365 days later: looking after your mental wellbeing on the frontline
A frontline NHS worker shares their difficult experience of the pandemic and what has helped them cope.
It has been just over a year since the 23rd March 2020, when the first national lockdown was announced across the UK. Since then, life has felt a bit like Danny Boyle’s ‘28 Days Later’ – streets empty, people wearing masks, struggling to find toilet roll and other essentials. Basically, take the zombies out of it and you have yourself a global pandemic. However, like the unfurling of the Hello banner at the end of the film, there is now hope and a way out in sight.
I started the pandemic as a 3rd year student nurse, before diving in to the deep end to qualify on a Covid-19 ward. In September, as the second wave was coming in, I started as a staff nurse on an acute medical assessment unit so have seen how different teams have been able to support each other throughout this past year.
I absolutely adore my team. Not just my fellow nurses, but everyone: the cleaners, consultants, porters and physios have all made it a little bit easier. Sometimes all it takes is a masked-covered smile in the corridor.
On my first day working as a staff nurse, I held a man's hand as he passed away next to me. I had experienced death throughout my training but not like this - masses of people passing away without their loved ones. It’s a privilege to be these patients’ final champions and it has given me a passion for palliative care, but the effect it’s had on me and my colleagues is astronomical. They say you cannot process trauma if you are still living through it and I think the long-term impact is still to come. I have never seen my colleagues so tired as after this relentless and exhausting year.
While there are only so many video call quizzes, lockdown-sanctioned walks and banana breads you can bake, taking time for yourself and seeing the people you love is critical. I tried a number of self care approaches before I found what worked for me. I tried mindfulness; it did not work. I lost my motivation to go running. I couldn’t find the concentration to sit and read a book. Then I found my passion for cooking. The preparation and cleaning is therapeutic and the tangible (and hopefully edible!) dish at the end gives me a sense of accomplishment. As the world begins to get back to normal, it’s important to appreciate the little things that got us through.
It is important to speak to those around us, but sometimes asking for help can be hard. Whenever you need support, you can text the word ‘FRONTLINE’ to 85258 to speak anonymously to a trained volunteer. It’s free and confidential and there will be someone at the other end of a text message at any time of day or night.
As the weekly inspirational quotes my mum sends me say: ‘after the storm, the sun must shine’. The weather is getting warmer, the sun sets later and a large proportion of the UK population has had their first dose of the vaccine. Nursing applications are up by a third, Dr Alex George has had £79 million approved for youth mental health - and there are no zombies.
If you’re an NHS worker and need support, our experienced volunteers are here to listen. Text FRONTLINE to 85258 to start an anonymous and confidential conversation.