Mental health has become more important than ever in the last year, especially for those who have had to shield themselves from the world on three separate occasions.
Patient Care Assistant Carl Mardell explains how tough the last 12 months have been; trying to keep busy at a time where the world stood still.
For Carl Mardell, 54, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK, it didn’t even cross his mind that he would have to shield himself from society, let alone on three separate occasions.
At his home in Thrapston Carl’s wife, Dawn, had received a letter to shield and he called his local surgery to find out what he should be doing for her health and safety.
To his and the GP’s surprise, after a quick bit of research the doctor informed Carl that he was actually supposed to be shielding as well as he too was vulnerable.
Carl said: "That was the moment that I realised how serious COVID-19 was, and how I ended up shielding the first time."
Of course, this meant that Carl couldn’t go to work as a Patient Care Assistant for EMAS’ Patient Transport Service in Northamptonshire – a job that he loves.
Before joining patient transport services in 2018, Carl had been a Retail Manager at Marks and Spencer’s for more than 20 years, so the idea of not working was alien to him.
However, his new priority was keeping safe at home, and Carl explains that the first period of shielding wasn’t so bad.
He said: "There were loads of jobs to do around the house and I knew I was going to be off for a period of time, so my wife and I sat down and made a list. I spent my time doing jobs that needed doing."
By the end of the first lockdown, Carl had completed a major project.
He said: "The stairs were a real challenge to do up. I managed to re-do the whole stairwell so that is looking really nice now."
In July, he was told he could return to work, but Carl didn’t feel too assured when he returned. Since the new guidelines were still relatively new, he worried others might not take them seriously.
He said: "It was my first time back at work since being told I was ‘vulnerable’, so I was newly aware that if I caught it, it could be deadly for me."
In August, Carl returned to shielding. This time around, things to do were running low. So, Carl decided to pick up his old hobby of building and painting World War Two models.
He said: "I was not sure what to do at first, I didn’t have any chores left to do.
"I have an 8ft x 6ft platform set up in my garage-turned-office and I have built a complete scenery of an airfield with a military base, with a working railway network around it.
"Spending time on this led to me learning different brushing techniques and I even learned how to use an airbrush for a better-quality finish."
As 2020 came to an end, a third national lockdown was announced which meant a third period of shielding for Carl. He admits that this time around, the isolation has begun to take its toll on him.
He said: "I feel very isolated this time. It is affecting me mentally because I feel very guilty that I’m not at work helping, and I’m also not able to get out there in the world and do stuff to contribute.
"Right now I don’t feel valuable at all. I’m sure my colleagues don’t think of me negatively, but I worry that’s how they feel."
But there is light at the end of the tunnel as Carl received his first dose of the vaccine on 18 January. He’s really positive about the vaccination and understands it’s going to really benefit him in the long run.
Carl also offers assurance for anyone nervous about taking the vaccine.
He said: "I can understand people’s fears. The issue is COVID isn’t going anywhere soon and anything we can do as a population to lessen the blow, we’ve got to be doing what we can. If that means having the vaccine, then we need to do that."
And for the future, Carl is cautiously optimistic for what 2021 and beyond brings. Not to mention he is definitely looking forward to getting back to work.
He said: "I’m excited for what it’s going to bring, though understanding that our lockdown might get extended again and I don’t know how I’m going to feel at that time.
"I’m looking forward to going back to work because it means I will be more active, and meeting people – both colleagues and patients - will give me self-worth again."