I am so sick of this pandemic! I think I’ve finally reached breaking point. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve not been able to hug my daughter since Christmas. Maybe it’s the strain of keeping friendships going online or in the great outdoors. Or more likely, it’s the realisation that Grunting Teen was only fourteen the last time he saw his elder brother and soon he’ll be sixteen.
Before I know it, the low-level anxiety I’ve kept in check all these months has escaped and erupted into a full-blown breakdown. I’m sobbing hot, noisy tears and terrifying the life out of the Nearly-Beloved. He can cope with the usual verbal abuse, hysteria and flying saucepans but a crying woman is beyond his capabilities.
‘You’re just tired,’ he tells me ineffectually patting my shoulder, ‘You’ve been working too hard.’
‘But I’ve got no work at the moment. That’s the problem,’ I reply. ‘I’ve got no routine. I’m making it up as I go along. There’s no purpose to my life.’
‘But you do a great job of looking after us,’ he reminds me.
And normally he’d gain Brownie points for being so sweet but I’m suddenly overcome by an irrational fury, blaming him for being so law-abiding that he won’t allow Darling Daughter to step foot inside the house.
‘Why won’t you let her be in our bubble?’ I wail, ‘It’s so unfair. Everyone else is breaking the rules.’
He makes to pat my other shoulder then thinks better of it.
‘I know it’s hard,’ he says, ‘but we’ve got to think of other people not just ourselves. Look it’s only for a little longer. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.’
I sigh. I know he’s right but it doesn’t make me feel any better.
As the Nearly-Beloved makes a swift exit with that British cure-all promise of ‘a nice cup of tea’, Grunting Teen nervously pokes his head round the door.
‘Are you alright, mum?’ he asks, looking at my blotchy face and red eyes, ‘You know, me and dad need you to be our light. Don’t let yourself get dragged into a hole.’
For goodness sake! Is he really parroting back the wise words I spoke to him only last week? And how annoying and unhelpful they sound, when all I want to do is wallow in my misery. Seeing the expression on my face, he too retreats quickly, leaving me to self-indulge in weeping. But after a while all the bawling has given me a headache, my nose is blocked and I’m finding it hard to breathe. Stress lowers your cortisol levels, making you more prone to infection. I need to get a grip quickly or, if I’m not careful, I will have cried myself into Covid.
The tea helps. As does my maternal sense of duty. I’d promised to test Grunting Teen on his History and I know that the PS4 will triumph over revision if I don’t pull myself together. At least I’m luckier than some friends who have to supervise their primary-aged children with home-schooling every day. How they do it and hold down a job as well is beyond me.
And as Grunting Teen rattles off facts and figures about ‘Medicine through the ages’, I find myself feeling relatively fortunate. Do you realise that in the Middle Ages only half the population made it through to adulthood? And when the Black Death was in full force, there was no free health care, antibiotics or ventilators on hand. No, the best you could hope for then, was for a local wise-woman to waft a posy of flowers over you and for a benevolent God to take pity on your soul.
As I leave the teenager to do battle with French verbs, I get a phone call. It’s from a friend I haven’t spoken to in ages. She suffers from chronic fatigue, so we often just text because conversations tire her. But today she’s in good form. Despite her illness she’s been holding down a job and she makes me laugh with some of her ‘behind the work scene’ stories. She lives on her own and has been shielding since the start of the pandemic. As we talk, I realise that she’s had no physical contact with another human being since March 2020 yet she’s still keeping positive.
I’m glad now that this is just a voice call and that she can’t witness the state of my face. Compared to her, I have it so easy. And yes, I’m still sick of this pandemic. But even without the help of leeches and bloodletting I’m going to hang on a little bit longer.