Christine, in her seventies, is an Independent Age campaigner. She lives in a small town in Cheshire and has had painful arthritis since she was a teenager. Following a career working in education, Christine developed an active interest in maintaining physical and mental health. She also has a keen interest in how research can improve people’s lives and is a patient participant of her local university’s research group.
Keeping Mentally Healthy
Up until the last year I would not have said I had struggled with my mental health. Having had osteoarthritis since I was a young person, and then in later life having surgery for joint replacements, I was able to bounce back and get on with my active life. That was until the osteoarthritis decided to attack my lower spine leaving me in a position where it was impossible to carry on as before. I struggled to overcome this major setback and became despondent, even thinking was there any point in carrying on, as the medical profession said there was nothing that could be done – ‘we can’t yet replace spines’.
My doctor tried to help but I didn’t want to spend my life on powerful drugs. He suggested talking therapy and when I said ‘yes’ I’ll have a go at that I was told the waiting list was nearly 9 months. This response made me feel so frustrated because I needed help at that time, not in 9 months. Despite the fact I would be funding this I decided to find myself some local counselling help. I have been doing this for 13 months. It helped me clear my head and concentrate on the things I could do rather than those I could not do. It assisted me to create a ‘tool box’ of ideas that I could draw upon when the pain flared. Then came the LOCKDOWN … I needed every tool in my box to do without the help of my counsellor, although she was available at the end of the telephone. This is how I am managing today and for the foreseeable future.
Adopting a sense of routine
I am at home with my husband; he is not as vulnerable as I am as I also have mild asthma. He acts as my connection to the outside world, but we try to have a walk most days around our local canals, keeping social distancing in mind at all times and varying the routes. One of which involves waiving to our granddaughter in her house on the other side of the canal. Her Mum, our youngest daughter, is a nurse and works long hours. I have found adopting a sense of routine is important as it adds structure to what can often feel like a scary unbalanced way of living.
Doing regular exercise
I have dug out my old exercise DVDs and had a go at doing what I could. I searched YouTube for gentle walking on the spot exercises to do at home. These were great. My husband is trying his hand at running short distances and is proud of his achievements.
Staying in touch digitally
I am using my telephone as much as I can and have several WhatsApp groups going with family in other countries, and one with the neighbours where I live. That way we can check on who is going to the post office or chemist if I need anything. I use e-mail to keep in touch with friends I always said I would write to but was always too busy to get down to it. I keep in touch with colleagues at the university where I actively help with research studies. This is now done by Skype rather than face to face. My husband has started writing a blog for the family every evening which our eldest daughter in France is keeping them for the future.
Recently I have begun supporting two friends, one whose joint replacement operation has been cancelled, and another whose dog has just died and she feels very alone. Chatting for 10 mins every other day helps them and me.
Filling leisure time
Looking at the pile of books gaining height in the lounge I find I am reading far more than before lockdown. I check the TV to see what good programmes I can download and store. There is much to choose from and I have found a local Italian restaurant who will deliver, saves cooking one night a week. Although being inventive with our meals stops mealtime boredom.
When weather permits I can be found in my garden, which has always been a vital area for my wellbeing. I spent a great two hours clearing out my shed and I always value a coffee outside in the garden (or a glass of wine later in the day). I photograph my plants and send photos to as many folks as I know to brighten their day. At least the garden is not in lockdown.
My key points to keep mentally healthy would be to keep communicating with anyone about anything, and if you can adopt some sort of routine. It will add purposefulness to your day until we can all get back to normal.
With many people feeling lonely and isolated due to the measures put in place to protect them from the virus, staying mentally healthy is more important than ever. Independent Age is calling on the Government to ensure people in later life are given access to mental health support, which must be available over the phone as well as online so that those without internet access can get the support they need.
Read Independent Age’s advice on staying safe and well during the COVID-19 outbreak.