Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Grace and Paul

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Grace and Paul, who almost ended up on lockdown in Lisbon. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

Lockdown happened on my Birthday.

My boyfriend and I had just returned from a five day trip in Lisbon which had been planned for months; Portugal and all other parts of Europe had started their lockdown before the UK and we were well aware we were lucky to have been even able to fly at all. On the first night we arrived, we heard about all bars and restaurants being closed in neighbouring Spain and, sure enough, the following day Portugal followed suit. Don’t get me wrong, we still had a lovely time away, but we spent the vast majority of it walking up and down deserted streets, and with a curfew of 9pm in place we spent most evenings in our airbnb drinking cheap sangria and eating crisps.

Without the insight of seeing what lockdown actually looked like, I don’t think we would have believed it; police enforcing the curfew and breaking up large crowds of people, long queues outside supermarkets and an eerie atmosphere surrounding the local areas.

Of course, whilst all this was happening in other parts of Europe, the UK were more or less carrying on as usual, except for panic buying a years supply of toilet roll.

We flew home on the 18th March, the whole time wondering what lay in store for us when we returned home, all whilst being very grateful that we were able to get home before all the borders shut. It seemed a lot had changed in those five days away, and it was very strange to return home and for everything to feel unfamiliar and alien. Despite not landing in Bristol airport until the late evening, we drove home via a 24 hour supermarket to stock up, following the advice of our friends and family that the shelves would be bare. In actual fact, we actually bought a four pack of loo rolls home with us from Portugal – the most bizarre souvenir of a romantic break away and a definite bumpy landing back to reality.

The following days were all a bit of a blur; we had intended to go out for the evening for my Birthday with some friends, however this was the day Boris said all pubs and bars would shut and before we had all become more accustomed to keeping in touch with people via Zoom quizzes and “Houseparty” booze-ups. My boyfriend and I had discussed moving in together whilst away on our trip however this became more of a necessity with the announcement that two households were unable to mix, and with all “Man with Vans” also on lockdown, I moved the majority of my worldly possessions (and a highly strung cat) in the back of my Mini from Cardiff to Caerphilly.

Whilst moving in together was most definitely the best decision we both made, the impact lockdown has had has been challenging to say the least. We are both sociable characters; regularly meeting up with friends and family after work and at the weekends, going to the gym 3-4 times a week and usually love nothing more than going out for dinner a couple of times a week with a few G and T’s.

However, without all of those usual activities, and with the added bonus of entertaining a very energetic four year old in the confines of four walls, home schooling and home working it has definitely been tough on occasions.

I have never been more grateful for my job as a nurse and being physically unable to work from home; continuing to attend my shifts on a regular basis has been the only slice of “normality” I have been able to enjoy over the past three months, and as you can imagine, it has been anything less than normal.

I cannot take any credit for caring for those desperately unwell with Covid, however, the whole hospital has been shuffled around and has borne the brunt of this virus. My colleagues and I spent the initial few weeks discussing on a frequent basis the general feeling of “impending doom” and our workload changed massively. I work as a Mental Health Nurse in the Emergency Department and for the first few weeks the A&E department was like a ghost town. It was a very surreal situation to log in to the system at work and see ZERO patients in the unit.

It was eye opening to see exactly how mis-used A&E is on the whole; people with stubbed toes can miraculously manage at home on their own when there’s a global pandemic to contend with who would usually demand an ambulance and an X-Ray.

Fast-forward twelve weeks and it is most definitely no longer a ghost town. The impact of lockdown on Mental Health is now clearly rearing its ugly head and my fellow mental health colleagues and I will be fighting this virus for a while to come, even when the number of reported cases continue to fall. An increase in alcohol and substance use and a decrease in social contact and support is a recipe for disaster when it comes to your mental health and the number of people we are seeing who are seriously unwell when they have previously had no issues with their mental health is astonishing.

On a more positive note, the virus seems to have made everyone pull together and I have never previously felt such a strong sense of community spirit and gratitude for working in the NHS. Socially distanced street parties, exchanging puzzles, toys and DIY items that are no longer needed amongst other local residents have become the norm. Not to mention the “Clap for Carers” and the sheer volume of donations of PPE, Scrub Bags and food from local hotels and restaurants has been astounding.

If we can take anything away from the devastating impact that lockdown and the pandemic has had on both our physical and mental health, it’s that we are all in this together and will hopefully make us all appreciate the little things when normality returns. Whenever that may be.

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