Sometimes, our lives can change beyond recognition in a moment. Nancy Buckland Kirk writes about how hers did and shares what she’s learned after spending almost 20 years on her own personal lock-down…
It’s a bit of an odd time, to say the least. I am sure about now the reality of being quarantined is beginning to hit. It’s not all fun online workouts and potato painting but a very stark reality: unless you are leaving the house to be a key worker, or to do the most vital shopping to get a few essentials in, you are marooned at home. It might feel like time for checking out greener grass. If you are at home alone, you will want some company. If you are in a house full of people, then you’ll want some space. Luckily, technology enables us to stay close, but it’s not quite the same as before. Looking back to the pre-COVID 19 glory days, how many times were you actually going out to meet friends, though? I hope that when all this is done, WhatsApp groups get shelved for quaint coffee shop meet ups. And in local ones, not just chain stores.
I digress. I am sure you understand. I bet right about now your mind is wandering all over the show, too. However, while I am no expert I thought it might help to talk about what it is like to find your life turning on a penny. Mine did, and not because of a newly imported virus. When I was just 32, back when I was a busy teacher, enjoying life in every way, I contracted viral meningitis. While it is not in the same league as the other strain, it can be very nasty. As someone healthy and fit I was hoping I would make a swift recovery. However, three months later I was still lying in a dark bedroom, back at home with my parents, being fed with a spoon. My hair fell out in huge clumps, a lot of my teeth crumbled and I lost nearly three stone in weight.
The recovery I thought would happen never came. That was nearly 18 years ago, and my life as I knew it changed forever. I could not return to teaching, and my home and then my car had to go. As much as I was close to my parents, it was difficult being back at home. My mum had only just retired and was looking forward to holidays and rest and time with the family. What she got was someone who needed 24/7 care.
It was my dad who kept me going during the most difficult times, and a few good friends, too. There was no social media then, so it was mainly box sets, books and magazines that kept my mind going. I can fully admit that I was envious when I used to see people on TV doing the most simple of things, or knowing that my friends were having a meal out. I had gone from running an Economics department in a great school, where my days were full on, to virtually no social contact at all. I spent about 22 hours of each day on my own. I know this because I kept a record. Once a teacher and all that…
I was diagnosed with two neurological disorders and a host of other issues piled on top of them. My mental state was, quite often, appalling, but it was a Catch 22. Physical doctors had few answers, and mental health specialists could not help with my body deteriorating. Hang on, I’m not helping everyone’s mood with this, am I?
Here is the simple message though: I survived. My new normal is so different. I can’t drive. I can’t go out alone. The list is endless. But I lived to tell the tale and discovered many other gifts hiding under other rocks. Ones that I would never have turned over had my situation remained the same. Because of the timing of everything that happened, my teaching career ended alongside my hopes of settling down and having children.
However, here is what I have learned after nearly two decades of quarantine:
- Don’t stay in your pyjamas. It might be a novelty now, but in three weeks it may feel like the norm and your wardrobe will suffer. You will actively seek out elasticated waists. They are the end of human hope.
- Give up the dream, and find a new one. I hope you keep your job if you love it. I couldn’t keep mine but a chance meeting and a conversation led to me working from home for many years, running the social media platforms for a great beauty brand. I did manage to get out sometimes to work-related events, and I was now active in a field I really enjoyed. I also met the team from His & Hers.
- Start to recognise people around you who need assistance. Back in my glory days, I was too busy working and spending daft amounts of money on clothes to really understand that there were vulnerable people everywhere, who had neither luxury. Now, I see an invisible army of people who are not all standing tall. It actually brings out your kinder side, and the help and recognition beats any handbag. And I do love a handbag, still.
- Get some Vitamin D. It’s really, really important. Clearly, don’t have a barbecue and invite everyone you know, but a brisk walk or a trot around the garden does wonders.
- Talk. It’s great that we have a ‘we are all in it together’ attitude, but I also know people are really worried for their futures. And while I am no Martin Lewis, I can tell you this: periods like this really do end, and things really do get better in time. All economies rebuild in time. It’s human nature to want to recover and innovate.
So many of you will have got to know neighbours you have never met, just by making contact in some way. You will hopefully be in touch with loved ones as much as possible. I will have to stay at home for 12 weeks but I already know that’s fine with me. Personally, I have found that people who I am close to have been in touch a bit more. My husband, who usually works long hours, is at home for the foreseeable future and while we are experiencing chore wars, we have also been talking about life, and the future and hope. I can honestly say that last week was the best, and yet most unpretty week we have ever had.
My wish is that for everyone who reads this, if you get out of this crisis with your health still intact, enjoy your life to the full but also remember that all of the vulnerable people who need help now will still need it then. People who are isolated for any reason will have taken heart from offers of every kind, and from the wonderful army of volunteers in the UK who are on hand to assist them and, most importantly, to check in and chat.
While my life changed one day, I kept living it. I got married, a lot later than anyone expected, but it was the best thing I ever did. My existence is physically smaller, but my world expands whenever it is possible to reach out. I have rediscovered my love of writing, and while I do miss teaching, I’m not quite sure I would want to go back to boring teenagers rigid about the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement. At least then, I had youth and a full wardrobe from Karen Millen on my side. Now I’d be a has-been in a cardi.
Whatever happens in life, if you survive anything then you have a shot. It might be painful, and different, and limiting in its own way, but it’s just a fresh path with new discoveries. If we are all going to be at home much longer than we first anticipated, I can promise you that freedom will taste all the sweeter for it. And that you will have built memories during this time that can never be repeated. Leave the stresses and strains of it in the recycling.
And wear a good SPF, obvs.
About the author: Nancy Buckland Kirk is a writer with a keen interest in fashion and beauty and a career which has spanned modelling, teaching and spreading the word about leading beauty brands.