Today I feel really sad. I went off to work on a day when many are already either self-quarantined or practicing social distancing, terms which have fast become part of our language the past week or so. I work in a school so whether or not I got to work is not my choice. I have seen and read a lot of criticism of the government and their handling to date, but as an employee of a local council, my terms of service mean that I must wait until told and then I do as I’m told.
While others may have greater flexibility, equally there are those who have less. My daughter is a healthcare worker who will have to continue her shifts until such time as she herself becomes ill. I suppose we all have to accept that our roles in society will determine what we have to do next, and the part that we play in dealing with the effects of the virus which is sweeping our world. I am not in denial as such, but I think that as people who care for others, we have to hide some of the fear that we feel and deny that fear a place.
And I suppose that I am scared – scared and sad. I am scared of the ripples that this will cause on far more than just a health level. And I am sad that so many will be affected, not just by the symptoms of the virus, but by the symptoms that befall our society. I think that possibly, there has been and will be some denial of this. Personally I would like to look close to home, to join those who gather in those who are theirs and isolate or distance themselves from others to try to keep safe.
But I am not at home. And neither are my family. Some of them will not be at home either, and so hoping or wishing for us all to baton down the hatches sooner, is only going to make things more difficult for them. For those who are working in essential services, time could make all the difference. Heavy demand on diminishing resources is something which is more inevitable than deniable and for me, looking beyond my own four walls and my own windows leads me to feel the weight of what I might see.
I have spent the day preparing for what will likely be inevitable – the closure of schools. Although there is no plan as yet, I would think it is more a question of when than if. And when it happens it won’t be for a short time. We are not looking at a couple weeks more Easter holiday, but a period extending for months. For many this will be manageable, but this is not the case for all. While some families will simply home educate, for others this will not be possible.
While part of my role is to teach, a larger part is to provide support for wellbeing. That is not easy when your usual resources are removed and your role becomes remote, virtual, logistically detached from those you work with. The internet has meant that things which would have been inconceivable in the past are now possible but our technology is not set up for using it the way that it might work best. And like I say, while most will get by, my fear is for those who don’t.
What about the young people who have no internet or ICT at home. What happens to them? We live in a rural location so some people don’t have the strength of signal at home to sustain the sort of connection that would be required for online learning. And what about those with family circumstances which are difficult? For some school is their only safe place, an escape from a chaotic and unpredictable homelife, where structure and routine is out of the window. Sitting down to lessons with a plate of muffins will not be the picture in every home.
Routine is also important to those with Autism spectrum condition and those with ADHD. The change in routine for some will be overwhelming and cause anxiety and swings in mood which can’t be managed with the usual strategies. And those with mental health issues will be more isolated, unable to access their usual supports. I feel scared and I feel sad at what the prospect of social distancing is going to do for these young people.
I have also been thinking about those who are vulnerable in other ways. We have pupils who are young carers, who look after their parent, rather than the other way around. Not only is school a lifeline and an escape for these children, it is often the one place where they can be themselves. They will be pushed even further into these adult roles before their time, and for some, will have to nurse their parent to an inevitable end. By the time school resumes, life may have changed forever.
Today as I prepared, there was no denying the way the ripples will reach out and touch the lives of the very people I am trying to protect. How do I equip them for that? How do I support them through it? What is the little that I can do that might be the thing that makes the difference to the few? I know that in many ways lives will be altered and their paths shifted slightly from the way they expected them to be, but how do I help those for whom the impact will be greater than that?
The problem for those in the caring professions is that we care. When you read the charts and the stats and the reports, there are numbers and cases and scenarios. But these are children with whom I have built relationships and that doesn’t stop because I am not in the location where I am expected to be. And so, having done what I can to create spaces online which will offer consistency and routine as this thing moves and shapes as it will, I try to explain in a way which will normalise what is happening.
And there comes the denying. I underplay the way that I feel and the sadness and the fear for how this might turn out for some. I encourage all to get involved in these strange new methods in a way which is jovial and dismissive. I realise that for many them just being there will be supporting the one who really needs it and I want to emphasise the gains without ever mentioning the losses. That is why after a quick make sure you do this if we find we are doing this, it is business as usual.
As I walk back home I feel it again: that weight, that reality. For some reason I think of the animation of ‘When the Wind Blows’ and the innocence and naivety of the older couple as they get ready for the unknown fallout of a nuclear attack. I think of the work of my day: the meetings organised that will never happen, the arrangements made for trips which will never take place, the presentations worked on which will never be seen, and the assessments prepared for which will not be sat. And it all feels like denial.