My Twitter feed seems to be 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 coronavirus really impacting me?
Social isolation: living alone is a huge issue
Being locked inside certainly isn’t easy for anyone. It’s a drag. I live by myself and, not only that, but 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-around – 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 might not be. This 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 six 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 run a marathon. I was walking back from the shops earlier with some heavy shopping bags. What was supposed to be a short five-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 potential 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 one other care leaver abandoned like she. Everyone else has family or at least someone to go home to.
Lack of routine impacts on mental health and wellbeing
Everyone I know who is not care experienced is 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. 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 negative habits just to fill the time..
Tips for coping
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, tidy, exercise, meditate, study, shower, etc. You can add a timetable to this if you would like.
- Meditation! This 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 a daily walk to get some much-needed sunshine and fresh air – and as a sub-point: keep your vitamin D levels in check!
- Exercise at home. There are so many at-home exercises circulating – I’ve even heard one of the Hemsworth brothers have a free six-week subscription to their exercise plans, as well as Davina McCall who is offering four free weeks.
- Chat with your friends. Remember you’re not the only person stuck at home, your friends are too. Set up a video call with them on WhatsApp, Facetime or House Party. Catch-up, play some games, maybe try out a quiz together.
- 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, have a look on Google.
- Self care. Whip out those cucumbers and face masks! Relax, and try to enjoy this time away from the busy world now and again. 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 make-up. It is a way to be supported, offer support and, most importantly, interact with people.
Advice for professionals: reach out
If you are a charity worker/social worker etc. and looking to support care leavers at 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 shopping, etc. If a young person is in isolation, put them in contact with someone who can help. Use video calls when possible. Utilise online platforms such as Zoom or Skype to run sessions. 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 sending a little care package containing some food 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, another care leaver and I are about to begin a podcast discussing these exact things. Hopefully, we will also see some guests come on from different professions!
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!”.
If you’re reading this and are feeling lonely and need someone to talk to, Childline have information on their website, as well as a support line which you can call and chat to someone with. There’s also the Samaritans if you’re a little bit older.