other side of this will look like, and in fact when it will be. I have a shifting sense of acceptance that wasn’t there two weeks ago. I’m ready for wholesale life change, but I’m not ready for anyone in my family to die. I no longer believe that this isn’t possible for the younger members of the family. I recognise it impacts older people more severely, but I also think information about the impact on younger people is being hidden. It periodically leaks out through Twitter updates from Italy. I’m trying to plan for the loss of my ‘meaningful activity’ – my work as a Mental Health Trainer – I know the impact of this for me will be phenomenal. I’m trying to risk manage this out by planning an alternative. I’ve ordered some gardening supplies as I most likely won’t be able to access these in the coming weeks if we go on full lockdown, which I anticipate. If these arrive any time soon then I have something that may help for when I’m fit and well and on lockdown. I say when not if, 80% of us will get this virus we are told. I’m also preparing myself for the introvert hangover that will come from the lack of personal alone time which I’m used to and which will be in scarce supply when we (my husband and two boys) are all home and isolated 24/7. I may need to hide in the loft or car with my kindle from time to time. I love my family, but my introversion means I need alone time as much as the air I breathe. I fear I won’t see my daughter and grandchildren for weeks, and I’m frightened for Sebastian after his near death experience of Kawasaki disease only 16 months ago. Could his heart still be too vulnerable? I have today promised myself that I will try to be extra kind to others during this challenging time, and that positive experiences can still occur. I vow to bear well from this pain, not bad. Something like this can turn people very beautiful or very ugly. I’m acknowledging the positives:

  • Altruism and opportunity for good
  • An opportunity to spend more time with immediate family that I don’t normally have
  • A time for reflection
  • A time to write
  • A time to pick up hobbies that have fell by the wayside too much because life has gotten so busy, or I’ve let it so
  • We will stop saying “Where has this year gone?” Time never speeded up, we simply got too busy. Time will feel like it has slowed down again.
  • A time to try out a different life for a while, that will further shape the life that emerges after this nightmare
  • A time to think about faith and spiritual belief
  • And a time to just be
  • Plus the bits I don’t yet know which will come from this…

Today I will write to Lindie, my neighbour who lives alone, to let her know she can call us if there is anything she needs in the coming weeks. I do hope she won’t be offended, but I’d rather offend her and have her know we are there than have her in need feeling she cannot ask for help. My mood shifts between despair, raging anxiety, depression, and the need to cry. There’s the sense of a feeling that I only experience at certain times – not solely negative times – times like pre and post holidays or travelling, Christmas, and when the early Summer sun comes out. It’s like my energies don’t recognise the difference between impending positive or impending negative experience, just impending something that is outside my norm. I fear the extent of poor mental health that will result from the coming weeks or months, particularly an increase in suicide (most likely to relate to loss of some kind), and an increase in post trauma symptoms. I also anticipate a future increase in divorce rates when some couples realise they don’t actually like one another after spending time in near/full isolation together. I hope that future support needs are met, and that it’s not just economics that is prioritised after the nightmare that looms. I will continue to write this out.

18th March: The sense of impending doom lingers over every environment I’m in today – the office, the car, home – it’s like waiting for something but not really knowing what exactly I’m waiting for. My sleep has been impacted, I’m like a coiled spring when I climb into bed. A national increase in poor mental health will be the ensuing pandemic I’m sure. We will need a ground swell of Mental Health First Aiders to help prevent worsening symptoms and to encourage people to access professional help. I hope that help will be available, hope springs eternal! Tomorrow is likely to be my youngest boy’s last day in nursery, and given that I don’t think he will be able to return till September, it means he will not return at all as he will be starting primary school instead. My eldest boy’s last day is tomorrow also. I can’t see schools re-opening any time soon. The Government is promising grants of £10k to small businesses who are eligible for small business rate relief. If they hold true, that includes my business and it will help to cushion the blow.

20th March: One of my staff members is aware of the impact of Coronavirus on their role. It saddens me to have to discuss this and make contingency plans with them. I share with nursery that my youngest boy will not be attending today, and break down when I point out that he may not ever attend again. If September beats Coronavirus to the finish line, my youngest boy will start primary school instead. Yesterday I had a significant shift from acceptance back to panic when I thought about my training products and the potential for other businesses to fold that would then domino my business due to the related supply chain. I find myself checking out the financial stability of related businesses as much as I can and trying to calculate likelihood. I start working on solutions to risk manage this. I struggled to wake up this morning, a sure sign that my mood has dropped. This evening the Prime Minister announces a whole raft of financial support, and whilst it initially calmed me, I then realised that some elements I would not be eligible for, and that my husband and I could still be hit hard. We both have our own businesses, and both employ staff. Home schooling our 6 year old is going to be time consuming. I’m really not sure how people who have to work from home will actually do that and realistically home-school as well (for those with children that is). They will feel incredibly torn. I’m mourning what I should have been doing today, delivering a training course in Basingstoke, and preparing for our holiday. There’s a real sense of loss for what should have been. I tell myself to just accept it but it’s difficult. I wrote an article for the e-bulletin yesterday ‘Covid-19: Resilience in the face of Adversity’ and I feel somewhat hypocritical in that I can’t achieve what I’m encouraging others to do, maybe I should also have said that it wouldn’t be easy, and for me either. I have to remind myself that we will make it through this, health permitting. I hope my boys stay well, and my girls – children, grandchildren – but then I start thinking, would we be better getting the virus and having some immunity for future outbreaks, as it’s likely to catch up with you at some stage? I’m feeling pretty empty at the moment, but yet compared too many I still have so much. Some people have already lost so much. Accept what I cannot control I tell myself, but it’s not reaching the depths of my psyche.

22nd March: I’m trying to put aside my frustration at everyone who doesn’t seem to ‘get it’ and understand that we are only at the beginning of something catastrophic. I feel exhausted every time I communicate this – I exhaust myself, and I have no doubt that I exhaust the person who is hearing this – that is the contagiousness of my Anxiety. I took my eldest son out for a walk yesterday, an attempt to feel normal and to empty my head as I’d spent much of the morning bursting into tears. My youngest boy’s response to this was to find his brother and tell him that mummy needs a tissue. My children should not have to face this. They are both very compassionate when they see mummy upset, but it is beyond their years to understand. I managed to purchase food early afternoon, but due to ‘selfish buyers’ there was no milk so I had to go to a farm shop for this and cheese. Today I’ve spent time doing some gardening in the sunshine. I’m hoping for the benefits of the vitamin D and having something meaningful to do. Small things that make you smile really help – I found a Holly sapling next to a plant in the garden – I’ve been wanting some Holly in the garden for a while, just a tiny sprig it was, but a sign of the future nevertheless. I carefully moved it to a nice new home with space for growth. It is positive seeing new growth and the sun, and knowing that whatever happens the sun will still rise and the moon will still come out at night. I’ve wondered today whether we should extend the Lords’ Prayer to include toilet roll and pasta as well as daily bread. I’ve mused the idea that everyone will be dressed as Coronavirus for Halloween this year (assuming it’s gone by then!), and that there could be a commemorative day where we will be given an extra bank holiday to celebrate the last case of Corona and the work of those fighting against it. That feels such a long way off, and sadly the suffering and loss sandwiched between null its comfort. I’m not looking forward to the week ahead in terms of numbers, and hope that it doesn’t reach our loved ones. I wish it wouldn’t reach anyone. A sad milestone that I know is coming is when the first person I know ends up testing positive. Are they testing now? How do they know the numbers if they’re not? Not testing is a crazy thing surely, you don’t need to be a scientist to know that.

24th March: Emotional roller coaster today. I’m very fragile, I’m desperately missing my normal. It would have been a home day with my youngest boy, picking up his brother from school, and tomorrow I should have been delivering training at a school in Sheffield. I feel incredibly lonely at the moment. Steven is a key worker, so the 24/7 didn’t apply to us – he’s at work snowed under with customers wanting to move their IT arrangements to home working. There is still very little on the ground and real support for suffering small businesses at the moment. I’m going to commit to finding some positives to write, as I’m writing myself deeper into depression at the moment. Positives: Laura and Gemma planning a group chat ‘catch-up cuppa’ for tomorrow, the sun is shining, a parcel of gardening supplies has arrived, and a small one that only some people will relate to – my finger nails have stopped hurting since I removed my nail gel at the weekend! Oh my, how priorities in life have changed in a small space of time! I’m trying to hold back tears a lot today, just very fragile.

26th March: It turns out that 24th March was what I refer to as ‘the wall’. When I’m troubled by something I battle it to the point of anger and tears. The outward pouring arrives, then I move on, I reach a point of acceptance. That’s how I feel today. I’ve written some positive stuff, feel I have plans for the home-time in the coming weeks, the sun is shining in a way that is so very noticeable. I’m determined to work on a more positive consciousness J

30th April: Positive consciousness arrived post 27th  March and is most likely noticeable in my lesser need to write out my pain. I have completely re-framed my thinking after hitting ‘the wall’. It shifts to an even more positive state by the day, though is marred by the media when I allow myself ‘news time’ and see other people’s pain. We are in the same storm, but it’s so very clear that we are not in the same boat! For me and my life, I believe I have been given the gift of time – something I’ve craved for so very long and could never have believed how it would be bestowed. For many others time has sadly been taken. I’ve found purpose in many things, and still require breathing space and some alone time, but it’s well managed. I’m not sure I entirely see the end of this, or what the new world will look like, but I do believe we will adapt to it. I hope the lessons from this are not so quickly lost, and I hope the gratitude for the ‘helpers’ isn’t so quickly forgotten, particularly health and social care workers. The surest thing right now is that the sun will keep shining. I myself will try to maintain a higher level of consciousness, because that is the place where better mental health can be found.