Life interrupted: preparing to do better. A blog from our CEO

I have been thinking a lot this week about the weather.

The weather has always fascinated me, which is probably just as well for someone born in Scotland and with my surname (that latter observation will be lost on anyone born after 1980!) My love of all things meteorological was renewed when in Skye two weekends ago I saw the weather continually change in the distance with the regularity of a dance, one minute bringing torrential rain and the next blazing sunshine. Skye is a place where  Crowded House’s ‘Four Seasons in One Day’ should be the theme tune of existence. With a wide vista and far horizon, it is indeed possible to ignore weather forecasts and simply look out of the window and know what you need to wear – at least for the next hour.

This last week for many of us has been a reminder of the unpredictability of the weather with torrential thunderstorms and searing heat bringing with it destruction and devastation alongside sleepless nights and irksome hot working days.

One weather phenomenon I fell in awe of was something I witnessed years ago when on another island – the storm. Living in Holm, Orkney for a year gave me the experience of feeling the intensity of the ‘calm before the storm’, that stilling of life and sound before the flick of a celestial switch brought roaring power and breath-taking energy raging down upon you.

There is a sense for me that the recent past, these present days and what the future might hold feels a bit like experiencing an Orcadian storm.  

The last few months have been a time of unreality. It is hard to remember what life was like in pre-Covid times. Indeed, when I see on television a programme filmed before March my instant reaction is to recoil at the lack of social distancing and question the absence of masks and PPE! Our worlds of perception have changed markedly.

Life as we know it has been interrupted, whether you are a young person aspiring to a career dependent up certain grades or someone wanting to go on holiday to France or Spain; whether you are simply wanting to be with your mates in a pub, go to the football, travel to visit family, have that operation and procedure you have been waiting for, life has been put on hold. The rhythms of our ordinary living have been interrupted and removed by coronavirus. We yearn for a return to ordinariness and yet we are told by our leaders that we should not be feeling and doing things as if life was ‘normal.’

But the last few months have for countless thousands also been a period of real pain, loss and hurt.

It feels as if now we are in a hinterland, in a waiting time. The focus of so much of my time in the week that has just passed has been spent on preparing. Preparation for a resurgence of Covid, for the impact of the winter flu, for the unknowability and the uncertainties of our Brexit exit. Preparation to ensure that the social care and health systems are able to withstand the barrage of another assault, a different battle and a new challenge.

But as with a sense of calm before the unknown we have time to reflect and think, to recollect and to change. So, what should we be doing in this hinterland time? I think we have to in this liminal space between our past and unpredictable future prepare to do better and to be better.

There are aspirations I have for restoring a better way of interrupting life and normality so that we can come through future challenges in a way which is closer to who we want to be both as individuals and as a society.

So, in this hinterland of life interrupted let us prepare to do better.

Let us prepare to listen to those who are experiencing the agony of aloneness and mental health fatigue and breakdown. We have to attend better to the issues that  mean that people are struggling in their mental health with the interruption of the normal – we are all creatures of habit to a greater or lesser extent and the habits of our humanity have been thrown out of kilter. There are countless who have suffered in isolation and who today are anxious over the prospects of their future, potentially being unemployed or unable to achieve their dreams and aspirations.

Let us prepare to do better in supporting those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic and who might do so in the future. We have to do better at talking about death and dying, to stop ourselves becoming numb to the statistics of death and start finding a vocabulary that enables us to speak and to share grief with one another. In England hundreds have died from this virus in the past week yet their deaths are diminished by political silence and absence from media comment. We have to do better at working at the solace of comforting one another.

Let us prepare to do better in our care homes by really listening to what residents and families want in these changed times. We have to start to really include and involve people whose lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic. Emergency response may have justified non-inclusive action and decision-making, but in these times and moving forward we have to find better ways at making sure the autonomy and individual rights of those who reside in care homes and their families are considered just as important as the views of ‘experts’, professionals and staff.

Let us prepare for the future by making sure that we really learn the devastating truth of deterioration and decline in the health and wellbeing of care home residents by better managing measures taken to protect but which have stopped people living a life which is theirs by imprisoning them from contact and relationship, from movement and activity in their care homes. We need to do better at protecting and advancing holistic care and support including making sure in the future health professionals are physically present in care homes.

Let us do better and prepare to change a system of community social care commissioning which treats individual citizens as packages of commoditised care and let us start to re-discover the essence of relational support. There is a wave of unmet need and family carer breakdown in our communities about to overwhelm us.

Let us prepare to ensure the physical realities of ventilators and stand-by hospitals, of PPE and medical supplies are in place but let us also remember we need to continually do something about the health and wellbeing of an exhausted and sometimes demoralised staff. In particular let us face up to the reality that many working in leadership and management in social care are at breaking point with exhaustion not least from the continual demands from an insensitive system over which they have no control. We need to appreciate that we are at risk of haemorrhaging managers from the care system because of a lack of professional respect and understanding or simply because they are spent and knackered by the weeks and months that have passed.

I could go on, but I am convinced in this time and space we have to not just learn lessons but to start working on doing better.

And perhaps the biggest challenge is one we all face and one which I think only now we are beginning to truly appreciate – and that is that we are all of us needing support in order to live this life less ordinary. We need support to learn to live with a lack of the familiar and routine; whether that be working from home, coping with different models of learning for our children; not being able to be as autonomous as we once were, or simply how to ‘be’ healthy in a world of social distance and physical detachment. In a sensual physical world, we have to learn to give assurance and affection without touch and presence. We all of us have to live in our mid-Covid hinterland between past lives and future uncertainty.

In the fragmented space of our normality, in that hinterland between ordinary days and unknown future, we have to work together to create a response which roots us in our shared humanity and our collective need to be compassionate and to care. As we yearn for the familiar and the ordinary, we have to support each other to find our ways through the fractures of feelings which for many are raw and painful, confused and conflicted.

On the other side of the storm the world is forever changed. There is a freshness of air and a breath which invigorates. As we gather up the driftwood of our past we find a new purpose and direction for our present. I hope that will mean for many of us the finding of beauty in the ordinary and meaning in the mundane. We will be able to look out and see the clouds and the sun gathering on the horizon and feel at ease with who we have become as individuals, as a care system and as a community, and we will find the clothes we wear are dignity, care and compassion. It is a future we have to prepare for just like the Scottish weather.

Donald Macaskill

Last Updated on 28th August 2020 by Shanice