Living in COVID Days

Covid-days have appropriately raised the spectre of mental health. When I was a boy, the word ‘mental’ had very different connotations. Those who society viewed as ‘different’ were held in institutions while kids without parents [these were post-WWII days, and many had lost one or both parents] were held at ‘Glastonbury’, St. Augustine’s, and St. Catherine’s in Geelong while society turned aside.

With two loving parents and a protected [and privileged] upbringing, my only experience of an orphanage was to enjoy the St. Augustine’s ‘Band in Green’ that played at Kardinia Park home games. I certainly never thought about what asylums or orphanages were!

Luckily, we have moved on, and mental health is now on the front page; despite that it took a global pandemic to alert the population at large and face its demons, whether our own or those of others. While still far from perfect, attitudes to mental health have moved ‘from shadow to high table’.

‘Mental Health’ is now a lead topic on radio, TV, and the print media. Here on the beautiful Surf Coast, we have ridden the pandemic lows with the rest of the state, but, more than most other regions, our community health—economic and mental—depends on ‘being and staying open!’

There are nuances to ‘mental health’. It can affect the personal: me, mine, us, my family. It can be societal: economic, structural, relationship, employment, relaxation. It can be relative: them, others. Commonly, it means ‘all of the above’.

Covid has witnessed the slow rise in eye contact … wonderful; the increasing hellos to unknowns on the beach … uplifting; the stop-and-chats in the supermarket aisle [masked, of course] … enjoyed. On the negative side, Covid has delivered a chain of challenges to our mental health, and to be frank, I am losing track of their number. I think my personal ‘whammy’ score is now five— a double-double + one—or, yikes, six—a double triple.

Wham #1 and Wham #2: Retiring and growing old are the intricately interleaved inevitabilities of our eighth decade. Albeit retirement is a trifle confronting, and growing old only grudgingly accepted, we do anticipate both. Still, we expect to soften both blows with coffees in the sun, novels to nod over, people watching, and conversation—lots of conversation! Enter the multi-whammies!

Extra Wham #3: Obviously, Covid-19! No more need be said except that it didn’t figure in our ageing and retirement plans.

Extra Wham #4: the relentless negativity of the daily leader-speak and media scrum: “a few more days … or weeks … maybe a month or two … but possibly more.”

Extra Wham #5: the creeping sadness as a life-partner slowly seeps into the imprisonment of advanced Alzheimer’s. While clearly a very personal ‘whammy’, gone are our dreams of retirement travel and ageing ‘together’.

Extra Wham #6: is a whammy-amalgam as 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 feeds into Covid-driven isolation and separationthe most insidious ‘wham’ for us all. This is feeding my greatest trepidation—that I might lose the art of speech, of conversation, of talking only to inanimate objects like the fireplace, yelling at faithless presenters on the ABC, or to a faithful but conversationally-bereft pair of Border Terriers.

Mr Google says that “… the average dog can learn 165 words [including signals] while the “super dogs” (those in the top 20% of dog intelligence) can learn 250 words.” Assuming that this modern equivalent of the Oracle of Delphi is correct, Rosie and Yogi are [sadly] not quite super-beasts—the only words both have down pat are ‘walkies’ and ‘dinner’.

Indeed, there is little else to do but walk the dogs. The growing tips in the garden have been so repetitively clipped that there is a distinct possibility that no spring growth will occur. As for Kärcher’ing the deck, I don’t seem to have it in me—despite that I eyeball it daily.

Though I have listed my own whammy count, I fancy most of ‘you’ out there could recount an equal number—or more. We have all accumulated impressive personal whammy loads. But what of our community?

What of our eateries: Mestizo, Ipsos, Lorne Central, The Pier, Coda, Qdos, Raas Leela, Umisango, Salonika, Saporitaliano, and all the others: food bought, food fridge’d, food wasted, owners devastated! What of our single person or family retailers and other businesses, our chippies, sparkies, gutter and roofers, builders … our people! Above all, what of our kids, blessed though Lorne kids are when compared to most: the surf at their door, the bush at their back, and a skatepark sensitively policed by a wonderful local cop. My personal whammies are but pale imitations against this backdrop.

We know this will pass. We know if we keep doing the mask + the social [I prefer physical] distancing + the ‘if- you-don’t-infect-me-I-wont-infect-you’ stuff, we will get through this. We are already one of the most vaccinated towns in the land. But as we hang on, there is no dispute: this pandemic is an existential challenge. It is a ‘mental’ challenge. It is nothing but ‘hard yards’.

All that said: well done, Lorne. You have given us much, and we couldn’t ask for a better town. You have held together. You have closed down with good grace when demanded to do so. You have bounced back with a smile at every re-opening. And, dear Lorne, we will all work for you and with you to pick up the mental health pieces of your township when it comes the time to give back.

John Agar