I’ve been self-isolating but not just from the corona virus but from the news. The endless cycle of mistruths, disturbing nationalism, moral panic, internet trolls, and outright lies had begun to have an effect on my mental health at some point during the last general election.
So it was a logical act of self preservation to stop reading, watching or listening to the news altogether about 4 weeks ago. The constant corona death count, the ridiculous 5G conspiracy crap, and lazy journalism offered a heady and toxic mix that was a real threat to my mental well-being. Anyone who is familiar with anxiety or stress will know what I mean.
Everything can quickly get out of balance especially when all of your well-being routines are thrown into disarray due to a global pandemic.
Matt Haig describes it well in his brave and brilliant book Notes on a nervous planet.
“When it comes to our minds, awareness is very often the solution itself.”
You have to check in with yourself regularly, always aware of your triggers, and mindful of what you need. The correlation between social media, 24 hour news, and mental health is also well established.
Again Haig is helpful in highlighting the dangers of unchecked social media usage.
“Justin Rosenstein, who invented the ‘Like’ button on Facebook, has said the technology is so addictive his phone has a parent-control feature to restrict his use of social media.”
However as a writer a complete news blackout left me facing a dilemma. If I cut myself off from everything completely how do I comment or reflect on current events, how do I create art, how do I engage with my colleagues?
The answer as always is balance. I need to know some facts about corona to keep myself and my family safe, in my professional life I’ve recently had to write some emergency guidance for young people worried about domestic abuse during lockdown. It’s therefore vital I know some things, I just don’t need to know ALL of the things ALL at the same time.
So I turned off the notifications on my phone and I allowed myself a weekly look at the news via one or two carefully selected outlets (it’s always important to cross reference your sources people).
The answer as always is balance
This keeps me informed but also in control. It forms part of how I deal with the lockdown, part of the new routine that helps me cope, helps me maintain balance and still be an accessible father and husband, an available friend and a capable key worker offering help and support to vulnerable people even in lockdown.
It was during my weekly news dip that I came across two articles that brought into acute focus the increasingly obvious fact that corona is having a devastating impact on the most vulnerable. It is showing the scale of how badly we have treated our most vulnerable for years, the chronic under-funding of social care and the most deprived areas of the country. It is the case it would seem in many places across the world.
The first article was about a footballer feeling harassed by social media due to him breaking lockdown advice. But buried within the article is a casual line about how it wasn’t the first time he broke lockdown rules. The first time was when he invited sex workers to his house for a “sex party”.
I read to the end of the article waiting to come across the discourse about a highly paid professional footballers attitude towards women, or some critique of the misogyny of privileged men treating women as something to be consumed, but I waited in vain.
There was nothing, not even a reference to whether the footballer would face criminal charges. Nothing on the fact that quite often it is the sex worker who is arrested, nothing about how sex workers often have drug dependency or have been abused or exploited. The Nelson Trust who work to offer help and support to sex workers has this to say on the subject.
“In the past, sex workers have been fined by police for soliciting. Criminalisation of sex working women is unhelpful as it does not address their underlying needs or trauma. Now, they’re able to work with our Sex Worker Outreach Workers. This gives the women increased opportunity. We really do support them towards positive change.”
There was also no criticism of the footballer having put the sex workers at risk from the virus. But why would he care and why would the newspaper? These individuals are invisible to society, not human, just statistics or added titillation for the story about the poor multi-millionaire getting shit on twitter.
I’d like to be clear here, I’m being overly dramatic for effect because I don’t condone him getting shit on twitter, and the fact he’s a multi- millionaire doesn’t mean he is “fair game.” I’m just trying to make a point about the treatment of the most vulnerable. That’s why I’m not going to name the footballer, if you want to find him online it will be easy enough for you to do.
The second article was about the effect corona is having on the Navajo nation. The average age of people affected amongst the Navajo is 45 compared to 66 for the wider US population. Again this is down to years of this group being ignored, another invisible populace, under funded and ill-treated for hundreds of years.
They have a higher level of diabetes and lung disease and a lack of healthcare. Forty percent don’t even have access to clean running water. All this in the USA, the most developed nation in the world.
Hopefully there will be a time to reflect on this, after all this is over, and my sincere hope is that there might be some real social change as a result. I hope and pray that we might all start asking questions of our leaders, questions like, how did you let this happen? I hope even more that we might start getting some answers.
But for now we must take care of each other and remember the importance of taking care of ourselves both physically and mentally.
Iyyikowa – it means serving those in need.
To end on an uplifting note I return to the Navajo nation and news that there is a large proportion of Irish donations to their corona fundraising efforts. This is down to a bond that dates back to 1847 when during the Irish famine the Choctaw tribe, having endured a forced 600-mile trek that left thousands dead from hunger, cold and disease, somehow rustled up $170 to send to the Irish.
The Irish it seems have never forgotten this humbling act of generosity. The Choctaw nation were unsurprised by the Irish act of kindness towards the Navajo and Hopi people and had a special word of thanks to share to all those that donated.
Iyyikowa – it means serving those in need. It is a word we could all take heed of right now.