Chin up

So last week was mental health awareness week. I feel like this year it’s come at a particularly poignant time, with mental wellbeing taking a universal nosedive thanks to Covid-19. The UN actually released guidance this week around supporting mental health in the wake of this pandemic, so it’s clearly a significant issue. And in terms of how it’s affecting healthcare professionals… One can only begin to imagine.

What’s wild to me is that I’m still waiting. I’ve had my DBS check done now and Capita have told me I’m on standby still, whatever that means. It’s not that I want to be called up (I really don’t and I am making absolutely zero effort to chase work). But what gets me is the fact that we have doctors in GP surgeries and hospitals under immense pressure, working ridiculously hard, not being able to take leave and having to adjust to unprecented working conditions, while doctors like me are still on bloody standby. GP Online reported that 30% of GPs they surveyed reported “worse depression, anxiety, burnout or stress related to their work since the COVID-19 outbreak began”. The workforce planning here is like a cross between a unicorn and a hospital IT system – non-existent and shite.

Add to that the shambolic behaviour of our government over the last few days (trip to Durham, anyone?) and I just want to throw my hands up in frustration. It’s got to the point where reading the news makes me feel ‘corona-cussed’ – headachey, disorientated, stunned, dizzy and a bit sick. I am remedying this particular ailment by reading Matt Coyne’s Man vs Toddler, which has me laughing out loud. The laughter and respite from reality is very much needed and appreciated, because even as lockdown begins to ease, we’re still a long way off ‘normal’.

I’m worried about the schools reopening. We’ve taken the decision not to send our daughter back to nursery yet, which is the right thing for us but it does mean that my mad juggle between mothering and working must continue a little while longer. I’m working as much as I can at evenings and weekends, so I have never been more grateful that I love my job. It would add insult to injury to have to give up precious rest time for something I hated!

It’s funny, I’m doing more coaching than I did before this pandemic, and with my weekly Real Reflective Practices, I’m also generating a lot more content than I did before. It’s strange to think about the opportunities that this whole situation has created… I think we’ve seen than across many sectors – humans meeting this great challenge with great innovations, new ways of thinking and unexpected collaborations. I talked a bit about this in one of my reflective practices with Dr Amrita Sen Mukherjee – the idea that so many of the technologies we now enjoy and take for granted are born out of moments of great suffering, such as war. Again, it’s this idea that challenges that create solutions, and once we find the solutions, we often sort of gloss over the suffering that went into them. Because we must; it would be unbearable if we did not.

As much as work buoys me, though, I have to confess that when I’m not working, I often find myself struggling. My first instinct is to push back against my low spirits because ‘there are people who are so much worse off than me and I should be grateful for what I have’, but I don’t think that’s a helpful internal narrative. Your feelings are your feelings. No one else know what it is to be you or live your life, therefore your experiences – and your pain – are valid.

And let’s face it, this situation is suboptimal to say the least.

So that’s all my news, really. Sorry this post has been a bit depressing! I wanted to share it though because I know such a huge number of people are struggling right now, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably the kind of person who puts on a brave face just to get through; chin up, with a facade so brilliant that no one would think you were anything less than a fully functional human being 100% of the time.

And if that resonates, then I just want to say I see you. And I know it’s exhausting to put up a front when you’re crumbling inside. And I also know that, sometimes, that’s all you can do.

Still waiting…

So it’s been well over a month since I got the email from the GMC to tell me they’d reinstated my licence. After that flurry of conflicting emotions, all the media coverage and the strained conversations with friends and family, it’s now all feeling like a bit of an anti-climax.

I’m still going through the process – they are processing my DBS check at the moment apparently. They initially said I wouldn’t need one, but since the contract for bringing back retired docs went to Capita (or ‘Crapita’, as they are affectionately known by the medical profession!) the goalposts have moved. In the Facebook for returning doctors that I’m part of, there have been multiple reports of having to fill out paperwork twice because it was lost, or being sent the wrong documents. Communication is slow and it’s all very confusing and disorganised. Surprise, surprise.

On the bright side, I’m being told my literally every single one of my currently practicing colleagues that it’s good that I’m not back yet because the PPE situation continues to be dire. And not only that, Trusts are continually changing the guidelines to limit the use of PPE. One example would be classifying CPR as a non-aerosol-generating procedure so staff performing it don’t have to don full PPE. Now, correct me if I’m wrong here, but I reckon jumping up and down on a person’s chest so hard that you could literally break their ribs might result in the forceful expulsion of a teensy bit of air from their lungs. Oh, and the Resus Council agrees.

I’m still really confused about what’s actually going on in hospitals. I know we’ve got speciality doctors being redeployed and non-essential clinics and surgeries being cancelled, so staffing levels appear to be better than normal (perhaps adequate, as opposed to woefully inadequate?) But it seems like it’s patchy – according to my contacts, some shifts are a lot busier than others, and their rotas are still brutal. It’s not sustainable.

As for me, I’m just carrying on with motherhood mostly. Being the sole source of entertainment for an 18 month old is absolutely draining and at times quite boring if I’m honest. I’m also much more anxious and strained than usual. Insomnia is plaguing me. I feel bad for feeling like this when I know other people have it worse – I keep reminding myself to be grateful for the things we do have, like our health, our garden, our daily walk… But I think everyone is struggling in their own way in this most unnatural of times.

We’ve transitioned into a new normal of sorts. My husband and I have our new roles (he is now the official food-shopper!) We’ve got projects on the go, like the veg patch and a bemused attempt at a sourdough starter. I’ve also got my Real Reflective Practices every Monday, which are brilliant fun and hopefully are proving useful, and every Saturday we treat ourselves to a takeaway. It’s a quiet, contained sort of existence physically at least, if not emotionally.

So as bored as I am, in some ways I’m dreading what comes next. Will they need me? When? What will they ask me to do? And will I say yes? Futile questions to which as yet I have no answers. I guess all I can do for now is just enjoy this safe cocoon and try not to think too much about whatever’s ahead, because one thing’s for sure – if there was ever a time to make plans, this is not it.