By Tim Porteus


FOR most of the lockdown, it felt as if my heart had been squeezed by a sharp wire, and a stone placed in my stomach. It was a real physical sensation, which was often accompanied by exhaustion and waves of fatigue.

I lived with it day after day, and almost got used to it. My mood was affected by it too. I smiled at times but seemed to have forgotten how to really laugh. Nights were the worst, the beautiful sunsets would impress my eyes but there was a disconnect to my soul.

I was missing my 10-year-old daughter Manja, whom I have shared parented for most of her life. She was abroad, and the pandemic meant we were separated for longer than we had ever been.

My younger children missed her too. They would stand by the beach and call out to her in the hope their voices would be carried over the sea to their sister.

We had technology, of course, of which I wrote about earlier, but as the weeks went by, the separation became increasingly unbearable for us all. It wasn’t just the separation, but the uncertainty of when, or even if, we would be able to be with her any time in the foreseeable future.

But then for all of us, there was an increasing need to accept a situation we had no control over, and get on with life as it was, and focus on the gifts and joys of the moment. And so we did, but it was always bittersweet.

“One day this will be over,” I would say to myself, as another day, week, month slipped by.

Then, on the very day the five-mile limit was lifted, my hopes turned into reality. After so many dashed hopes, with the help of friends, I managed to reach my daughter for a reunion neither of us will ever forget.

My daughter, who had just turned 11, flew into my arms. As I hugged her it was as if those sharp barbs of wire which had imprisoned my heart began to dissolve. The stone in my stomach magically vanished. It was a powerful physical sensation; the lifting of all that anxiety and stress, and yes, grief. It was as if someone had taken away a heavy harness that had weighed down my very being. We both wept as the release of emotion overwhelmed us. And I managed to bring her home here. The shrieks of her siblings when they met are still ringing in my ears.

Later I discovered my mind had been liberated from the worry and anxiety that had made it impossible for me to truly rest or be at peace. My insomnia eased, my mood lifted, my face could express genuine joy and I could laugh, while the fatigue and exhaustion was no more. I know I’m not out of the woods yet, but I am in a place with much light now.

It is only now I realise just how much both my physical health and mental wellbeing had been impacted by the enforced separation from my child. I’m not saying I have no worries anymore, but I’m able to function now on a level I couldn’t before.

I share this because I know many people will have been experiencing similar heightened stress and anxiety over these difficult months because of separation from loved ones, and may continue to do so. And it’s so important to acknowledge how this can affect our health, physical and mental.

The emotional impact of the lockdown has been massive on so many of us, and although I instinctively knew I was being affected by it, I didn’t realise just how much until it lifted.

There is a pressure to “get on with it”, “see the positives”, “think of others in a worse situation”, “count your blessings”. There is truth in all of this, of course, but I will be honest and say there were moments, despite my outward appearance of coping, that I was being taken into a very dark place, and feeling very ill.

What helped was the understanding of others, who allowed me to talk. My wife was a rock, but then I felt the guilt of leaning on her too much. There is a fear of being a burden, or that people won’t understand the depth of your emotions, maybe even judge you as weak, self-indulgent or over-sensitive.

Friends were wonderful but I often found myself holding back, burying it all, uttering that classic phrase “I’m fine” when I really wasn’t.

Unexpected moments of understanding helped so much. I once met a fellow dad in a supermarket who asked how things were and he immediately understood how I felt. That encounter lifted me that day.

There were others who touched base with me when they saw me and gave an understanding ear. To them I say thank you.

I tried to do the same for others, but I discovered that when we are trying to keep our head above water, it’s not so easy to help others emotionally, and that just adds to the guilt and desire to bury feelings.

As the lockdown ends, there will be joyous reunions for many, and the release of pent-up emotions caused by isolation and separation. For others there may be a longer wait, or less happy ending.

What’s so important is to acknowledge the emotional impact of this time of separation, both on ourselves and others. Understanding and patience is what we need for each other. Talking about your feelings is not weak or self-indulgent.

And this is a message children need to hear too. They have been through this as well, separated from loved ones and friends, and from familiar routines and places. There is a huge emotional legacy from this time that needs to be acknowledged and supported.

This has been my experience but I have written about it because I hope it will help others in some way not to feel so alone with their emotions.

We now need support to rebuild our economy and people’s livelihoods. But just as important is support to help people to work through the emotional impact of the lockdown. It’s not frivolous or being soft; it’s vital.

I fear professional services will be stretched and inadequate to meet the need. But like the dad I met in the supermarket, we can all play a small part in this; by pausing for a moment and giving understanding space to someone else; and also allowing ourselves time to be “not fine” and talk about why.

Now I have a fortnight of quarantine. But we will make the best of our days, and can’t wait to get out to the mountains when we are free to do so.

We’ll be heading for the Road of Legends. More of that later.