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Resilience is key to Gok’s lockdown trauma

Everyone has a story to tell about coping during lockdown. Some were happy to spend time in isolation, others felt desperately lonely. But most learned something about themselves from the unprecedented experience.

TV presenter Gok Wan had a “really, really tough time” during lockdown. So, too, did former Labour Party spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

Gok struggled isolating alone with just his dog Dolly for company and couldn’t stop his thoughts from racing.

He told heat magazine: “I hated it and I still hate it. I hated having my liberty taken away from me.”

He wasn’t a fan of video calling, either. However, despite his struggles, the ‘Say Yes to the Dress Lancashire‘ presenter did take some positives from the experience.

He said: “I’ve basically got four full-time jobs so I was so tired and so busy all the time. Then, all of a sudden, my world stopped. I couldn’t use work as a form of escapism, so I had to sit and think and analyse what was going on in my world.

Alastair Campbell struggled during lockdown

“I’d always had this slight hang-up of not being intelligent enough. I’ve tried my hardest to be an expert in different areas because I wanted to prove to people that I have a brain.

“But, weirdly, lockdown helped in a way. It taught me to sit down and read every newspaper religiously. I watched documentaries and I formed an opinion about coronavirus.”

He also started cooking and delivering food to neighbours.

Time out also made him realise he didn’t need to worry about being single.

He added: Living alone, I didn’t need to answer to anyone else and I can do what I want to do. Before lockdown, I would probably have spent the whole time saying, ‘Arrrrghhh! Why am I still single?’ But I haven’t got any of that stuff going on now, I’m just really grateful I can see my mates.”

Before lockdown, I would probably have spent the whole time saying, ‘Arrrrghhh! Why am I still single’?

Similarly, Alastair Campbell suffered one of his darkest episodes during the last few weeks of lockdown.

He told a BBC documentary: “The truth is in this one, in this last one, I have had a lot of suicidal ideation, which does happen. It comes on you and you get to a point of thinking, ‘there really is no point to living because death must feel better than this’.

“Now, I am pretty sure I would never do that but you certainly have those feelings and when you are like that, you don’t think there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“You only feel the light at the end of the tunnel when it begins to lift.”

He said exercise, eating well, sleeping well and keeping his family close have all helped him through the dark times.

David Lammy, the Labour MP, said he has had several really low bouts.

“I do find that being open about it has really, really helped me,” he said.

Interviewing other people about depression also opened his eyes to how many people are battling similar issues.

“That revealed to me, ‘God, I’m amazed, Jeff Stelling says he is struggling; Nicola Sturgeon says it is really going to change her; David Lammy, the Labour MP, said he has had several really low bouts.

“That showed me that at least I am not on my own with this – and that helps.”

Mersey Care assistant psychologist Jack Newton

Lockdown has demonstrated to Gok, Alastair and scores of others that they have an ability to cope when the going gets extremely tough – they’re resilient.

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. But, as much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.

Mersey Care assistant psychologist Jack Newton works with patients who have experienced extreme traumas in their lives, often as children. He recently wrote an article about coping with trauma for The Psychologist on the subject.

He feels that as a nation we should adopt what clinicians call a trauma informed approach to help people heal and move forward from the pandemic.

Here, rather than offer direct therapy or interventions, the focus is on creating safe environments and highlighting the importance of relationships to help build resilience.

“People are suffering what we call vicarious trauma. They may not have had direct contact with COVID-19, but by watching the news, for example, they can be affected,” he says.

Although we’re facing the same situation we react differently, often based on our previous life experiences.

“Someone who spends a lot of time with others may find being alone during lockdown difficult. They might not have resilience in that area. Whereas another person in a similar situation might have had experience living a fairly solitary life, so may have already built up resilience because of their previous circumstances”, says Jack.

The key principles of a trauma informed approach to caring for someone is to restore their sense of safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, empowerment and attend to intersectionality. COVID-19, he says, has compromised each of these in many of us.

“Our sense of individual and collective safety has been removed. Our choice of control over our daily lives has been lost, along with our sense of empowerment, all in a pervasive feeling of powerlessness.

“Trustworthiness may have been damaged in the government’s handling of certain aspects of the pandemic, while some minority groups in the UK have suffered more than others, particularly the Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community, undercutting ‘intersectionality’.”

People are invited to each draw a tree where roots, trunk, leaves etc. represent their own origins, experiences and emotions.

Jack uses a Tree of Life model as an example for us to recognise that we are the authors of our own lives, and to change our stories of trauma and loss into a story of resilience.

People are invited to each draw a tree where roots, trunk, leaves etc. represent their own origins, experiences and emotions.

Jack explains how the pandemic has affected our own Tree of Life. “During lockdown the ground under that person’s ‘tree’ has been shaken by a fundamental change in their daily lives. Likewise, their ‘branches’ may be troubled, in that their hopes and wishes for the future are now uncertain – they may not be able to see an end to their hardships. Leaves may have fallen from their trees if they have lost family members or friends to the virus.”

“By coming together to form our ‘Forests of Life’, people can acknowledge that, even though we are not out of the woods yet, we are collectively building our resilience to be in the best position possible to weather any future storms.”

This article appears in MC, the magazine of Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust. To read click here.

Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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