Clap for Carers provided a perfect demonstration of unity at the start of the pandemic. Every Thursday for ten weeks, the well-meaning British public were invited to show their support for key workers by applauding on their doorsteps. Pots and pans were bashed, various musical instruments played, and non-participants were judged by their nosy neighbours. It was a perfect example of the ‘activism’ we have come to know in 2020, in that it allowed people to make a statement and feel as though they were contributing to the resolution of a bigger issue without even leaving their houses.
But in reviving this for the third lockdown, I feel as though the point is being somewhat missed. I have previously written on the feeling of impostor syndrome I have from being defined as a key worker, and while yes, it is wonderful to know people value our contribution to society in this time of crisis, the words and applause are, for the most part, empty. The stress, anxiety, and paranoia don’t magically disappear on Thursday at 8pm. We’re still ticking time bombs, waiting for the PPE to fail, the wrong person to stand too close, or the phone call from Test and Trace.
I’m not writing this piece to berate those who choose to join in with this. I simply ask for you to consider other, more practical ways to help the key workers in your life at the same time. If you find yourself talking to people who are still working on the front line on a daily basis, especially within the NHS, give them space to talk about their experiences and the pressures they face. Providing distraction is useful at times, but simply forcing them to repress what they’re feeling and not offering an outlet can cause it to build up and increase the overall burden. You’ll more than likely be surprised by what you learn listening to their accounts as well. The news is offering limited insight into the situation, but there is so much more under the surface you can only understand from hearing a first-hand account.
From my experience, another small act you can offer is going on a socially-distanced walk with a front line worker to encourage them to leave the house. I tend to work evening shifts and I notice a definite improvement in my mental health when I go out in the daytime. This way, I’m able to have a positive association with leaving the house, as opposed to it only being for work purposes which can be overwhelmingly negative. If they don’t feel comfortable doing this, which is equally valid, why not offer to get things they need from the supermarket if you’re able to go? Helping to make sure the people you love are eating well is so important, and putting yourself back into an environment where the virus is easily spread is the last thing many people will want to face.
If you do go to the shops and decide to make conversation with shop floor or checkout workers, please try to talk about something, anything, which isn’t Covid. Speaking from personal experience: yes, it is a strange time, no, it doesn’t look like it’s going back to normal any time soon, and yes, we know the masks are difficult to breathe in and make your glasses steam up. We’ve been wearing them longer than you have and you can take yours off in five minutes when you leave the building – we don’t care, wear them properly.
Ultimately, Clap for Carers is well intended and I appreciate the idea behind it. However, there are so many other ways to make a difference which will have a much more tangible effect on the people you are trying to support.