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Lockdown Prescriptions : Mental Well-being Part 3 Routine Changes

by Dakshina Gammanpila

Lockdown rolls on, the pattern of the week becomes blurred as one day bleeds into another. I asked a friend of mine who is in hospital, how her weekend was going and she responded ‘Oh is it the weekend? I had no idea.’ And having a sense of humour added ‘too many drugs!’ All of us, to a greater or lesser extent, are living in the torpor of a semi-drugged state, fuelled by exhaustion and questions and the unremitting sameness – no one to meet, nowhere to go, yet so much time.

It says a great deal about our state of mind when the edge of a cyclone clipping the city brought a modicum of contrast. Our hearts go out to those who have been hit by a storm within the storm of Covid in other parts of India. What a bitter blow to strike at an already wounded nation. One wonders what else Nature’s wrath has in store. How to combat this feeling of malaise that threatens to uproot us like trees in cyclone Tauktae’s path? Take heart, a break in the clouds may be provided by a number of strategies to.let in much needed air and light, one of which is understanding the importance of structure. 

I have always pushed back at the idea of structure, it has never sat well with me. I equate routine with growing old: having set things at set times sets my teeth on edge. My professional life mirrored that early on.  I relish spontaneity and variety, not knowing what the day would hold – different venues, cases, faces. I recognize that others would find that daunting or abhorrent, but for me it was ambrosia. So when I began my apprenticeship in the High Court in London on a building case in its fourth month, I thought I would die of boredom. Unending expert witness testimonies; day after unaltered day of doors and walls and floors in all their minutiae. Hardly high drama; but to my surprise, I learned about buildings, which in turn enabled me to renovate my own house, having acquired a modicum of knowledge and experience to communicate with building contractors. What was this young, brown, single woman doing speaking in technical terms about fixtures and foundations? Routine has its benefits.

I am seeing that now full force, the necessity for order, or at least an order. When I became a mother for the first time one of the things it taught me was the power of infinite patience and I surprised myself. The motivation for turning the routine into something special was provided by my all-consuming love for my baby daughter. It elevated everything, each task even if perceived as ordinary was tinted in a different hue. I was more than willing to take a break from my professional career to devote to her. No doubt someone might have done a ‘better’ more thorough job,  but no one would have performed it with more love. Love does indeed change everything, shifting it from the professional to the entirely and utterly personal. When my son was born that love and patience was doubled.

The basic desire for digging deep to alleviate concerns requires us to step back from the storm and sometimes to step right into the eye where things are calmer. For a teenager to learn that they are living at the epicentre of a global pandemic, after an already harrowing year the world over, is tough to say the least. To allay those fears, when they are shared by people far and near, is hard. So I fall back on simple routine and the here and now.The structure of our days in lockdown centres around the predictable routine ordered by the school day. 

Mealtimes have to be taken in the scheduled lunch recess, I check in with them and try to plan my work around their day. That small window for lunch is a window nonetheless – a literal break from the routine to let in the air and light, which is simultaneously integral to it. We eat together when we are able, meetings and calls permitting. The light flooding the house in these times of lockdown is what I give thanks for every day. How it changes as the hours pass also gives a structure bringing in the observation of Nature that I wrote about in Autumn last year and is a recurring theme for me.

Remembering the springs and summers of my childhood and having time to breathe or contemplate. During the longer evenings I would ride my bike in the garden, a route carrying me under apple trees, on down a path that sloped circuit after circuit. Passed the kitchen garden at the back, the long old-fashioned heated greenhouse, a host of traditional fruit trees espaliered along the Victorian red brick wall. I would alight at my swing and have my time of solitude with a transistor radio playing the latest Top 40 hits, the lyrics of which I knew by heart. A carefree innocent routine. 

My daughter has an inordinate amount of schoolwork in her Junior year, in England we would call it 6th Form, the penultimate year of school. More hours than the workplace, which I find mildly appalling, she seems to have little time for reverie or to muse like I did. My son being younger has less pressure and consequently more time. He set himself a routine in lockdown beyond school which he followed. I admired that, particularly as I balked from routine, where we coincide is wanting to get work finished to go out and do other things. We are all programmed differently and need to respect that even more during lockdown, restrictions and curfews when going out seems but a long forgotten dream.

I spoke about the importance of reaching out and communicating in the last ‘Prescriptions’ and took some of my own medicine. It is always wonderful to connect with female girlfriends from different points in my life. The past week has been punctuated by fabulous exchanges. One of my dearest friends and I had the realization that our daughters, although 6 years apart, have a bond that to quote her  ‘thrills my heart’.

And the ripples spread outwards. My professor sought me out via the fabulous editor at Mangoli who, lovely friend that she is asked is this a genuine inquiry? Yes I assured her it was.To receive a message on my birthday from certainly one of the best mentors I have had was a delight. He forwarded an electronic copy of my PhD thesis and said that there was a police surgeons conference coming up and he thought of me. Memories of reading, writing and research flooded back. 421 pages of thoughts and musing, again I marvelled that I once had that discipline. My son scrolled down the contents page and whistled his approval. Another life darling boy, all mummies have previous.

Last week he was due to have a ceremony at school for moving up to High School next year. It was online and so very different from that experienced by my daughter (and us 3 years ago) Plans, as we all have found, change drastically. The significant thing was to mark  it, not by dining in a fancy restaurant but together at home. I love to cook; traditional English puddings and desserts I can do, but baking is not my forte – again too much precision for my wayward ways. My son loves citrus cheesecake and so I decided to make him one, fooling him into thinking I was baking to celebrate our wedding anniversary the day before, and managing to throw him off the scent, quite literally, with a sticky toffee pudding after dinner. On what would have been the evening of the ceremony I placed the offering in front of him, something so humble as a baked cheesecake.  Someone could undoubtedly have made it better or more professionally but the smile on his face said everything – as the cliché goes he knew it was baked with love. That simple yet tangible thrill of the heart once again. 

It is a strange phenomenon living within the perfect storm of events that led to and continue the second wave. To find that compounded by an actual storm of monumental proportions, would in other circumstances seem surreal, not now. If  Covid doesn’t get you, Tauktae just might. What an extraordinary marker to herald the 21st week of the 21st year of the 21st century.The old English adage it never rains but it pours, meaning one negative event cascades after another, was never ever more true.

With the current state of affairs I am unsure whether an umbrella or a life raft will suffice – both look flimsy from where I sit. However the storm rains cleared and the carpet of confetti from the blossom in our garden reminded me that there is beauty everywhere, even when things seem broken and battered. Sometimes we have to look inside to create our safety equipment in order to hunker down and ride out the storm. One thing is certain we need structure but not monotony, and that is this week’s Prescription. Be it a nod to the calendar of our lives or conjuring celebrations from thin air to provide a much needed lockdown distraction. Protecting and preserving our mental wellness is paramount. 

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