Dear Mr Johnson
You would probably prefer Dear Boris, but we hardly know each other and I am not sure that over familiarity is appropriate right now. This open letter will not be as political as it might be. I do have daily reminders of how poorly we are doing as a country and it would be easy to slip in comparison, analysis and complaint, but I would like to focus on sharing how I have a managed to stay alive, so far, despite your best efforts.
I am shielding and I have been since 15th March. Around that date my girlfriend, who lives in a separate house, manifested all the symptoms of Covid-19. Despite working for the NHS, although not on the front line, it was impossible for her to get tested. We cancelled our holiday, as we were due to depart 16th March and discussed what I should do. Self isolation seemed the wisest option, so we made that decision immediately.
I have a number of health conditions that cumulatively made it quite clear that I was at high risk should a contract the virus, although that was yet to be confirmed officially. In the meantime I decided that I would stay at home most of the time, not visit my girlfriend and do any exercise in the quiet areas that I can walk to from my house. It seemed sensible that as long as I stayed some distance from everyone and did not touch anything, that I could exercise safely. I say this as the advice that came with the first government letter, 24th March, instructed me to stay in the house and not see anyone for 12 weeks. Whilst I understand the physical reasons for this, at no stage did the mental well-being of those self-isolating (as it was still called then) get consideration.
I noticed in that first week or two that my mood was quite up and down. I am a relatively stable guy, but the change and its impact upon my life was a significant shift. Some days were not OK. Fortunately, I have a great relationship with my girlfriend. She had by now recovered and we decided as she was also able to work effectively from home, that it would help our well-being if we lived most of the time together.
At the same time I started to work through my feelings and experiences by creating videos and a free eBook all called Stuck in the House. Both activities gave me a purpose, structure to my days and a feeling that I was helping myself as well as others. Reflecting back now I wonder why this simple advice was not included in your government’s first letter to those of us who were most at risk. Sure you suggested rigid and appropriate social isolation that would work, but by not also recommending strategies (such as developing structure and purpose in our new normal) to cope with the isolation, you left hundreds of thousands of people to cope alone.
I feel that this experience is symptomatic of your government’s approach to this whole crisis. My mindfulness practice encourages me to develop the quality of reflection and consideration for how things actually are. The idea is that in this space we may then respond with skill and wisdom, rather than react in our habitual ways. Looking back now at the last three months I see that your government has been consistently reactive, and unfortunately those ingrained habits of yours have not been conducive to a considerate, caring, compassionate and wise approach to our experience. Other countries have managed this, have suffered far less and are recovering so much better.
The next year or so are going to be a significant test of your government’s ability. Do you have the skills, wisdom and empathy that will be required? I suspect not, but I do hope that you surprise me.