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Keeping Mum: Am I the only one still washing the shopping?

Life is nowhere near normal for so many people. Award-winning journalist, Egon Cossou explains why he’s still washing the shopping and more besides….

washing the shopping

One of the great things about my friends is the way they don’t hesitate to hand out a light corrective ribbing when it’s required.

Here’s an example. One day, in the depths of the pandemic, I found myself sticking some of the shopping into the dishwasher for a few minutes. It was, I reasoned, quicker than cleaning it all by hand.

The response from friends was unanimous – mate, you’re  losing the plot!

In my own defence I was sole carer of my elderly mother and still processing the loss of my father. There came a point where Covid didn’t just seem like a wolf prowling the land looking for the vulnerable – it had entered the front garden and was pressing its snout through the letterbox.  

So vigilance dominated my thoughts, feelings and actions.

That meant working from home, zooming with friends instead of meeting them, and… cleaning the shopping.

"...freedoms have been restored. Yay!"

Many months have passed since then – and that’s brought big changes. My mother and I have been double jabbed. I’ve had a return to the office. And we’ve seen most Covid restrictions lifted. Our freedoms have been restored. Yay!

keeping mum:washing the shopping

In many ways I’m much more relaxed now. The fact that so many of us are “double jabbers” means I’m a lot happier socialising and generally being around people. But there’s evidence that effectiveness of the vaccines can diminish, with talks already being had over booster shots – so I’m certainly not throwing caution to the wind.

There’s also another factor at play here. The fact that people now have the freedom to decide whether or not wear masks or maintain social distance has created unease in many quarters.

A recent survey has found that almost three quarters of people questioned were anxious about the loosening of restrictions.

Those concerns get even sharper when you look at the 4 million people classed as extremely vulnerable. Two thirds of them don’t feel comfortable going into hospitality settings, according to the Office for National Statistics. 

Not surprising, when you learn that the ONS found that 6 out of 10 people who died from Covid had some kind of disability.

The concerns of the vulnerable will inevitably be echoed in the hearts of the millions of people who – like me  – are caring for a loved one.

"...the pandemic equivalent of the Japanese army officer who remained at his jungle post for 29 years, fighting a long finished war"

My mother’s health depends on me avoiding getting the virus. So I’m the guy dramatically veering away from the unmasked shopper in the supermarket or the jogger panting past me in the park. I’m the one saying “it’s only a drizzle” when trying to persuade friends to drink in the pub garden. 

keeping mum: washing the shopping

But how long can you keep being vigilant  before you become the pandemic equivalent of the Japanese army officer who remained at his jungle post for 29 years fighting a long finished war?

I suspect the unsatisfactory answer lies in a messy tangle of personal circumstance, gut instinct – and hard data on infection rates.

It’s a conundrum millions of us are wrestling with as this wretched pandemic takes its erratic,  worrisome course.

But the other conundrum facing those of us still in the trenches – is how to handle the anxiety that the lifting of safeguards can bring?

" to handle the anxiety that the lifting of safeguards can bring?"

For me – step number one is to assure myself that I’m taking a reasonable level of precaution – and not simply relying on others to do the right thing.

So I’m wearing masks and maintaining social distance. Hand sanitiser is my friend.

Socialising is mainly outside and with people I know and trust. If I sense that someone is a little cavalier about covid safety then either we won’t be meeting, or I’ll be taking extra precautions around them.

And yes – I am STILL cleaning the shopping. Although the dishwasher is no longer involved!

There are other less tangible steps I take to sustain my peace of mind.

"Don't board the fear bus."

I try to stay present in the moment. Yes I know how airy fairy that might sound – but as soon as I catch myself catastrophising about the future I try to release fretful thoughts – focusing  instead on physical things – like my breathing or the sensation of my feet against the floor. As a friend of mine puts it, thoughts are like buses. They can transport you to destinations that are good for you or bad for you. Don’t board the fear bus.

Being open and direct with friends has also helped. Instead of the customary “I’m ok thanks!”, I am now much more likely to say “things suck right now” if they do indeed, suck. It can be exhausting having to grin and mouth platitudes – and being honest can feel freeing.

I find it really important to soak up moments of joy. Whether it’s kitchen dancing with a loved one – or a sweet shared forgotten family memory – these moments can bloom bright and strong. I try to relish each and every one.

"...leave a little room in our hearts..."

I’m not an expert on any of this. Like an increasing number of us, I’m just an ordinary person trying to find my way through. But there are tons of online resources on meditation and self care for the stressed carer. For instance courses run by the likes of Carers UK or apps like Calm or Headspace can really help us navigate this strange new shifting landscape.

Hopefully as we enjoy our long thwarted freedoms, we can leave a little room in our hearts (and in the supermarket) for those for whom that wolfish virus is still a real and frightening threat.

Egon Cossou is an award winning TV journalist/broadcaster who has reported for the BBC from around the world. He is passionate about empowering people who are balancing their own lives with those of ageing loved ones

Keeping Mum: washing the shopping

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