Tag Archives: Pandemic

Sad Jess

November 2020. I’ve tested positive for Coronavirus so I’m writing this post whilst in self-isolation. The UK is in its second lockdown. But it will be fine, right? It’s only four weeks, we’ve done this before. Only this time it feels different. It is different. Gone are the bright summer mornings and barmy, light evenings walking the dog through the countryside. Instead, it has been replaced with cold, and often rainy grey London, with its eerily empty streets and shuttered shops. It doesn’t help that I’ve been unwell for the best part of three weeks now. No, this time it feels different and there’s no two ways around it. It’s hard.

Since the prime minister’s announcement a couple weeks ago stating the country was entering lockdown again, I’ve felt a building unease in the pit of my stomach. The other day I awoke after another restless night’s sleep feeling nauseous with anxiety (and now I realise, probably a fever too). I ate my breakfast, and I couldn’t shift the feeling; I showered, and I still couldn’t shift it. My flatmate, Jonny asked if I was OK as I seemed dazed and out of sorts. I nodded, convincing myself it would pass. But by lunchtime I had pins and needles in my hands and sweaty palms. And by mid-afternoon I had reached breaking point and burst into tears. I hadn’t felt this kind of anxiety in years.


February 2012. I had graduated from university the summer before, broken up with my boyfriend, Darren, and had completed a three-moth unpaid internship at a PR agency in London. Broke, with no job or plans, I moved to my dad’s house in a small town near the Cotswolds.

I was 23, and quite honestly, I felt lost. At school and university, you’re taught skills and knowledge in the hope that it can be applied to a job that you’ll land once you have your desired grades. You’re taught how to write a CV, covering letter and standard interview skills but nothing prepares you for real life. Not really. Up until the age of 22 I had followed a structure of everything I ‘should’ be doing, and I fully acknowledge the privilege I have to have had those opportunities available to me. Nonetheless, once the scaffolding of early life came down; I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.

I secured an entry level job in marketing and sales for a company in the town centre. It was a small town and having not grown up there I didn’t know anyone my own age. I was single for the first time since I was 16 and although I dated a few guys briefly, I felt quite isolated as I didn’t have any close friends nearby. But then I met Caleb.

Caleb was originally from Australia but worked quite high up in the marketing department at the company’s head office in America. He was young, charismatic, and always up for an adventure – he was the breath of fresh air I needed in the small, isolated town. Caleb would fly over to the UK every couple months or so and being the same age, we would often go grab a drink or go to the cinema after work. Very quickly we developed a secret, albeit casual, relationship (or so we thought).

It started with Caleb picking me up before and after work in the company car, but before long I was spending every night with him at whichever hotel he was staying at for the duration of his stay. At the weekends we’d take road trips to London, Manchester and Liverpool or mini breaks to Amsterdam and Barcelona. But despite feeling like we were in our own little bubble, there is no such thing as a secret relationship at work, and very quickly colleagues began to clock on to our romantic indiscretion.

My director, Kane, who you may remember from my ‘Yeah, Me Too’ blog post, noticed how much time I was spending with Caleb and his jealousy was quite transparent. He would often make subtle, snide remarks about Caleb to me, and gossip spread through the office about how Kane was seen peeking through his office blinds to see if Caleb and I got into the same car after work.

I was never happier at that time than when Caleb was visiting, but when he’d have to go back to America, I’d feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Gone was the romance and adventure, and I was left with the reality of my life in a small town in a job I didn’t really care for. Caleb’s absence would only highlight what I already knew deep down to be true; I wasn’t happy.

I couldn’t escape the feeling of not having a purpose or not having any control over my own life. I felt tearful a lot of the time or would experience pangs of anxiety, a feeling of unknown dread seeping through my body. I let seemingly small things consume my head and emotions, and I became obsessed with checking up on Caleb’s social media. I would obsess over what he was doing and who with, and anything I saw would determine my whole mood for the day. My weight dropped as I lost my appetite, and it took every ounce of remaining energy to drag myself out of bed each morning. My dad noticed it before I did, and one evening he sat me down and gently suggested that I talk to a doctor about how I was feeling.

I booked an appointment at the doctor’s and my GP confirmed that I was suffering with depression. It felt weird hearing those words. You hear about celebrities and assume ordinary people also suffer with mental health problems, but it’s weird when you hear your own diagnosis. I nodded, dropped my face into the palms of my hands and broke down in tears. I felt sad (of course I did – it was just confirmed that I was clinically sad!) but I also felt relief. Relief at finally understanding the reason behind how I was feeling.

The GP then further discussed my symptoms and my current lifestyle to try and determine what may have triggered it and therefore how I could start to treat it. I expressed that I wasn’t happy in my job, I didn’t live near any of my friends and I felt like I had no direction in life. I knew I had to make drastic changes, but I also didn’t have the energy to put those decisions into practice. I felt constantly emotionally drained and any remaining energy was zapped with bouts of anxiety. So, we discussed the option of medication. We agreed that I would try a mild anti-depressant which would ease any acute anxiety and help clear my head enough from debilitating thoughts so that I was able to make the practical decisions that would ultimately make me feel more fulfilled and happier. Finally, there seemed like there was light at the end of the tunnel.

But working in a small-town work environment, more often than not unfortunately results in a small-town mindset. Instead of feeling supported, a lot of colleagues who had heard whispers of my depression, used it as a form of entertainment. One middle aged woman started spreading rumours that I had an eating disorder, while another woman, who I once considered a friend turned on me and actually screamed in my face in an open plan office after I adjusted the air conditioning. I reported it all to HR, but it was quickly swept under the carpet and put down to women just being bitchy. Kane, finally realising that he couldn’t get what he wanted out of me, transferred me to another department with a different line manager. It was a toxic environment, which only heightened my growing anxiety. I would get home from work and immediately curl up in bed, exhausted from the office politics. I was so tired. Tired of the harassment, tired of the vicious rumours, tired of my long-distance non-relationship and tired of the complete lack of empathy. If I didn’t change something quickly, I would fast reach breaking point.

And then one day I woke up and I knew I had the strength to do what I needed to do. I still felt low and anxious, but I knew I had to start taking back some control in my life. I walked into work, straight pass Kane’s office and into my new line manager’s office. I passed her the envelope containing my notice of resignation. Exactly one month later I packed up a suitcase and moved to London. Which still remains to this day as the best decision I have ever made for myself.


I was 24 by the time I left that company. I had experienced sexual harassment, mental health discrimination and toxic office rumours all within two years at my first full-time job. It was an eye-opening experience of what it could be like to be a woman in the workplace. Once I moved to London, Caleb and I were never romantically involved again but we remained friends and over the intervening years whenever Caleb was in the UK we’d catch up over a few drinks. We even did a trip to Ibiza with a group of friends. Caleb will always be one of the most inspiring people I have met; forever positive, eager for adventure and he has even since gone on to give a TED Talk on travelling. Our relationship is a rare example of two people, previously lovers, who now have a platonic friendship and mutual respect for each other.

I don’t really talk about my experience with depression and anxiety with many people. I guess at the time when I was 24, there was still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health; thankfully in more recent years we have become more open as a society at recognising and talking about it. The few people that I have confided in outside of my immediate family, always express shock that I, a usually happy, positive, and confident person would ever have had experiences of depression. But it’s important to remember that depression and anxiety do not discriminate. It doesn’t matter where you live, what job you have, how many friends you have or what age or gender you are, one in four people will be affected by mental health at some point in their lives. There is no shame in admitting that you are struggling and there is huge strength in recognising that you may need help to overcome it.

By August 2014 I was off anti-depressants (gradually weaned off over a few months as recommended by my GP). I had been on them for about a year in total and thankfully, I have not had the need to go back on them since. I am not saying that they are for everybody and your GP should always be your first port of call when looking at treatment options. It’s important to remember that anti-depressants are not a ‘cure’ for depression, more an aid to ease the symptoms so you don’t become so consumed by it. They may be used in addition to other forms of treatment such as therapy. In my case, they helped me at a time when I needed to level out my head enough that I could make practical decisions that would help my mental health in the long run.

I’ve learnt over the years what my triggers are, and I’ve got better at identifying and mitigating them. Although, it’s important to remember that even recognition doesn’t make you immune. I can recognise that I’m anxious now and even what’s triggered it, but it doesn’t necessarily stop the waves of dread that periodically wash over me, leaving me fatigued and tearful. Living though a pandemic and then being unwell with said virus was not something I, or anybody for that matter, could ever really prepare for.  

Distress in my romantic relationships used to be a big trigger, where I’d actively look for things that would make me feel worse, almost like a form of self-harm. For a long time, I believed that I wasn’t worthy of love, and that is why none of my relationships worked out. I’m sure a therapist would correlate this particular trigger and behaviour with bad experiences I’ve had with men from a younger age, right through my twenties, and they’d probably be right. But I’ve gotten better at not allowing men to have that kind of influence over my mental health. Over the years I have grown stronger in myself and mind. I know what my boundaries are, and I no longer have time for the people who don’t respect them. And if I have to, I will walk away from a relationship that is harming me, even if it breaks my heart. Heartache is painful and like many other forms of grief can be temporarily debilitating, but my mental health will always be my first priority.

I’ve also learnt that whilst someone doesn’t choose to struggle with their mental health, you should try to take responsibility for your own mental wellbeing where possible. If you know that something is a trigger or is likely to affect your mental health, then make the right decisions for you. In the past I have chosen to end relationships both romantic and platonic, change jobs, move home, or remove myself from certain situations as they were having a detrimental effect on my mental wellbeing. It’s not usually an easy decision, often it’s uncomfortable or hard, it may be a conflict of heart and mind or you may be labelled as ‘selfish’. But there is nothing noble about being a martyr at the expense of your own mental health. I try to strike a healthy work and social life balance where I can and have rest days where I’ll curl up in bed with a book all day. I like to do activities that can boost my mood and ease any building anxiety, like going for a long walk, yoga and running. And I’ve been known to disable my social media for months at a time when the negative impact far outweighs the positive.

I don’t claim to be an expert in mental health, I can only reflect and write on my own experiences of it. Although, I’d like to express that for anyone who finds themselves struggling, to remember that you are not alone. How you are feeling, as hopeless as it may seem at the time; it is not permanent. Some people may tell you to ‘cheer up’ or ‘snap out of it’ and I don’t believe that they are helpful or even possible statements. But it is important to remember that even your darkest moments are temporary and there are better days ahead. I urge you to talk, whether it’s to friends and family, a trusted colleague or to a professional. Just the action of trying to communicate your feelings to someone else can be the first step in identifying an issue, and therefore a step closer to treating it. And if you see someone else struggling, reach out to them. A chat over a cup of tea may seem small and insignificant (and very British), but it could make all the difference.

2020 has been a traumatic year for the world over. With an entire global population’s mental wellbeing being tested in one way or another. We are living through a pandemic. We have had to socially distance from our friends and family. We have lost jobs and loved ones. Our whole way of being has altered, of course this has affected people’s mental health, how could it not?! But as a race, humans are resilient, and we find a way of carrying on, together.

I finish this post as I finish my time in self-isolation and am permitted to venture into the outside world again. I walk the short distance to my local park in South West London and as I enter the gates, I feel the sunshine on my face, warm on my closed eyelids. I take a deep breathe to fill my lungs and the anxious knot in my stomach loosens slightly. I wiggle my clammy hands in the gentle breeze. I breathe out, a long stream of steam in the cold air and I open my eyes. You’re OK Jess, it’s going to be OK.


If you are struggling with your mental health here are some organisations which may help:





Thoughts in Isolation

Disclaimer: This blog post will outline some of my thoughts on the current COVID-19 pandemic, and touch on dating (or rather, the lack of) during lockdown. This in no way is to diminish the severity of the current global situation and the way in which it has impacted thousands of lives. I battled back and forth on whether I should even write this post. I follow one account on Instagram, where a woman posted on her body image dysmorphia and how that has affected her mental health and feelings of self-worth. The backlash was quite shocking. She had received comments from people criticising her for even worrying about such things whilst people were dying from Coronavirus. I was confused, surely people could see that she wasn’t taking anything away from how terrible the current global crisis is, but only raising awareness about an entirely separate issue. One issue of many, that don’t merely evaporate because we are living through a pandemic, but exist regardless alongside it, perhaps making this situation all the more awful for others to endure.

If anything, this global crisis has taught most to be kinder to others. We are living in unprecedented times so there is no rule book to follow on ‘best practice’. We can only follow government guidance and do what is individually and collectively best for us all within those parameters.

Every Thursday at 8pm I stand outside my front door and clap for our frontline workers: the doctors, the nurses, the delivery drivers, the supermarket workers, and the teachers; and I tell myself that I’m doing my part by staying at home. But a lot of the time my conscience weighs heavy and I’m engulfed by ‘survivor’s guilt’. Guilt that I’m safe at home whilst NHS workers risk their lives every day for us all. Guilt that I am still able to work from home whilst so many people have lost their jobs and livelihoods. Guilt for having the luxury of time to sit at my laptop typing out a personal blog post, whilst parents juggle work with home-schooling young children. Everyday guilt that I could be doing more.

I listened to a podcast the other day in which members of the public had written in on their thoughts and personal challenges during the pandemic. I was surprised to hear from nurses who had written in about their own guilt that they could be doing more. I was gobsmacked. These remarkable everyday heroes also felt guilty. A reminder that no matter how many kilometres you run, or parcels you deliver, or lives you may save; everyone feels like they could be doing more. So yes, we should be kinder to others, but we should also be kinder to ourselves; we are only human after all. The woes of dating may seem like a very trivial subject in the grand scheme of things right now, but it is important to remember that we are fighting a war. A war for our survival so that we can continue to live our lives to the fullest, including even the most trivial aspects, as it is in those very small, almost insignificant aspects, that make us human.


April 2020. Day 3,452 of quarantine. But not really, It’s only the fifth week. Actually, it’s not so bad. I appreciate that I have it better than a lot of people. I managed to get out to my dad’s house in the countryside before they announced lockdown in the UK, so lots of open spaces and fresh air. Once I’ve had my one daily government-allocated exercise outside, I’m lucky enough to have a back garden to sunbathe or read in if the weather permits. I’ve curated a nice little daily routine of work, yoga, walking the dog, reading and Netflix. Then bed for a minimum of eight hours. Repeat. Yes, I am lucky. But this doesn’t stop me moaning along with the rest of the population about all our lockdown hang ups. Human, remember. Like everybody else I have good and bad days. Days where I may feel creative and attempt a makeup tutorial, painting, or even dress up as Frida Kahlo (complete with drawn on eyebrows) for the ‘recreate a famous artwork’ challenge. And then there are the other days, where I’ll feel lost and lethargic and where even burning my thumb on my straighteners brings tears to my eyes, surprising myself that they were that close to the surface. These are just a handful of my thoughts during isolation:

Running. I hate it. I have never been a runner, and now all of sudden it seems to have become everyone’s new favourite hobby. I was nominated a week ago to do the ‘run for heroes’ 5K challenge and so far, have avoided doing it. This was truly going to be a case of couch to 5K. Don’t get me wrong, I think its’s for an amazing cause and I donated my money as soon as I was nominated. But the actual running? I’m still psyching myself up for that bit.

Makeup. Why does every woman I know comment on how much better their skin looks now that they don’t wear makeup every day? Am I the only person who has had more breakouts than ever since having a bare face in isolation? I swear my skin was in better condition when I wore makeup and it was exposed to the pollution and grime of the London underground every day. Riddle me that?!

Maintenance. Like many others, I’ve had to be weaned off regular beauty treatments. Luckily, I didn’t have a manicure before lockdown so haven’t been left with chipped half-moons of gel on my nails. My hair is dyed in a low maintenance balayage style, so I don’t have to worry too much about root regrowth, and I haven’t bothered with a full wax down there in a while, because I wasn’t having sex. No, the only thing I’m really missing is my monthly eyebrow threading appointment. Cue the only person I’m self-isolating with – my dad. On my first brow he pulled the wax off so painfully slowly that it didn’t even rip out any hair, instead it just left a waxy tuff which when I blinked my eyelashes got stuck to. On his second attempt he managed to rip the strip off with more speed and conviction, unfortunately he also took 3mm of my hairline off with it too. But it’s OK, next week I’ve been tasked with cutting his hair with kitchen scissors whilst following a YouTube video on barbering. Karma works in mysterious ways.

Houseparty. I have a confession; I don’t like it. After a day of video call meetings for work, the last thing I want to do is log on to a poor-quality call with more people who may or may not be pixelated out. Don’t get me wrong, I miss my friends and can’t wait until the day we can all sit in a beer garden together again. But during quarantine I’ve found that I much prefer the one-to-one Facetime call approach in order to properly catch up, rather than to participate in my fifth virtual quiz of the week.

Tiger King. Everyone is obsessed and I just don’t get it. I watched the first episode and whilst I initially enjoyed the entertainment value of watching an eccentric man with a mullet and penchant for animal print rant about an equally strange woman called Carole; 30 minutes in and I started to feel quite uncomfortable.

Sex and the City. Having only watched a few episodes here and there over the years I decided to finally watch all six seasons from the beginning. A TV series which documents the lives of four single women in their thirties navigating dating in a major city; it has never felt more relatable. Although some of the views are quite dated now and others downright offensive, I felt my emotions rise as certain storylines developed. I didn’t like season 3 Carrie: it was beyond frustrating to watch her cheat on poor lovely Aiden and then complain that she couldn’t find a nice, emotionally available man. Then to watch her ignore all the red flags, and go back again and again to Big, was like watching my dating history with toxic men on replay. And then there was sweet Charlotte, who had a shotgun wedding to Trey before even sleeping with him, only to find out that he struggled with erectile disfunction and couldn’t have sex with her. Poor Charlotte. She was then diagnosed with a ‘depressed vagina’ because she wasn’t getting any. I couldn’t help but look down at my own crotch with a raised (slightly botched) eyebrow.

WhatsApp group chats. Like most people, I usually give the obligatory groan when added to yet ‘another group chat’ and endeavour to keep them all on mute. However, during lockdown I applaud the group chat. The memes and emoji games take the edge off cabin fever and it’s amazing what things can keep you entertained for hours on end. For instance, my friend, Kandice, sent me ‘laser beams’ via the new 3D effects on iMessage, which got me disproportionately over-excited. I then proceeded to spend a full half-hour sending animated blown up hearts and fireworks to everyone in my address book with an iPhone; the longest time I’ve spent on iMessage in probably five years. I especially love my girls group chat. Whether we are discussing the current nomination for our virtual book club, or how hairy on a scale of ‘one to sasquatch’ we will be when we’re finally let out of isolation, there is no subject too bizarre or trivial that we won’t discuss. Like, did you know that 70% of people on your chat will mis-read “do you think I’d look good with a perm?” as “do you think I’d look good with a penis?” or that the cost of a mop in Bermuda is over $40? You do now.

And finally, but certainly not the least, the majestic Quarantini. Like 90% of the population, I also run the risk of coming out of lockdown with a growing addiction. I’ve had to limit my drinking to Thursday-Saturday only, for fear of consuming gin like orange squash.

One good thing about quarantine though, is that I now have an extended excuse as to why I’m not dating. Although, ‘iso-dating’ has become quite big apparently. A couple weeks into the lockdown, I was informed that Hinge “was going off!”. All my single girlfriends exclaimed that they’d never known so much activity on dating apps, with a barrage of messages from numerous suitors and setting up various dinner dates over FaceTime. It all sounded very…time consuming. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s amazing that we have these platforms, especially in light of current circumstances, where people don’t have to feel alone and are only a few clicks away from connecting with not just friends and family, but also romantic interests. But for me personally, I knew it wouldn’t work. I’ve been in the dating sphere long enough to know that I have to meet someone in person and ideally no later than two weeks after first speaking, to determine if there’s a genuine connection or not.

I have had too many experiences where I’ve built someone up in my head through texting alone, only to be desperately disappointed when I’ve met them in real life. And hands up, I know that that is completely on me. Through no real fault of their own I’ve projected my own wants/needs on to a person that I’ve never met before in order to re-create a version of my ideal man. A version that they probably will never live up to because they were never that person in the first place.

Nope, meeting someone after three weeks and being hit with the realisation that there is no connection is hard enough; I don’t have the stomach to be disappointed after three months of talking to someone. Besides, there’s really only one person that I wish I could contact during lockdown; but I know I can’t.

It’s been almost seven months since B broke things off with me, and I haven’t had a single date since. They say that it takes roughly half the time you were with someone to get over them. So, if I calculate this right, I should have been over him by Christmas last year… something terribly wrong seems to have happened to my equation. The first three months don’t really count as we were still talking. But from January when we decided to cut all contact, I told myself I’d give myself six man-free months in order to lick my wounds and get over B. The lockdown coincided with this time perfectly and what better excuse not to date than to say that I’m doing my bit for society. But come June, my time will be up, and most likely lockdown will be too.

So, what happens when I can no longer use social distancing as my get out of jail dating-free card? When this is all over and we’re let back out into the wild again? The logistics alone are going to be complicated enough. Maybe, like the film Contagion, we will need to show a wristband proving that we’ve been vaccinated before we could so much as hold hands with someone. Practising ‘safe sex’ is going to take on a whole new meaning. They’re going to need crate loads of PPE just for single people returning to the shag battlefield. Maybe they’ll invent a genital friendly sanitiser or some kind of protective latex jumpsuit that people can wear like a full body condom. Too far? Anyway…

If I’m honest with myself, it’s the fear I’m struggling with the most. Fear of putting myself out there again, only for another man to ghost me. Fear of rejection or not finding someone I like, or worse, the fear of finding someone, only for them to hurt me; shattering what’s left of my already fragile heart. The more I think about the exhausting process that modern-day dating entails, the more appealing a life of solitude with a bunch of cats and houseplants for company seems. Not that there is anything wrong with that, if you so choose, but I would like the opportunity to meet someone again…

The other evening, I was really struggling with my thoughts around B. The day that this post is published marks one year since that night where he zipped up my dress in a wine bar in Clapham. I felt an overwhelming urge to call him, just for the comfort of hearing his voice again and checking if he was OK. My finger hovered over his number on my phone, at the same time a text from my friend, Annie, dropped down on my screen. I confided my thoughts to her, and she coached me through it. She was kinder to me than I was, saying it is completely normal in these times to want to feel close and connected to others; especially someone we have been close to in the past. She asked what I wanted to get out of a call with him; and would I ultimately be hurting myself by doing it. She was right. B had known how I felt; the ball had been left firmly in his court. There was nothing to suggest that he would want to hear from me. Instead, Annie suggested I keep a journal or write a letter, noting down all my thoughts, and then put it away in a box. The letter was only really for me, it would never be sent.

I went to bed that night, emotionally exhausted but feeling slightly more at ease, and let my previous urge wash over me. And then the strangest thing happened, I woke up early the next morning after a night of weird integrated dreams, I grabbed my earphones, pulled on my trainers, and went… for my run. And do you know what, it wasn’t that bad.