• Manpreet Azad

What Got Me Through the Dark Days of Lockdown

On March 23rd 2020, when Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lock-down in the UK, like every other family, we were glued to our television. Every time I tried to quieten my rising anxiety, my phone would ping with the latest horrific and gut-wrenching update, making it almost impossible to focus.

It was like some sort of sci-fi, horror movie, coronavirus was going to kill us all, hospitals were being built, and morgues were being made- the world was planning for the worst. We didn't know how bad it was going to be, but told the only safe place was home, and we were told not to leave it. At first, it was for two weeks, but in reality, this wasn't a temporary situation.

It was a terrifying time. No-one had the answers, and the science was conflicting and rapidly evolving. There was mass panic, and supermarket shelves were being emptied. I was scared that we might run out of 'safe' food. It's a genuine worry when you can't be as flexible as everyone else, and accessing enough allergen-free food caused an anxiety spike in me with every socially-distanced supermarket visit. Thankfully, we were fine, and I was so grateful for messages asking if I was OK getting food for Eva and offers of help.

Manpreet Azad

As an allergy-family, we were always OCD about cleaning and handwashing, even before the virus. Still, Eva and I both have asthma so are high risk. If even a typical cold often resulted in blue-lighted hospital admission, what if she caught COVID?

I felt sympathy and gratitude for frontline workers, the doctors, nurses, supermarket workers and many others who put themselves at risk and isolated from their families. I felt so lucky my family could all stay at home and stay safe. I felt for my elderly neighbours, who were all alone and not able to see others. We reached out the best ways we could.

As the sheer enormity of the scale of COVID and how our lives would be changing sunk in, I started to panic about how I would keep the girls entertained. How would we cope without our usual family treadmill of swimming, gymnastics and playdates?

Before the pandemic, if we stayed inside for just one day, the girls usually started to bounce off the walls. Like all kids their age, they have so much energy they need to burn off, and when they don't, end up in a frustrated cycle of arguing, playing-up and crying. I felt like it was a constant battle to constantly stimulate or entertain them before lock-down let alone now!

How would I cope without having a minute to myself to recharge? I needed that time! It's mentally draining to remain calm and patient with young children. Even the most saintly mother needs mental space to have a break, and without that, I braced myself for a tough few weeks.

I had no idea how to explain to a two and four-year-old why they weren't allowed to see their friends or go to pre-school anymore, and I felt wracked with guilt about not being able to tell them when it would be OK again. I remember the dull ache of fear and the distinct longing for my old simple routines, imaging how good it would feel to get my usual Costa coffee and hit the gym.

My community rallied together, and local friends started sharing their creative ideas on keeping their kids entertained, like organising toy-swaps and sharing books. My 80-year-old neighbour offered to give us toilet rolls if we ran out, admitting that he had a stash of over 50 of them in his spare bedroom!

Flour became a hot commodity- we rationed ours and pooled resources with neighbours so everyone could have enough for birthday cakes– we didn't do anywhere near as much baking as we usually do. If you follow me, you will know that I normally make everything from scratch, probably because homemade does taste better!

A way that helped me cope the most was reaching out and finding support through online groups on Facebook and Instagram. Sharing our unique lock-down situations, challenges and parenting tips even lead me to set up my own online allergy group myself. Being part of a community is what has provided a sense of belonging, and giving and receiving support, especially at this time, was so needed.

We ended up being in lock-down for much longer than 2 weeks, and some things affected my family more than others. My partying days long since passed, bars and nightclubs shutting didn't really affect us like others, but the long queues to get into the supermarket certainly did!

As time went by, we slowly got used to our new routine. It was actually a refreshing change for me, and to not be rushing around prepping snacks and sanitising Tupperware was a luxury. It was such a mental rest too, not having a constant worry about Eva having a reaction from an anomaly that I can't control, not having to always explain myself, talking about allergies, thinking about allergies. I haven't had that for four years, and it was lovely to retreat into our family bubble and slow right down.

It was nice to spend so much real, quality time with the girls on my own, something I didn't realise was lacking before. We did arts and craft projects, read books and made cakes. We did all the things a mum plans to do with their children regularly, but never seems to quite have the time. COVID seemed to gift us back hours that were usually absorbed by our complicated lives. It made me slow down and re-evaluate everything in my life and prioritise the people and values that are most important to me.

In amongst this madness, our carefully crafted family routine went completely out the window, endless movie evenings and late nights meant that eventually the children were going to bed at the same time as us! Although we couldn’t go out, we still made the most of the situation and had fun at home, it just took a bit of imagination! As an allergy mum, we face parenting challenges all the time, we’re used to planning within tight parameters and we just have to get a bit creative sometimes!

The thing I personally missed was the gym, for me, the gym is my headspace and my sanctuary. It's the one thing that I consistently prioritise for myself, and it gives me energy, mental clarity and confidence. Not being able to go for months on end was something I really struggled with. Although I did plenty of home-workouts with Instagram lives, it just wasn't the same, I missed leaving the house and having a break.

When things gradually started opening again, I still was apprehensive about the risk of COVID, and I didn't feel safe. There was always a constant stream of worry, and even more things to think about than usual; washing hands, wearing a mask, not touching anything, keeping a safe distance, other people keeping a safe distance, the list seemed endless. Trying to practice social distancing with a toddler is just shy of impossible, and it's enough to make you question whether it's all worth it…

But the things that are important to you, you will do. For my sanity's sake I needed to get back to the gym, but as a family, we are not going to the cinema or eating out at the moment, we just feel safer that way. We did manage to have a family holiday to Portugal this summer, which you can ready about here, and both the kids are back in school or pre-school now, so we are trying to balance our COVID risk with normal family life.

For now, it looks like the UK is facing a winter of restrictions, so I might need to get creative with some home-based winter activities! But at this stage, it seems like keeping schools open is a priority, and I hope the girls can continue to learn as long as it's safe to do so.

Lock-down was an emotional roller-coaster for everyone, and I feel like whatever happens with future restrictions, we are at least now a little more prepared to deal with it if it happens again. I'm grateful to have made so many happy memories with my girls in that time, and what has got me through it has been my amazing support system.

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How has your family coped with lock-down? Let me know in the comments below!

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