Chronically ill people are resilient. The more sick you are, the more resilient you become – at least in my personal experience. Having been ill now for 26 years, and having encountered gaslighting, neglect, near death and profound isolation as part of my illness experience, not to mention alcoholism, drug addiction, divorce (my own and my parents), domestic violence, bullying, cheating and parental abandonment outside of my illness experience I think I have resilience in spades. It’s not like I had a lot of choice – it was either get on with it, or give the fuck up and slit my wrists. I chose life every time (though it’s been a close decision on a couple of occasions if I’m brutally honest on account of the neverending pain, constant puking, seizures, inability to speak, inability to walk, inability to eat and difficulty just breathing in and out).
My resilience, despite everything I have lived through, makes the current whining about lockdown and the restrictions of the pandemic, however, hard to deal with. I feel profound empathy towards those who have lost a loved one due to Covid, or who are battling the disease, and absolutely no empathy for the healthy who are whining about having to self isolate for 2 weeks often in the company of other family members (not actually ‘isolation’ then) or people moaning about not being able to go to the pub for a month to see their mates or how the killer virus will interrupt their Christmas plans. Get a fucking grip.
I first got sick in 1996. There were no mobile phones, Skype, texting or Zoom. No internet or home computers. When I say I was isolated, I actually mean I was isolated. I lived on my own and did not see another human being’s face, other than my parents, my cleaner and the very occasional doctor, from one month to the next. One year to the next.
It’s grating to hear healthy people moaning their mental health has been affected by the pandemic. Most people’s mental health has been affected by the pandemic for heaven’s sake, especially in the early days when we had no clue what was going on and had little knowledge of the virus. The entire world was anxious. But most of us just got on with it. We did not go demanding help from over-stretched mental health teams actually dealing with real mental health issues like bipolar or schizophrenia, or counsellors dealing with real live grieving people.
Then there are the people whining about not having a hug from their grand-children or significant other for a few weeks. I haven’t been touched by another human being since 2007. Nearly 14 years of total physical isolation. But do I go harping on about it? No. It would be lovely but it’s hardly the end of the world.
And those irritating sods twittering on about not having their annual holiday abroad or being able to go to the gym. So fucking what? You had 3 months paid leave from work during one of the hottest springs on record and can walk and run on free pavements, so I’m not exactly sure why you feel like you’ve missed out. I haven’t had a holiday, or exercised, since 1996 and it hasn’t killed me yet.
I have lovely friends who have been bedridden with severe M.E. since they were teenagers or young adults and they are now in their forties. Highly intelligent, warm, funny, kind women who have never ever been abroad on holiday. Never been kissed. Never driven a car. Never had a career. Never been to the gym. Never had their hair professionally done. And who spend their entire lives alone within 4 walls, too ill to watch TV, listen to the radio or even have the curtains open. Unable to read a book or talk for more than a few minutes on the phone. Do they moan or whine or tweet endlessly about their mental health (even though I’m sure it’s shattered)? No. Not for one second of any day.
I often wonder if the 2nd world war were to begin now how on god’s earth we would all cope. We certainly have little of the resilience of our grandparents.
My parents are I were talking about Marcus Rashford’s campaign to give poor children free meals and while it’s obviously a needed and worthy cause my Dad expressed his surprise that quite so many people can’t feed their kids. My Mum was one of 9 children, two of whom died shortly after birth, and my Grand-dad had a heart attack at 56 and could no longer work. There was no welfare state, so as well as looking after a sick husband and 7 children in a one up one down house, with a toilet at the end of the garden and a lean to for a kitchen, my Nan had to go out and clean people’s houses to survive. They didn’t have much, but they never ever went hungry. She baked bread from scratch on a lead grate that had to be stoked with coal every second of the day and fed her family a cooked meal, with pudding, every day of her life. If any of the kids were hungry in the meantime, and the 4 growing boys always were, they had a jam butty (they couldn’t afford fresh fruit). I’m not sure why so many parents these days can’t buy a bag of spuds and some cheap mince and actually cook a meal. My Nan also washed for 9 people, including bed sheets and towels, by hand using a poss tub over an open fire which she got up at 4.30am on a Monday morning to light before she went to work as a cleaner. She lived until she was 86 years old.
I’m not sure where, as a nation, our resilience has gone. We seem to whine a lot and have little appreciation for how wonderful our lives actually are. We may be in the midst of a pandemic, but most of us are safely in our homes, with our loved ones, watching Netflix, being paid the majority of our salaries for doing bugger all and checking our Twitter accounts to keep up with our friends. We have books, games, jigsaws, box sets, craft materials, art materials and 101 other ways to keep ourselves amused. Then there’s Amazon and Tesco, Gousto and Just Eat. It really isn’t much of a hardship for the vast majority of the population. It’s not like we’re living through the Blitz.
My love and prayers to anyone grieving the loss of a loved one due to Covid, to the key workers caring for and protecting us, and to anyone currently battling the virus, but to all the healthy people whining about how tough this year has been I have one thing to say – shut the fuck up and get on with it.