I think that’s what’s so wonderful about what they’ve done, is that they’ve opened the world up not just to helping me but other people as well. You don’t realise it, but one act helps many.
My normal life was never really normal. I’m a Bereavement Counsellor and I was working in the community, and my mum has Alzheimer’s and is registered blind. Her carer was doing a cracking job, she actually had to move in because my mum needs 24-hour care. So I was working away and doing my own life, but seeing mum quite regularly, and then when we heard things were moving, my carer said ‘I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go back to my family.’ So I moved in. There was myself and my dog. We suddenly had to decamp from where I lived in a lovely little cottage with a garden, to my mum’s two-bedroom flat in Oxford City Centre. So it was quite a big upheaval. And then, of course, they announced the lockdown. I moved into mum’s spare room. I’m also in the high-risk group, I’m a diabetic, so mum and I were both pretty much on the list where you lock yourself in and that’s it for the next however long.
I struggled along for the first two months, going slightly insane because everything that was supposedly set up to help vulnerable people who were shielding, I found very hard to access. I rang everybody save the kitchen sink. I rang the GP surgery, I rang the Council, and they said they would help and we looked into loads of different ways. But just the most basic thing, which was to get on the list for home delivery, actually ended up taking eight weeks. I was in absolute despair, running around like a headless chicken, trying to get help. I was mentally, physically, emotionally bashing my head against a brick wall.
I love my mum to bits but the pressure that built up, during that time – I was no longer her daughter, I was her carer. With her Alzheimer’s, having any sort of normal conversation wasn’t going to happen. So I had no outlet. I wasn’t able to go out and see people. The only thing I could do was take my dog out for a little bit of a walk. So there was never a time where I had a break in the 24 hours for three months, really. No one knew I existed, I felt. In the block of flats where my mum is, there are 91 flats, and no one was talking to each other because they’re all vulnerable. I felt very isolated and my friends were obviously dealing with all of their families. So from a human perspective, it has been mentally challenging, as well as physically. I was literally falling apart. I was exhausted. My average sleep was three to four hours, if that, because if I heard mum get up during the night, I was up.
I landed up in a bad position because my dog needed an operation. Not only did I have to worry about my mum, I had my worry about my dog, and just to complete the three steps of hell, I was on the list for emergency surgery prior to lockdown. This is when these wonderful Oxford Hub volunteers came in to give me some respite. I was ringing everybody I could think of for food shopping, and they all said, ‘Speak to so and so, speak to so and so.’ I was going crazy because I was speaking to all these wonderful people, but nobody actually stood up and said, ‘I will do this.’ There was no joined-up part. I absolutely understand in the circumstances, they’ve done a fantastic job in getting anything together, but they weren’t talking to each other. I think I got the right number simply through somebody saying, ‘I know somebody at the Hub, why don’t you ring them?’ I was trying to get somebody just to come in for a couple of hours while I was in hospital, for my mum and the dog. And that’s how they came on board. They said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll put a shout out to all the local dog walkers,’ and four lots of different people popped their heads up and said, ‘Yes, we’ll take him!’
I was so relieved, I cannot tell you. That was the moment I felt somebody out there was actually listening to me, genuinely from their hearts. For the first time in a very long time, somebody was actually doing something to help me. I’m always helping everybody else, by the nature of my job, by my character. I was always brought up to look out for other people, not myself. And this was better than somebody saying, ‘You’ve won the lottery.’ The heavens opened and I felt like, ‘Thank you, somebody’s coming to my rescue.’ The simple act of taking my dog out was magnified by these events.
Originally, we were just talking about the dog, and you could almost say that he brought them all into my life. I mentioned the fact that I was on lockdown, and that I was shielding my mum, and I got quite emotional. Then this volunteer said, ‘Well, look, there’s other help out there, if you need.’ And she described the services that were available, and I was gobsmacked because I hadn’t had the time to look into it. I suddenly realised how stupid I’d been, that I should have gotten in touch with them sooner. The trouble is, how do they get their message out to everybody? I think if you’re not necessarily somebody who’s tech savvy, people automatically assume because the technology is there, people are using it. But I’m a people person, I’m not a computer person. I think sometimes the good old-fashioned piece of paper on a lamppost is helpful, because I would have stopped and looked at that and thought ‘Oh, that’s something that could help me.’
If the people in the Hub had known that we were in that position, I’m sure they would have stepped in a lot sooner. But the Hub rescued me, with the food and the dog and those two key areas, and I know that they were prepared to help me with anything else that I needed. But to be honest, at that time, it really saved me. If mum wasn’t looked after, I wouldn’t have been able to go to the hospital, and the dog wouldn’t have had his op. I had got down to such a low mental level that my hospital appointment would have been for a nervous breakdown.
It was the fact that I didn’t know about them from day one. There are so many organisations, but they want you to fill out one hundred and one forms. And that was the other side of it, these guys didn’t want one hundred and one forms, they just came out. I’m almost tentative to ask for help, because I know, before I get any, I have to answer why I want it. How long do I want it for? Who is it for? You know, it’s just question, question, question, but they treated me like a human being. And actually, it’s that profound – I feel that the Hub has given me my sense of myself back and also given me a path out of what was a very dark hole. It’s reminded me that I am a person in my own right.
I’ve tried always to help other people communicate, and I find it rather ironic that I’m the one that needs it most at the moment. It isn’t all about Covid. It isn’t all about food being delivered. Because that’s all I was focusing on. I felt like some sort of rabid animal, trying to sort out the most basic problems and getting nowhere. And then thinking, ‘Hang on a second, there is actually humanity somewhere, out there, there are people who’ve got interesting things to say.’ I’d almost forgotten that. Just being able to talk about, you know, another lady’s dog who’s been naughty and what my dog’s done, these sort of trivial little things, it was just a joy. You’re actually able to say, there’s something worth looking at outside of all of this. I know that sounds very dramatic, but believe me, it was that dramatic for me. Just to have human contact.
I think people don’t realise what little things mean, that they are bigger than their initial smallness. It’s like a pebble in a pond, you chuck it in and all those ripples, you know, the dog walking helped me, helped the dog, helped my mum, helped the NHS ultimately, since I wasn’t there for another problem with my health. I think that’s what’s so wonderful about what they’ve done, is that they’ve opened the world up not just to helping me but other people as well. You don’t realise it, but one act helps many.
Edited by Sofia Smith-Laing