By Anna Prudhomme, Nenseh Koneh, Weronika Strzyżyńska
To close our These 4 Walls series we bring together voices of ELL residents sharing their experiences of lockdown.
Bethany Nicholas, 39, Artist, Forest Hill
I am trans, and my gay flatmate, whom I got on with great, moved out just before Covid hit. It was lucky for him, but I did not get another flatmate until the end of October. We don’t have much in common, don’t really do much together, and we keep to ourselves.
Not being regularly around my LGBTQ friends, and losing that face-to-face connection, was hard. I stopped bothering with make-up and hair and keeping myself indoors and not speaking much meant my voice has become more manly sounding than it did, which I was very much aware of whenever I went out, which was very little.
I’m a self-employed “commission” artist as well as a part-time contract waitress, but with the pandemic my waitressing work went out the window, which was hard as I can never rely on selling or getting orders for artwork. I have benefits that kept me stable for rent, but not having a regular work is eating into my savings which is not great to begin with. And not knowing how bad Covid was on a daily basis made me rather lazier than I normally would be.
Also being epileptic, being alone was scary. I had planned to be in hospital for a week to do tests to learn more about my seizures, but it got pushed back twice with even the next date planned for April still not certain. I had dentist appointments cancelled and suffered the worst toothache I have ever had for days. They eventually got me a prescription but there was no time to collect it on a Sunday, leaving me a jabbering wreck of emotions and in continuous pain.
My mental health has also got worse with being alone and not having family members or friends around. Only having over the phone relationship is still extremely hard along with seizures, money worries … the thought of turning 40 in less than two months, feeling I have achieved very little, has been playing on my mind constantly.
Charlene Douglas, 40, psychosexual therapist, Hackney
When lockdown first started, it was quite easy for me to just lay around, have a drink, watch TV and see clients in between that. During sessions, we teach our clients a lot around self-care, so I think we as therapists had to really make sure that we do that for ourselves during this period. That’s when I decided to incorporate exercise and meditation as well.
You kind of underestimated just how important it is to be around people; to be around different environments, to experience different things, until you’re forced to stay home.
There was a period where there weren’t as many clients, that was probably the very beginning of lockdown last March. By June time, I started to see more people come through. And it’s that classic thing where whatever you had to deal with before lockdown that you didn’t really want to deal with because you had the other distractions, lockdown made you have to deal with it. So definitely throughout the last 12 months, more and more people have come forward, wanting support, and help with relationship and sexual issues.
I didn’t have any fear about losing out on work; I suppose without sounding arrogant because my market is so niche, I’m one of the only Black psychosexual therapists in the UK that’s younger than the average therapist and have a different style with how I work or engage with clients. I’m also on The Sex Clinic television show, so these types of situations often mean that fire coming my way isn’t a problem as such.
I felt like the world was quiet and it gave me time to do the same. And to look inward a little bit, you give a lot in this job, so it was nice to be in a position where you can finally give to yourself. So, yeah, I wasn’t really worried. I just use the time to kind of raise awareness about sexual issues on social media, and to connect with people and the work steadily came through.
Camilla Brown, 32, Dog Walker, Lewisham
I started using the Rover app, for dog walking jobs when I had just moved to Montreal in summer 2019. I was new to Montreal and had not found work yet. A friend of mine – who had also moved from the UK – was using Rover and she recommended it to me. Rover is a combination of dog walking and pet sitting. I really had to get out of the house, so I thought dog walking would be a good way to spend time outside, hanging out with animals, and seeing different parts of the city, while earning a bit of money.
When I returned to the UK, I settled in Lewisham. I had my profile active but didn’t get any bookings until the end of February 2021 – for the past couple of weeks I have had a daily dog walking job at 10:30am – the owner lives a few minutes’ walk from me and is preparing for taking the bar to become a barista so she doesn’t have time to walk her dog currently. For me this was a big increase, because I went from having no bookings in over a year to having one regular client.
During the lockdown in Canada, I kept on offering my services as a dog walker but did not get any gigs. I think it is because people weren’t travelling, and most people had less to do generally, so didn’t need help caring for their pets…
Alice Kirk, 20, University of Nottingham student, Croydon
Other people say that they had the worst time during winter, but it’s been the opposite for me. For me, summer was the worst. It was hot and we couldn’t do anything or go anywhere. It was frustrating.
I had my birthday in June. That was weird. My friends came one-by-one and gave me my presents at the doorstep and wished me a happy birthday. We still couldn’t go anywhere together at the time. And then the rest of the summer got really boring, really fast. Going on the same walks round the neighbourhood everyday. Seeing the same things. All the mental health advice I was reading online said, “make sure you go on your daily walk!” But I was hating my daily walks.
I guess I was just looking forward to going back to uni. By September we were optimistic. We thought that everything would go back to normal after Christmas and I signed a contract on a flat in Nottingham. But then the opposite happened – obviously. The cases rocketed after Christmas and I had to come back to Croydon to my parents’ house.
Studying from home was not the worst. I study English Literature, so most of it is just reading texts and papers on my own anyways. But I’ve really struggled to concentrate, to focus on anything. I didn’t read that much, and I’ve done very little work these last couple of months. There were also some books I needed that I couldn’t access because they were not available online, so I’ve not really been able to progress much with my dissertation since Christmas. And this year we don’t get the “no-detriment policy.” There is just something called the “grace period” where you get an automatic one–week extension on everything, but that’s it.
I think at first when I had to come back home again, I felt a bit… a bit robbed of, you know, “the uni-experience.” I was in second year when the pandemic started and now I’m in my final year, so half of my studies were online. And I felt like we all missed out on making those student-life memories. On living in a shared house, going out, meeting new people and so on. But now I have come to accept it. Now, I am just trying to look forward to things reopening.
Lorraine Da Costa, Support teacher for deaf pupils, Tower Hamlets
My husband and I both work at a school; my husband teaches A-level maths and I am a support teacher for deaf pupils, so for us schools opening up again is a mixed blessing. It gets us back into the routine, which is great, but it feels a bit risky as well. As teachers we effectively come across thousands of households, so there is a risk of us bringing the virus home and then our children spreading it at their schools too. I’ve also – and I’m sure some people might hate me for saying this – but I actually enjoyed lockdown a bit; getting to spend time with my family and not having any uniforms to wash and iron.
So we had a pretty great but also quite chaotic lockdown. If you can imagine a circus going haywire, it was like that but slightly more organised. My husband had to literally lock himself in the front room and do live lessons. In the living room we had all the children doing their classes at once. It allowed me to keep an eye on all of them and we also don’t usually let the children have computers or laptops in the bedroom.
We had to figure out how to sit all the kids so their webcams wouldn’t cross. They ended up in different corners of the room, facing different walls. If I wanted to make a cup of tea, I had to make a sign to my older daughter, and she would switch the camera off for two seconds so I could put the kettle on. My son, who is in year 9, would be concentrating on his classes (he is in top sets so the teachers were expecting a certain level of engagement,) and then my five-year-old would start clapping her hand or sounding out her phonics. I was doing all my work from my phone, and sometimes I would walk around with the phone in my pocket and my earphones in, making sure all my children were engaging with their classes, while also doing my job.
The good thing is that my husband and I had the discipline that comes from being in the teaching profession. So saying things like ‘get on with it,’ ‘stay on task,’ that came naturally to us, but we could see the children getting distracted and fed up with being online. My son has a swivel chair, and I’d just see him spinning around, fidgeting.
But for me, besides the chaos, the lockdown has been a blessing in many ways. Once the swimming classes, the karate, the football, the dance lessons, and everything else stopped, we found all this quality time that we never had before. We got to do things together as a family. Especially during the first lockdown when schools still didn’t have everything figured out yet. We painted the house, we went on walks, we saw movies together. So I cannot complain that lockdown was hundred percent a nightmare.
Follow our These 4 Walls series this week to find out more about what happened behind closed doors during this pandemic. #These4Walls