Sharon McMeekin

Sharon McMeekin

Last updated on 22 May 2020

May 18th- 24th 2020 is Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK, and now, more than ever, it seems apt to turn a spotlight to these issues. This week last year, I wrote a blog post about my own struggles with anxiety and depression, and how they affect my work on a day to day basis. While I now have well established coping mechanisms that help me manage my mental health, the Coronavirus pandemic, and the resulting lockdown, bring with them a whole range of new challenges and I thought I’d write a little about my own experiences so far.


For me, the lockdown came as I was finishing up the main body of the Novice to Know-How (N2N) online training project. N2N was an intense but rewarding experience, and in some ways good prep for lockdown. I had been working long hours to meet the deadline, mostly from home, so effectively social distancing before it became fashionable!

At first this did serve me well as I adjusted to the new reality of lockdown, I was well practised at getting my head down and focusing on work in my home environment. I was also helped by the agile way we work at the DPC, our systems are set-up to allow for flexibility of location, we have established channels for easy communication and quick decision-making, and our greatest strength is our ability to come together as a team to support each other.

So, all seemed good at first, but quickly the cracks began to show. The stress of N2N caught up with me. I was REALLY tired from the long hours, and the immediate and unprecedented popularity meant that instead of a reduction in pace, there was instead a shift to being bombarded with enquiries whilst managing the tasks relating to roll out. We also need to consider how we could use the resource to support the community at a time when it was even more relevant and timely? There was also a backlog of things I wanted to turn my attention to that were bringing on guilt and stress, although I shall be ever thankful to Amy Currie for how well she has kept our Workforce Development activities running while I focus on N2N. Also add in that as a wider organisation we also needed to act quickly to rethink a busy schedule of face to face events to ensure we continued to serve our members well.

You also need to include an inability to destress through my usual routes of getting out and about to see friends and family, visiting my favourite eateries, or grabbing a pint at the pub, and any trip out of the house bringing on substantial anxiety due to society at large not seeming to know what 2m is (anyone else finish their weekly trip to the supermarket exhausted and covered in sweat?!?), you find a Sharon that’s heading towards a meltdown.

Said meltdown happened on Wednesday 6th May, after a confrontation with a mouthy and overly opinionated mansplaining dog owner, who felt the need to publicly reprimand me for our dogs barking at his husky. After calming down, and some tears, I realised I needed to take more proactive steps to improve my mental health during lockdown.

First thing was to book some leave. When lockdown started it seemed ludicrous to think about taking any time off when I was already at home all the time. DO NOT listen to those thoughts, it was the second-best decision I have made so far this year (I will tell you the first in a second). I think all we need the time and space to relax and partake of some self-care now more than ever. Talking about self-care, I have rediscovered some simple activities I had let fall by the wayside. If I feel a bit overwhelmed during the day, I open up my Headspace app for a 10-minute meditation. I have also pulled out my adult colouring books and pencils that have been languishing in a drawer.


During my week off I also made the time to try some new things I never normally have time for, signing up for some fun online courses including “An Introduction to Sourdough” and “How to Draw Cute Cartoon Characters”. The latter has been a roaring success and I have loved drawing for the first time in years, the jury is still out on the success of the former…. (Dear sourdough starters, please stop dying….) I also got out some of my jigsaw collection and figured out to play board games via Zoom with friends. This has included a few games of the rather on the nose, Pandemic! Finally, I have been making sure to make a clearer distinction between work time and me time, as the bleed of one into the other was definitely exacerbating issues.

And, on the best decision I made this year, I have spent time with my new rescue dog, Pretzel, who I got just before lockdown began. He is wonderfully happy boy, with the waggiest tail ever. He also seems to have developed a sense of the need for 2m separation in public and likes to bark at people who walk too close. This at least gives me something else to focus on rather than providing an opportunity for my anxiety to start spiralling!


So, I can say overall I am doing much better, but I really did need that push to consciously put good mental health back at the top of my list of priorities. Also, if you are struggling make sure to look after yourself, this is more important than anything else right now. Including work. Do not be afraid to reach out to someone and let them know. The Mental Health Foundation that runs Mental Health Awareness Week has some great resources specifically on coping during the COVID-19 crisis

Before I finish up today, I want to talk a little about the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, kindness. I think we can all agree that kindness in these times is more important than ever. I have experienced some wonderful acts of kindness in the recent weeks, not least when I celebrated a lockdown birthday and I had deliveries from friends of gin, beers from my favourite local brewery, and a “virtual birthday party kit” which included things like party hats and balloons which everyone was then wearing when I joined our planned call.

But the small acts of kindness matter just as much, I can not begin to count the number of times since lockdown began that the support and encouragement of my awesome colleagues at the DPC have helped me. Even just a kind word from someone on Twitter can turn a whole day around. So I encourage you to do two things, number one, use the comments here to share some stories of lockdown kindness. Number two, head to your social media channel of choice and offer a few kind words to someone. Tell them you value their friendship and support, tell them how much you admire them, tell them how they have inspired you, or perhaps tell them how much their GIFs make you laugh! Remember to use the hashtag #KindnessMatters.

I hope you are all doing well in these crazy, messed-up times, and that you can find the time to look after your mind as well as your body.

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