Jigsaws, knitting, family & walks: Keeping mentally fit during the pandemic

These strange times have been different for all of us, from going into lockdown, knowing when to brave the outside again, and thinking about what the ‘new normal’ future will look like post COVID-19 pandemic.

Here Dawn Alston from Tameside shares what life in lockdown had been like for her, how she has been keeping herself mentally fit but what has also been a struggle – not least missing cuddles from the grandchildren.

Lockdown for me started quite early on after the announcement of the Covid19 virus hitting our shores. Since finishing work prematurely on June 18 2013 on mental health grounds, it took me at least two years to fit back into society again where I was able to go out unaccompanied, but I kept this very local, to the shops and for the odd walk.

I still suffer the uncertainty of leaving my surrounding area alone and much prefer to have someone with me for company and security. I am not confident in travelling by car alone anywhere out of Greater Manchester, so it’s a good job that I have a supportive husband and a caring family, with lovely grandchildren – they are my life!

A couple of years back I followed my husband’s lead and started volunteering, locally, at our church in the day-centre and at our doctors, as a practice champion, supporting lonely and isolated people by having a cuppa and a chat and going for walks in the local park – just a bit of company for them.

Having said all this, in March I was confronted with the announcement from our Government that I was to stay inside my home, not see my family, and only to go out for essentials. This is far worse than I had imagined and I was, to say the least, scared of going out of my front door anywhere for fear of “Catching the Covid”! The volunteering stopped, as both the day-centre and doctors closed its doors, with the doctors doing pre-arranged visits only.

What am I going to do now?

Fortunately, my son-in-law works nightshift for a large supermarket chain and he immediately jumped to my rescue by offering to do our weekly shop for me – I am blessed by a caring family.

With the shopping sorted, what am I going to do all day when I should have been out volunteering? I’ve had a few hobbies that I have dabbled in and out of in the past, knitting, cross-stitch, therapeutic colouring, jigsaws, and reading, so I started spending more time on these.

My husband scoured the internet to purchase some more jigsaws for me (and even bought a couple for himself!) and I found a knitting pattern online for a child’s cardigan to make, as I had a quantity of wool sitting there waiting to be transformed into something – I don’t yet know who the cardigan is for, it all depends on which of my five grandchildren it will fit!

Routines have always played a part in my life, which came from when I was a child organising my dolls into a classroom of children and giving them work to do! This continued into my workplace, not the dolls, but the routine, although I was now working in a classroom full of real children! So, now confined to the perimeter of my home I developed a good daily routine that would fill each day.

A typical day: Get up – Breakfast including a pot of tea – Wash the pots – Shower and get dressed – Leisure time – Coffee – Garden or Cleaning (weather dependant) – Dinner – Wash the pots – Leisure time including a walk – Coffee – Leisure time – Tea (on the BBQ if it’s not raining) – No pot washing this time, as my husband does these after tea – Coffee – Leisure time including TV catchup – Bed.

In between all this, we had internet videos with our two daughters and grandchildren. This was ever-so-strange, as they live very close to us (sometimes too close!) and I didn’t get my Grandma cuddles that I am used too – we generally see at least one of our grandchildren each day, but lockdown stopped all that and, to be honest, this was the thing that was really tearing me apart inside. Being hampered by mental illness for so many years, it is my family and close friends that have really helped me get through life in my new normal, but lockdown had taken this normal to a very new level and I hate it.

I had so much to look forward to this year, holidays booked, birthday celebrations planned, theatre visits, and spending more time out with friends for lunch. This was all postponed or cancelled. We managed to move all our holiday to the same time next year and our theatre tickets are waiting for the re-scheduling later this year (hopefully).

With the relaxation of the rules in lockdown, I can go for regular walks in the fresh air to local beauty spots and visit National Trust properties again (except inside the buildings, which are still shut). We have found some lovely walks in Greater Manchester that, I’m sure I wouldn’t have done prior to lockdown, but, more importantly, I can now see and cuddle my family again, which has brought a beaming smile back to my face. Oh, and I’ve been shopping again for the last three weeks to the delight of my son-in-law – only joking, he is such a love.

As I move through this strange time, I think we will all see new normal, and I’m really worried about a second wave of Covid19, as I see and hear more evidence of people ignoring the rules on social distancing. I understand people’s frustration, but we must all do our part to keep everyone safe and well. We have lost so many dear people to this dreaded virus that we don’t want this to continue for much longer.

Finally, I am lucky that I have a husband at home with me and that I share my life with wonderful family and friends, and my mental health is getting back to “my normal!” I really feel for those who are alone in isolation and it must be awful for them during lockdown, but if one positive has come out of this, it is that we have all been keeping an eye on them, and offering to pick up a few bits of shopping when necessary to save them struggling, which gives us the opportunity to chat for a bit – let’s hope this continues!



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