Mental wellbeing is a tricky balance to maintain at the best of times for J but lockdown has created additional challenges that we couldn’t possibly prepare for. Isolation, lack of physical activity, boredom all things that are alien to J as he is generally active every minute of every day. At first the novelty of lock down, being off school and online theatre classes got us through. The sun shone and it didn’t seem so bad.
However, in the background came the obsessive, compulsive thoughts of germs and disease that quickly spiralled out of control, bringing with it panic attacks, hand scrubbing and soring anxiety levels. It was tough, really tough. The mental health services were on hand to offer support but this wasn’t face to face as it couldn’t be. Therefore input was diluted.
As the weeks passed by and J learnt about the pandemic and it’s risks he started to be able to rationalise in order to get through. We encouraged him to put his energy into singing, online workshops and being outside doing gym work in the sun. He learnt valuable lessons last summer about how to protect his mental health and find ways of feeling better. It was nothing big or clever, it was just about celebrating small achievements and taking an emotional step forward everyday into a positive mind space and being comfortable in it’s presence. This could only be achieved by not setting goals and expectations too high as the pandemic was not able to offer opportunities for such ambition.
As well as dealing with his own mental delicacy, J like many other performers has had to watch the industry suffer before his eyes. Hopes and aspirations of being on set or stage ripped away overnight, people losing their jobs and vocation and friends setting off to performing colleges worrying about what the future will bring. No answers, no solid reassurances only relentless optimism that ‘it will return.’ For a young person with autism especially, uncertainty is a bitter pill to swallow.
And so it is ‘Childrens Mental Health’ week, simply highlighted because this has just become so much bigger! It isn’t just our children with additional needs that are struggling but also children who ordinarily would have not suffered such a mental health hit hadn’t it been for the pandemic and the life altering pathways it has weaved. Life will regain some of its ordinary ways and things will get better for us all but this will leave some scars from one too many life lessons that we just couldn’t handle. Will it make our children stronger and more resilient? Maybe. Will it teach our children that life can be hard and the best way through is by having loved ones and friends by your side? Quite possibly.
It’s been a tough one so let’s give our children an extra hug tonight and tell them how proud we are of them, that it is okay to not be okay but one day soon the sun will come out and the clouds will lift. And on the is day we will all celebrate with our loved ones and recement our plans for the future. We can’t wait to be back out there watching J and his friends on stage, bustling around the West End and on top of all else spending time with family and friends and enjoying the year to come.