I was initially avoiding making a post like this. I had the idea to create my blog before COVID-19 but, as soon as we all got imprisoned in our homes, I thought let’s make it now to break up the never ending stream of virus related posts. It seems that now a post on the topic could be beneficial. So here is my coronavirus post:
What changed my mind is that, my Twitter feed seems bombarded with questions such as ‘What can we do to help care leavers?’, ‘What struggles are care leavers facing?’, ‘Who is not being heard?’ - and unfortunately people who are completely missing the mark. We are grossly underrepresented in this pained pandemic. So how is this impacting me?
Being locked inside certainly isn’t easy for anyone. It’s a drag. I live by myself and not only that I also have a health condition that puts me in that dreaded ‘at risk’ category. This health condition hasn’t even been diagnosed yet. It is still being investigated by baffled doctors all round – or it was until everything became essential only. I now sit in a state of no medical surveillance with a health problem that could be deadly but also could not. That puts me in a situation where doctors do not have time to investigate or even check up on me. It also puts me in a situation where I do not get the treatment of someone who has a condition that could get me killed. It is an unfortunate no man’s land, population: me.
Living alone means there is no one to care for me if I do get sick. Hell, I even had surgery just 6 weeks ago and I was just as alone then as I am now. I have been suspicious that I have already contracted the virus with only light symptoms. Phew, right? I’m in the clear… surely? Until I started experiencing problems with my breathing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not gasping for breath with the slightest of movement. Instead, I can’t walk too far without feeling like I have just ran a marathon. I was walking back from the shops earlier with some heavy shopping bags. What was supposed to be a short 5 minute walk home was extended to double that with a strong feeling that I was going to faint. Of course I am keeping an eye on my symptoms, I know that because, I am not breathless when stationary, I am not dying – yet.
But that begs the question, what if I do die? My symptoms could dramatically worsen overnight or my un-surveilled cardiovascular problems could strike. There is no one here to look after me or to find me in said deathly state. Living alone is a huge issue. I have no one to help me with shopping or isolating. No one to help me with my loneliness. And that’s it, that is the big issue: I am alone. Most of us care leavers are. I know one person, she is the last one left in her uni halls. Not even a wink of staff or another care leaver abandoned like she. Everyone else has family or at least someone to go home to.
Everyone I know who is not care experienced are currently living with someone. Whether that is their kids, their partner or their family, they have someone. I know some who have moved out from family previously but have moved back in for the duration of this. I sit here alone every night with just my laptop to keep me company. I don’t even own so much as a TV. Other people are on video calls all of the time, maintaining that social contact as much as possible. Many people are reconnecting and speaking with their family members far and wide. I stare at a phone with no notifications – not to mention that this blog stirred up some issues with my biological family, adding to that lack of normal conversations.
And that moves me onto my next point: mental health. If you have spent time in care then something has gone wrong in your life. Chances are, you’ve had one traumatic encounter at a minimum. A common reality for care experienced people is that we live with all of these mental health issues; depression, anxiety, PTSD, attachment disorders… you name it. Day to day life is hard enough but when you’re completely isolated from all that keeps things normal? Ka-boom. Our not-so-friendly-friend depression is the only one who has come to visit. Too many of us are struggling with traumas resurfacing due to the emptiness of our brains. It has to be filled with something. We may not consciously realise this is going on but, on the surface at least, depression and anxiety begin to rise. Lack of routine starts to send us crazy. I have been close to falling back into old drinking and drug habits just to fill the time and feel okay.
I could go on and on about the woes of being a care leaver in a pandemic. The obstacles are endless. It is imperative that we know this is not the end of the world. So, I have compiled a list of tips on what I have been doing to keep myself sane. These can be useful to anyone.
Create a daily routine. I have written a list of things for me to do each day so that there is some organisation and sense to the days. For example, I said: tidy, exercise, meditate, study, shower etc. You can add a timetable to this if you would like.
Meditation!!! It is helping me to get to sleep at night and I am even partaking in a week long series of working on anger. If you are a care leaver, you can get your own free annual subscription to Breethe meditation app (that’s what I did) by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
I cannot stress this enough but get outside! I have started taking walks to shops that are further away to get some much needed sunshine and fresh air – And as a sub-point: keep your vitamin D levels in check!
Exercise. There are so many at home exercises circulating – I’ve even heard one of the Hemsworth brothers have a free 6 week subscription to their exercise plans as well as Davina who is offering 4 weeks.
Learn something. This could be a new language, how to play that dusty guitar you’ve kept in the cupboard forever or even an online course. I am currently doing a psychology course on behaviours in an attempt to learn more about myself. Lots of online platforms offer free courses such as coursera.org, courses.edx.org and open.edu/openlearn/
Self care. Whip out those cucumbers and face masks!! Relax, enjoy this time away from the busy world. Dress yourself up nice and do your makeup, tweeze your eyebrows, shave your legs. Just because we’re in isolation it doesn’t mean we should be neglecting ourselves.
Take up a new hobby or revive an old one. Read a book or make some art.
Join a group on Facebook, there is a group for everything. I am in ones for mental health, physical health and even just things like makeup. It is a way to be supported, offer support and, most importantly, interact with people.
If you are a charity/social worker etc. and looking to support care leavers in this time, reach out. Check in as frequently as you can with those you know are struggling and also those who aren’t. Some people don’t like asking for help or showing that they need it. Offer to help with errand runs like food etc. if they are in isolation or put them in contact with someone who can. Use video calls when possible. Utilise online platforms such as Houseparty and Netflix Party. Run online sessions with Zoom or Skype. Try to get them as involved as possible in what you are doing. If funding permits, help out with data costs and home bills. Even turning up with a little care package with a little bit of food in and other essentials is enough to make anyone feel better. It shows them someone cares.
If you wish to hear more about the issues us care leavers are facing and how we are tackling them, keep an eye on my Twitter space. With the support of a local organisation, me and another care leaver are to begin a podcast discussing these exact things. Hopefully, we will also see some guests come on from different professions! I also have my email contact available on this site if you are in need of advice on how to support care leavers or would simply just like to know more on what it is like.
And remember, no time is better than now to work on ourselves. We have all of the time in the world – quite literally! Use this to your advantage. Try not to look at this situation and only see despair, instead look at it and say “Challenge accepted!”.