I have been fortunate in my life since moving to Folkestone with my wife in 2013. In between the filming work I have supplemented my income with a few day jobs. These range from being a barista, waiter and more recently duty manager in a theatre. But the past two years have been difficult for a number of reasons.
While working in the theatre I had to take an extended period of time off due to my cancer diagnosis and subsequent chemotherapy treatment. I returned after six months yet just three months later I found myself back on my sofa thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. I was furloughed and had to go into shielding as the NHS said I was in the “clinically extremely vulnerable” group. I was then made redundant in August 2020 when it became apparent that theatres would not be reopening in the near future. Fast forward to July 2021 and in the past two years I have worked for a whole three months.
These past two years have been very testing and my mental health has taken a real beating. The film festival I run has pretty much been in hibernation due to venues being closed. Filming ground to a total halt. The safety net of the steady income at the theatre was pulled from under me. The constant worry about when (when, not if) the “incurable” cancer will return. My wife’s own health issues. The worry about my parents who are not getting any younger and who live 250 miles away. The worry about catching Covid which is likely to be very severe due to being immunocompromised by the blood cancer. It’s a lot to handle. I haven’t suffered a mental breakdown but I have been damn near close on numerous occasions since June 2019. There have been times when I’ve considered packing everything in and moving back home to Grimsby but thankfully I’ve remained resilient and remembered why I moved to Folkestone in the first place.
As things begin to reopen and the filming work is set to resume next month, albeit with additional precautions, I feel that society is beginning to return to normal with the relaxation of the rules. Yet I still worry every time I leave the house making sure I have a mask and hand sanitiser in my pocket. I hold my breath when strangers pass me too closely and I look around anxiously when someone coughs nearby. I get stressed when people deny the existence of the virus (I know people who died from it!) and come up with outrageous conspiracy theories about the “untested” vaccine yet will happily inhale, sniff, swallow or inject something given by a stranger on a street corner.
I used to be a very outward person, thriving in group situations, but now I know I have become a lot more introverted. I know I’m not alone, there are thousands of people in exactly the same situation as me, clinically vulnerable, scared of catching Covid-19, a virus that is still likely to be deadly for many. The Government will end all restrictions on 19th July yet many people with blood cancer have not developed antibodies despite having both doses of the vaccine and the number of infections is still rising (42,302 cases reported today alone!). But the Government say it’s safe for us. I shielded since March last year when we had 7,000 cases a day but now at 42,000 cases Boris Johnson says I’ll be fine going out if I just wear my mask. How?
Will I ever return to normal? What was normal? What is this “new normal”? I don’t have the answers to these questions, I doubt I ever will.
Photo credit: Gerd Altmann