No, I didn’t know that Boris Johnson had missed five COBRA meetings, but I was so unsurprised that it didn’t even feel like new information to me.

Hope’s #MadCovidDiaries Tuesday 21.4.2020

TW: Miscarriage, COVID deaths

I am getting so angry that anger doesn’t feel like anger anymore, it just feels like being tired.

The first week of the pandemic I spent staring at the news and just shaking with rage. It became unsustainable and I started trying to get into some other things. Writing for and reading the Mad Covid blogs has been great. I have started doing bits of work. Managing the rage as best I can.

But it keeps getting worse and it’s actually NOT me for once. It’s not my own brain whipping up life into a frenzy of horror before my eyes while I just helplessly watch and pick over it. I could write a long rant about the devastating negligence of Boris Johnson and his Tory government, and the revolting behaviour of Donald Trump, but others have done that already far better than I could, and in more appropriate spaces than Mad Covid. More locally and specifically to me, while I have been worrying about how I am going to accessibly deliver a revision tutorial (not that I want to set the students work, but I have no choice in the matter), my university has made the extremely exploitative and cynical move to propose offering some modules and even whole degrees entirely online permanently by October 2020, cutting 25% of in-person taught modules per department.[1] The problems with this are endless. From my perspective, I am most worried about the students who have restricted internet access, those who are living in unsafe home situations, those who cannot afford high-speed internet and/or new computers, those with caring responsibilities, those who are suffering from trauma, those suffering bereavement. Ad infinitum. I was already worried about this, because we all have to teach online during the pandemic, but at least this potentially exclusive set-up was only temporary. How misguidedly optimistic of me to think so.

I might lose my teaching. PhD students, early-career researchers and hourly-paid academics are going to be the collateral here, as usual. Again, I could rant about this for a long time, but I won’t. I will say instead that, personally, I love teaching. It is not a frequent feeling for me that I have something good to offer other people. But I believe I can teach well and I want the opportunity to practise and learn how to do that better. When I arrived at university I was very ill and it was through the kindness of teachers and the way they made my education come alive that I was able to— not recover, because I dislike that word and its connotations— but to get through it, and for most of the more horrible things in my head to dissipate. Because of what looks very much like the greed and carelessness of the institution I am part of, I may not be able to learn how to be like them.

When the Sunday Times thing came out at the weekend I just felt tired. No, I didn’t know that Boris Johnson had missed five COBRA meetings, but I was so unsurprised that it didn’t even feel like new information to me. I grew up in the north of England, in Barnsley, one of the northern regions worst hit by austerity.[2] I have grown up watching the effects of Conservative governments’ neglect. When I was younger I didn’t know this was why things were the way they were. One of the ways this manifested was that I deteriorated in the months-long gaps between CAMHS[3] appointments, switching from therapist to useless therapist, none of whom (excepting the very first person I saw) identified and intervened in the abusive situations I was in, or recommended that I receive more specialist care. Why? I can’t help but think it’s because there was no other provision— if they decided they did need to take action, there would be no one to whom the responsibility could be passed. An NHS worker told my school after I called 111 asking for advice following a suspected miscarriage. I don’t know what they said to the school— because they did it without my consent— but I was forced to have a meeting with two teachers at the school who pulled me out of my lesson to shout at me for allowing myself to be in a sexual relationship. What did they expect the school to do? Look after me? Where were the resources for them to do that? How could they expect the school to have people qualified to deal with that sensitively? I can only think that this didn’t happen because of lack of training, lack of resources, lack of funding. I was fourteen and terrified, bleeding on my own, having been shouted at by adults at school who I was supposed to trust.

I’m finding myself writing quite often about my childhood in these diaries, more often than seems necessary given that I’m writing for a blog about experiencing mental illness during the current pandemic; but I’m realising more than I had before that my mental illness has been worsened, deepened, reinscribed by the trauma of these memories. It’s when the world is simultaneously quiet and unbearable, when responsibility changes its meaning and care becomes infinitely precious, that they echo the most.

I didn’t have space in my head or any sense of agency to even contemplate politically-informed rage. So I haven’t actually been angry for that long, even, but I’m already tired. And it’s a privilege to be tired when thousands of people are dead, thousands more grieving, because of the government’s terrifying desertion of responsibility.

My good friend Jo Edge, who I met virtually via #madtwitter last year and in person in January, who also admins and diaries for Mad Covid and co-runs the fund, has written extensively on how and why speaking about mental illness and treatment is a political act.[4] For me, her writing on this and our conversations, have crystallised my understanding of the weight political circumstances exert on mental illness. Many people have recently asked where the advocacy on behalf of disabled, homeless, and mentally ill people was all this time before the pandemic; they’ve asked why a pandemic was necessary for society to begin questioning the safety of its most vulnerable members. It seems like the world has to reach some kind of universal breaking point before anyone notices the injustice— and this ‘breaking point’ was years ago for some. It is a privilege to even be able to think, ‘This can’t possibly get any worse, can it?’


[1] As of Thursday 23 April, they have reversed this decision, but I have left this in the diary as a record of how the plans emotionally affected myself and doubtless hundreds of other academic members of staff and postgraduate students during an already stressful time. See ‘Durham University reverses online teaching plan after criticism’, BBC News, <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-52387360>. For the coverage of last week, see Imogen Usherwood, Tom Mitchell and Jack Taylor, ‘EXCLUSIVE: Details of ‘Unbound Education’ proposal uncovered, as Senate prepares to vote’, Palatinate, 17 April 2020, <https://www.palatinate.org.uk/details-of-unbound-education-online-degree-proposal-uncovered-as-senate-prepares-to-vote/>.

[2] See, for instance, Patrick Butler’s articles, ‘“Desperation and Despair”: Barnsley’s long battle with austerity’, and ‘Deprived northern regions worst hit by UK austerity, study finds’, The Guardian, 28 January 2019, <https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jan/28/desperation-despair-barnsley-long-battle-with-austerity> and <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/28/deprived-northern-regions-worst-hit-by-uk-austerity-study-finds>.

See also Sally Weale, ‘“Our school is cut to the bone. Our teachers are on their knees”’, The Guardian, 16 March 2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/mar/16/schools-funding-formula-education-england-barnsley-hackney>.

[3] NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. The period I refer to was between 2011 and 2014; I am unsure of if and how the service has changed since then.

[4] Dr Jo Edge, ‘I Want People To Be Aware of How Scared I Am O f Getting Ill Again’, Recovery in the Bin, 10 September 2019, <https://recoveryinthebin.org/2019/09/10/i-want-people-to-be-aware-of-how-scared-i-am-of-getting-ill-again/>, and ‘Mental Health Awareness Week: what you need to be aware of (warning: you don’t want to know’, 16 May 2019, <https://hagenilda.wordpress.com/2019/05/16/mental-health-awareness-week-what-you-need-to-be-aware-of-warning-you-dont-want-to-know/>

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