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McConks reading corner #3: Mental health struggles – a Christmas 2020 story.

We published two McConks reading corner works of fiction back during 2020’s Lockdown 1.0. See links below –

The fisherman.

The river, the recluse.

With many people stuck at home once again – especially considering it being the Christmas festive season – there may be some struggling to cope and find the light. What follows may be fictitious but could resonate. If you’re able then we suggest getting outdoors and getting some fresh air – it does wonders! For those who can’t, remember it’s not forever and you’ll be back at it soon. Even though that may feel eons away. And please don’t suffer in silence. Talk about your struggles. That can also help. Just tell someone…

Mental health struggles – a Christmas 2020 story.

It’s a cold dreary December day as I rise, throw the curtain back and peer into the imposing gloom. Rain pitter patters at the window, the whole scene just screams grey. In half light, I notice dimming twinkles of Christmas lights across the road. My adjacent neighbour must need to change some batteries I think. He suddenly appears at the front door with a ciggy in handy. Sheltering under his porch he takes a drag and puffs billowing smoke out through his mouth formed as an O to make that distinct tobacco exhalation ring. Whilst I know smoking isn’t exactly healthy I do envy the few minutes of solace and contemplation he enjoys when sneaking a fag. Maybe I should start smoking. Maybe not…

He finishes his last puff, stamps out the butt before picking it up and chucking it in the bin. As he disappears back inside I transfer my gaze to the leaf-less trees. Are the branches swaying; is it windy? Nope, doesn’t appear so. I raise my eyes higher still and note the puffy clouds edging snail pace across the sky. It’s definitely not breezy – the first time in a few days. Mizzle mornings aside it’d be good for a spot of stand up paddling…If I was able to drag my sorry carcass to the beach.

Perched on the bed edge I pause and listen. Silence. Bar the aforementioned rain which has increased its window pane drumming slightly. For a minute I’m just staring off into the gloom. Then winter’s cold envelopes my body and causes a shudder, which snaps reality back into focus. Raising up I grab a hoodie from my bedside and pad across to the bedroom door. quietly I can almost smell my morning cup of freshly brewed coffee, even though I’ve yet to flick the machine on.

Creeping downstairs I try not to wake the others. It was a fraught night all in. Up and down with illness, unrest and unease. By the time we all managed to get into duvet land we were shattered. Opting for individual beds to make sure shut eye took over I’m conscious of waking the household. Having a family isn’t easy at the best of times but with vulnerability in the mix you can become severely worn down. Sometimes the claustrophobia’s unbearable. Having coping mechanisms is therefore a necessity. Trouble is those coping mechanisms can serve to exacerbate the situation sometimes – at least with me being an obsessive/compulsive…

I creep into the kitchen and softly close the door behind me, being careful not to kick my feet into the debris of kiddy toys lying about. I also don’t fancy standing on small Lego bits that love nothing better than stabbing into naked, fleshy feet. Even though I’m accustomed to stomping about beaches without so much as a flip flop covering Lego blocks to the ball of my foot are like knives jabbing into soft butter. When this happens my frustration threatens to boil over. It’s always the smallest most insignificant things bringing down the red mist. Manifesting as vocal output I curse loudly, instantly regretting it as my youngest announces his awakening shortly after.

Drowning metaphorically…

Ignoring his toddler jabbering I brew coffee for both me and my wife before heading back upstairs. Readying to take my first sip I’m rudely summoned loudly to escort my youngest through to the main bedroom. Checking him over as he rises from a teddy strewn pit I note there’re no untoward signs of infection. Machine gun nattering at me I give him a cuddle and cart through to early morning iPad land.

Whilst we don’t watch much in the way of TV, and resist sticking the kids in front of devices, morning wake ups do necessitate this form of distraction. Just until the adults have sorted their woolly heads out and gotten used to the fact it’s indeed another ‘fabby’ day. Sarcasm abound in this household.

‘It shall pass.’

That’s a sentence I’ve heard on a few occasions. This is all well and good but here and now, dealing with current situations, the passing of the ‘it’ seems a million light years away. We’ve been living like this for months. Even before the pandemic, having to cope, socially distance (before that was even a thing) and keep out of the way of others makes for a strange existence. But you do what’s necessary for your children. The second one, of which, now wakes and also bowls into the room. Not a care in the world and seemingly feeling much better than in the night! Kids…

In an ideal world, it’d now be a time to head for the beach, or at least plan a time when that’ll be possible based on weather conditions, tides and what else needs to be accomplished through the day. Although between my wife and I accomplishing anything productive may not be on the agenda. Bleary eyes, yawns and general lethargy all round I feel won’t do anybody any favours. We look knowingly at one another as hot coffee sipping takes precedence. At least we have each other to bounce off – good and bad- and share the burden. Not that that makes anything easier, but compared to going it alone I’ll take a partnership any day.

Sympathetic weather.

‘Go for a paddle’, ‘go for a walk’, ‘get outdoors’ and so on. Supposedly these acts massively help with ‘head struggles’. And whilst this is true, what happens when you’re confined to barracks? This is what I was saying about coping mechanisms. When they’re removed/put on hiatus, or at least the bulk of, what then? Crawling the walls is what! Fortunately, I do have a couple of house bound activities to ease the pressure (though these don’t always scratch the saltwater itch). But even those have to be managed around young children who command the majority of your time (as any parent will concur).

It’s way easier when your offspring are at school/nursery. Locked in your own home, however, different story. And when being outside/being on the water is lifeblood more than frivolous, throw away physical act, the whole situation of being cooped up is intensely frustrating to say the least. Fretting and obsessing about being on the water can actually make me feel sick.

For those who’re still free, yet also struggling mentally, I’d definitely urge find a ‘thing’ to help relieve the stress. It could be as simple as taking your neighbour’s dog for a walk. Maybe volunteering to help out at the local food bank. Or making sure you do, indeed, go for a paddle…

My thoughts wander again. Being a watersports nut is such a double edged sword when you have mental health ticks in tandem with BIG family responsibilities. Whilst it certainly helps reset those brain chemical buttons being caught up in the obsessive process of planning when, where and how you’re going to get afloat only serves to compound (let’s call them) issues.

I sigh quietly and take another sip of coffee, which has by this point become a lukewarm dreg. Time for a refill methinks checking my watch. Grabbing the wife’s also empty cup I wander off back downstairs to the coffee machine again. This time I pull the blind and watch the raindrops once more as my cup fills and the hum of the machine fills ear space. As I follow one particular droplet running with gravity downwards I sense there’ll be a lot of this during the next few days. Christmas 2020 will, indeed, be a strange and uneasy one for many…

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