A Pubic Servants View
In part one was a timeline of one year under the Covid regime we have all endured. The link to it is here
The following is an interview I conducted with a public service professional, although their occupation is immaterial, on their thoughts on how the year was. One year on from the first time Covid19 appeared front and centre in the public consciousness.
I asked my interviewee to think back to one year ago, when the first death was announced in a Paris hospital. What went through their mind?
I remember I was sat on the sofa, feeling extremely anxious. I was panicking. I thought we were about to die with this disease. I was really frightened, and that was a year ago.
Was there a mention of a pandemic at that point, or hadn’t the narrative got to that point?
It had got to that point. We were all working from home so yes, it was a pandemic. They mentioned pandemic. That was the word that was used.
OK, so how did things progress from there?
Well…. I was then working from home. As a public servant, we were all told to work from home. There was the stress of running a busy department that still had to operate in Covid, so that was another added worry on top of my own anxiety. This was a concern of were we going to be safe? It was around a time of great uncertainty. Because all of a sudden you couldn’t see your family, and you were literally….. confined to your house. So it was a very, very frightening time.
How did you feel when all the bulletins were coming on the news?
Even more anxious, and now in hindsight, my mental health was very slowly beginning to deteriorate.
So did it make you more worried when you heard of the figures of all the deaths and the latest cases?
Yes it did initially, and I didn’t want to go out anywhere, I was becoming frightened to leave my home.
There were also the regular press releases from 10 Downing Street featuring Boris, Hancock and the governments scientific advisers weren’t there.
Yes. I watched them initially at the start. But before long I realised these were making my mental health and my anxiety worse. So, coupled with the daily updates in my home through news channels, I was also dealing with the updates in a work sense. Leading a team. So it was a double whammy for me. So a few weeks in, I made the conscious decision not to watch the daily updates on the news. And…. Very much limit my time on social media at that point. But you couldn’t help but be drawn in when notifications came up, whether it was listening to the radio, glancing at the phone screen. There was always something, that was Covid related. It was a time of huge anxiety and huge worry. ‘Was I and my family going to be safe’ was constantly running through my mind.
And how did you feel when you saw posts, memes, comments on Facebook? Could you scroll past it? Ignoring it. Or did it draw you in?
Not initially no. initially it drew me in, because Covid was the big unknown. Because we all had to know what we had to do to keep safe from it. So initially I was drawn in and read or watched everything. Sometimes I repeatedly did this, watching the news again on catch up channels!
Why did you you do that?
In case I missed anything. I didn’t want to miss anything in case it was important. In case it would affect mine and my families safety.
I see. Were there any milestones in your year of Covid. Any key moments that stick in your mind? Lever points if you will. What stood out?
In the early stages you mean?
At any time really. Any time in this year.
What stood out for me was the statistics. The constant bombardment of statistics. It was relentless. That was the thing that kept worrying me more than anything really.
Did you feel under any pressure, one way or the other? Did you think you were looking forward to a vaccine. A ‘cure’. Or did you think ‘there is no way I’m having a vaccine, for any number of reasons? Or were you undecided? Ambivalent even.
As soon as there was talk of a vaccine, Boris was talking of a vaccine as being a way out of this, I initially thought there is no way I’m having this. This is no where near the length of time for checking and testing. For making sure it was safe and everything. So initially I was very much against it. I thought ‘Well, they can sort a vaccine but I will not be having it’….
And then… coupled with that… there was even more anxiety over would I be forced to have it? That was an added burden for me. I am certainly not an anti anti-vaxxer but I was gravely concerned over the length of time this vaccine had been developed.
What changed your mind, or conversely, what didn’t change your mind?
I think over the past year, or certainly since December, when they said the vaccine was ready, at that point I was still unsure. It worried me that some people thought it was to be the be all and end all. That life would get back to normal- I still don’t believe that it will. We all have a responsibility to work to get back to normal. It will be the vaccine plus other things that will get life back to normal. (Whatever normal means). And I think that the vaccine is a very important support in fighting Covid. It is there as a tool. It is there as a tool to support the country, and the world, to get back to some sort of normality.
I can remember my elderly mother being offered the vaccine, around December, and I remember being incredibly stressed and worried. Is she going to be OK? Will this be the thing that gets her? Was it safe. I remember ringing her constantly checking she was still okay.
She had it and she was fine. I don’t think she even had a side effect! It was at that point I thought there is more to this vaccine. There is more of a responsibility we have, as people, to look at the opportunity that has been given us regarding a vaccine.
OK. Before December, there was footage widely circulated on social media and other places, of the deserted hospitals. There was footage of the nurses doing TicTok videos. Other footage shown was of funerals with social distancing being enforced as families said goodbye to their loved ones. What did you think of that? Did it have an effect on you?
I had an experience in the summer when my husband was taken into hospital. That threw me into immense panic. Would my husband be safe? I was restricted in being able to see him. That was awful. When the ambulance came and took him to hospital, I was not even allowed to go with him. It was horrible when the ambulancemen said “I’m sorry, you can’t come with him.” I had to wave goodbye at the door as he was taken away on a stretcher. The ambulance door closed, with him inside, they drove gently off, and then he was gone. The house was so quiet. A deadening silence as I sat on my own. What really did not help me was seeing the NHS nurses acting the idiot on social media. I could see why they were trying to do it. But it didn’t help my faith in the whole process.
Of course in all of this time the figures for depression and suicide went up. It was spoken of on the news as the silent epidemic.
It impacted me a lot. I struggled a lot. I wasn’t suicidal but I struggled with my mental health all through the summer into the autumn. Then of course the nights drew in. Became shorter. It wasn’t directly because of Covid but Covid certainly had an element within my deteriorating mental health. And hearing the figures for suicide, especially young male suicide. It brought home the gravity of what this pandemic and this lockdown is doing to people. From a mental health perspective. The elderly and the infirm I can kind of rationalize in my head, although still so very sad.
But when it comes to the young people, the people that haven’t got an underlying health problem. Then you do notice. And you do worry more about that. Although they are not in the majority, it still happens.
I recall the Queen gave a message to the country. We had Captain Tom who raised all the money for the NHS hero’s. He got an award from the Queen herself didn’t he. Was that a positive thing for you?
Yes it was.
Did that help your mental health or did it work against it?
It helped. Because there was someone who, against all the odds, was walking this distance and raising this money. In all of this, sat in your home, not seeing or interacting with anyone I was focusing inward. I was only focusing inwardly. But when you see something like Captain Tom and what he has achieved, you begin to focus outwardly. You focus on some of the more positive things that were happening within the pandemic.
And there have been some; Spending time in your own home, going for walks, learning to appreciate the simple things in life. These have all been a huge positive, and Captain Tom was one of those.
Did you notice all the TV adverts about all the hobbies you could take up?
I thought that was great actually. It was really positive. Some of the things were really helpful….I even took up knitting again!
And there was the ‘clap for the NHS’
Yeah, I got involved with that initially, then I wasn’t so sure about that in the end. Although there was all the stuff on the TV, saying about hobbies and such like. And all the network companies [ISPs] were promoting the keeping connected online, keeping in touch with relatives and those sort of things. So a lot of it was becoming a lot more positive. That made me feel a little better. If this was going to be the new norm, than at least we had the infrastructure for it to be possible. There was the information out there to enable that. That made me feel less anxious.
And in the background to all of this were the people saying this was all some conspiracy. I heard the phrase ‘scamdemic’ being used to describe it.
They were the people who caused me the most worry. The most stress of anything. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But working in the emergency services I heard first had, unfiltered, what the emergency services were dealing with. So I do know that it wasn’t, it isn’t a conspiracy. I’m not saying the government is being totally honest with their facts and figures but the people saying that its a conspiracy were mostly Anti-vaxxers. They were really quite frightening with some of the comments they were writing. With what they were saying. I even heard that the disposable masks were being impregnated with chemical to affect fertility! It’s on social media everywhere you look. I personally think they are the most dangerous to us all. I’ve got the wherewithal to filter it. To dismiss it. But it still made me anxious to read it. How must that make everyone else feel?
Did that manifest in any of the conversations you had at work? I think you mentioned earlier how you were on a Zoom call, because that’s how meetings are done currently, in the new normal as you put it. Someone said they didn’t want to have the vaccine. How was that taken by others in that conversation?
Ah, yes. They said they were questioning it [the vaccine] and weren’t sure if they were going to have it, they wanted to find out more before they made up their mind. So it was quite an innocent remark. And then somebody said in a quite bullying, confrontational way “Well why wouldn’t you have it. You’ve been offered it, it’s your responsibility to have it.” That, in my opinion, is very very unhelpful. We shouldn’t just be sheep, just hold out our arm and say “Here is my arm, just give it a jab.”
We are right to question, for want of a better word, what we are allowing into our bodies. I’m not saying it’s [the vaccine] is bad, if it keeps us safe then that is good. But we should not treat people who, for what ever reason, are unsure or have made a decision we don’t agree with as bad people. As pariah’s That is wrong. They are entitled to say “No I don’t want the vaccine” as much as I am entitled to say “Yes, I’ll have the vaccine”. We have to be very, very careful of that as a society.
I am not referring to Anti-vaxxers who I put in the same category as conspiracy theorists, I am referring to to people, like I was, who are umming and arring about whether to have the vaccine or not.
OK. Why do you think the topic of whether to have the vaccine or not to have the vaccine is so divisive? Opinion seems to be extremely polarised on this topic.
It is so divisive because, dare I say it, social media has done so much damage! And a lot of people are easily taken in, swept along by all the negativity. There is a place for discussion and debate but there is not a place for causing people so much stress and anxiety because some conspiracy theorist that say that the vaccine has some tag in it that allows Bill Gates to know where we are! You know…. It’s utter bollocks, in my view.
Would it be fair to say that people latched onto social media, and got more from social media, because they had not other outlet for their fears, worries hopes and dreams?
Yes. Yes I do. And I think that is a very good point. It was and is very dangerous. It had it’s positives because it allowed people to keep in touch, but it also had very many negatives. I have personally unlinked with people on my social media platforms because they were getting too ‘conspiracy theorist’. I was seeing it every time on my time line whenever I looked at a screen. I didn’t want that. I wanted to read things for myself, find out things for myself and make my own mind up. I do not want some weird and wonderful conspiracy theorist telling me I’m doomed just because I’m thinking about having the vaccine. And thank goodness I have the intelligence and the social intelligence to do my own research and make my own mind up.
Social media should be monitored. These comments can be very very harmful and they should be taken down. I guess what I’m trying to say is it should be regulated, independently. For clarity I don’t mean regulated to stifle debate, but regulated to stop the ‘anti’ and the dangerous stuff on there.
You are getting into an awkward situation there. Because that comes very close to a form of censorship. Who decides what is to be taken out of the public square and what is permitted to be discussed?
As I said earlier it needs to be independent. It can’t be government and it can’t be the social media companies.
That would be like the police investigating their own officers wouldn’t it.
Yes, it would need to be something like OFCOM or an ombudsman organisation. Who can then have the power if I complain about something that is too much to read, or see, or hear.
And now, now that you’ve had the vaccine, how do you feel about it now?
I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. The journey to this point has been a long one. I’m sure it has for others too. it’s been an up and down one. I’ve spoken to people I trust. People I know will give me honest answers. I’ve done my own research. And as a result of my research I’ve done a personal risk assessment. And for me, it was the right thing for me to have the vaccine.
I think every one should do their own research.
I agree. Everyone should do their own research and they should talk to the people they trust. Get those opinions, both informed and otherwise. I mean I’ve had a vast array of opinions. I’ve listened, I’ve read from the vast resources that are available. Everyone should do that and arrive at a risk assessment that is applicable to their own personal situation. And this needs to focus, in my opinion, on how they want their life to be.
From the start to finish today I have been nervous, I hoped I was doing the right thing, but, when I got to the vaccination centre, I got talking to people. It’s all about conversations.
If you talk to people you will get the information to make your own decision. Of course I was concerned I hoped I didn’t get any side effects. But a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
I feel now, I am on track to personally support the opening up of restrictions. I can walk into a local shop and start doing what I normally did a year ago, feeling as safe as I can feel. Rather than going about those same shops wondering if I will be OK as I haven’t had the jab. I haven’t had the vaccine. That’s obviously not the same for everybody. That’s just how I feel. And I feel better, mentally, for having done it.
Is there anything else you want to add?
No. Just that it has been a very long year!
I Will be talking to members of the public as to how Covid affected them and publishing as interviews anonamized. If you would llike to be involved, please message me via the contact form.