Our Creating Happy Memories campaign is all about highlighting the resilience and support our families provide for all of us, and celebrating the time we spend together as we move forward after a difficult year. Here Jay talks about how he’s navigated his family’s unique challenges to survive and thrive as they enter summer.
Three of us live in my house – my daughter, my mother and me. My mother has fibromyalgia so I’m her main carer, and my 15-year-old daughter has a long-term diagnosis of ADHD. So I was concerned about the friction that lockdown was going to cause last year. Like any group of people living together, we occasionally rub each other the wrong way and my daughter and mum can fall out because they’re so similar!
I was particularly worried about my daughter as she’s not one for getting out and about anyway and I was worried about her not coming out of her bedroom. Routine can be quite important to her. For example in the morning we have a bunch of timers set and a visual routine posted on the wall to help her get to school. Even though she doesn’t always stick to the routines it helps her to stay focused.
Initially, it did seem like lockdown was going to cause her a lot of problems as routine went out the window, things were chopped and changed and you couldn’t stick to anything. Even though she normally spends a lot of time in her bedroom anyway, the fact that she was stuck with no choice did get to her.
My daughter is smart and loves school but when she does struggle it’s to do with enthusiasm and the subjects she’s not interested in. Which can cause problems with concentration. But we’re lucky because we’ve all lived together a long time and know each other well. So we worked around her struggles. I like to draw and have a small studio set up that backs onto the kitchen and so I turned it into a workstation for her. It was good as it gave my daughter her own space. But, because it had a window, she knew we were there for her too… I didn’t want to be able to watch over her but I wanted her to see us.
It was a bit of a turning point as shortly after, when it came to the second lockdown, school started doing live video lessons. Which engaged my daughter and helped her to concentrate. Weirdly even though I gave up my craft space I also started drawing more regularly. I’ll head to the gym once a week and I’ll take my mum to the park, depending on how she’s feeling. But for me drawing is what I do in my free time. I posted some of my art on social media and people started asking me to do pieces for them. It was nice to make new friends and I think I did around 400 to 500 drawings over the whole of lockdown… including ones supporting the NHS and carers.
We’ve never had much money but we’ve always managed… we’ve never been ones for going out and we always shop around for a bargain. Funnily enough, even though I know a lot of people have had financial trouble over the past year it’s helped us in some respects as not going out has saved us money. That’s not the only thing that lockdown has helped with though.
As we were spending more time at home I was more conscious of getting my daughter out of her bedroom, so I started working on our back garden – laying decking, repairing the fencing, painting the back of the house and building a shelter. It was one of those ideas that just came to me and I threw myself into it.
Putting the shelter up again showed how COVID has brought communities closer. I threw the shelter up but it wasn’t level. My neighbour’s a builder and came outside one day and said “it looks a bit out to me”… so he came round and helped me level it and put in supports… He shared his expertise with me, which was absolutely brilliant.
That sense of community’s really important to me and, even though we’ve not got much money, I started donating to a local food bank during the pandemic too. As I mentioned we’d saved money during COVID and received vouchers for free school meals but we’ve had to use food banks in the past. I took five cases of coffee and five bags of sugar, as that’s what they were requesting… which is ironic as at the same time we were cutting sugar out of our diet.
My mum is borderline diabetic and at a recent routine blood test the doctor suggested she lose weight. She wasn’t very happy about the blunt way he said it but decided to do it just to prove him wrong out of anger! I decided to do it too to help her and it made me realise how much sugary pop I was drinking and how much we were eating for the sake of it… I’ve lost around four and a half stone!
Now that I’m healthier, the house is nicer and my daughter is doing well at school I’m feeling really good about the future. We’ve started eating a (healthy) meal out in the garden together as a family… And I hope it continues throughout the summer and gives us a few happy memories.