Waking up to the first day of a second national lockdown in England feels quietly gloomy.
At least the first time around, we experienced a beautiful outpouring of community togetherness of the kind older people reminisce about when they talk about the Second World War.
Today, the atmosphere is rather more subdued.
But the reality of this lockdown could be just as stressful as the first for older people on their own, perhaps even more so as we head into winter.
Rising levels of anxiety
Government analysis in June revealed that anxiety levels, which rose across the country after the pandemic hit, peaked soon after the initial lockdown began – and increased most dramatically in older people.
This is certainly true for Joan, 89, who has lived on her own since her husband died 16 years ago.
Despite enjoying regular contact with her two daughters, Joan struggled terribly during the first lockdown and says the constraints on her life triggered a feeling of stress she’d never experienced before.
“You’d think I’d be used to my own company, but I’m the sort of person who, if I’ve got the chance to go out, then I go out,” she says. “I found it so hard when all my clubs and activities stopped.
“When I’m in the house and I can’t get out, I just go mad. I’m partially blind so that makes things more difficult. To be honest with you, I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. It had got to that stage."
Fortunately, Joan had been attending Re-engage tea parties for the past six years, so her local volunteer was already in contact with her and able to offer her a call companion.
Joan jumped at the chance and we introduced her to one of our new volunteers, Kelly.
Working on the frontline
Despite her busy job as an A&E nurse, Kelly decided to volunteer as a call companion because she felt for those most vulnerable to the virus who couldn’t go out at all.
Based a long way from home in Manchester, Kelly also lives on her own and has barely seen her family in Scotland all year.
Kelly says, “I just wanted to help. The situation we’re living in at the moment is just not good for our mental health. This is even more true if you’re already feeling isolated because you’re elderly and stuck in the house on your own.
"I’ve only seen my family for three days since last Christmas. The lockdown’s intense for everyone, of course, but particularly for anyone living alone.”
The power of a simple phone call
Joan and Kelly now speak every Saturday and Joan has absolutely no doubt the calls have had a hugely positive impact on her wellbeing.
“Kelly’s calls have saved my sanity, they really have,” she says. “I love putting the world to rights with her, talking about Trump and the like.
“We have a lot in common. Kelly’s a nurse and I used to volunteer as a First Aid nurse for the Red Cross. I know I’m lucky to have my daughters, but it’s so lovely to hear from somebody else.
"I make sure I’m ready when I know she’s going to call. I literally sit and wait for the phone to ring."
For Kelly, the calls are equally as valuable, giving her a welcome break from the constant stress of the pandemic, particularly when she’s at home.
She says, “I’m ex-military so I’m robust enough to deal with the pandemic at work, but even I don’t watch the news anymore. There’s just nothing in those news reports that’s positive.
“Calling Joan every week helps me as much it helps her. To chat to someone who isn’t one of my colleagues or in my circle of friends, it’s really quite nice. We have very easy, warm conversations. Joan talks about her week and I tell her about mine.
"It's very positive experience for both of us. I’ll definitely continue calling Joan long after life gets back to normal.”
A difficult winter ahead
Sadly, as the crisis rages on, life may not be back to normal for some time. Although Joan is relieved to have Kelly's calls to look forward to, she's still worried about a long and difficult winter indoors.
"At least over the summer I could sit in my summer house and do my knitting," she says. "I knitted a little teddy bear who sits on the sofa next to me now. My corona bear, I call him.
"But this lockdown in winter… I can't even go for a walk if it's raining and cold. What am I meant to do all day?
"For anyone else in the same boat as me and thinking of getting a call companion, I’d say, ‘Go on and do it!’ The calls help me feel more relaxed, even with all this going on.
"I like to think I’ll stay in touch with Kelly for the rest of my life.”
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