Covid Risk VS Mental Health Risk: The Return To School During Lockdown Dilemma!

WOW… how things have moved on since I wrote ‘The Hidden Impact of the Corona virus outbreak on Special Needs Families’ on 26th March!

We had been in total lockdown here for approximately eight weeks (I think…the weeks have all merged!). I was so paranoid about any of the family contracting Covid, particularly as it evolved and became clear it wasn’t just the elderly or the vulnerable at risk, that I was very much of the mindset that there was NOTHING as important as staying at home and staying safe! Not a pint of milk, nor a loaf of bread, not even daily exercise was worth the risk! So I shut my little family down completely when lockdown was first announced!

This caused some initial family rifts, particularly with my middle (adult) daughter, when I literally had to say ‘if you go to visit your partner then I will take that as you will be self-isolating with him from now on’. That may have sounded harsh, but I couldn’t run the risk and I also couldn’t shake off the overwhelming feeling of impending doom! I’ve never experienced anything like it and I couldn’t contain my tears for days! I truly felt that this was the end of the human race and it was all about survival!

Lockdown has been tough!

Like for many other families, lockdown has been extremely tough though! I knew when lockdown was first announced that things were going to be difficult. I had already pre-empted the likelihood of an increase in violence and volatility as well as the risk of my daughter’s low mood deteriorating and sadly, I wasn’t wrong on either.

Initially, there was a noticeable increase in the number of meltdowns we were experiencing at home, which was of no real surprise given that we were stuck at home 24/7 and unable to go out and about to alleviate some boredom, tension and energy!

However, these violent and volatile meltdowns were also intertwined with extremely low mood, which as a parent is totally heart breaking!

To see your child suffering to the degree that they genuinely believe they would be better off not here, is truly one of the worst things a parent can experience! It is the most awful feeling when there is nothing you can do to take their pain away or make it better in any way.

Impact of lockdown as Mum

I’m not going to lie, trying to hold everything together and balance everyone’s needs has been nothing short of exhausting!

Trying to constantly pre-empt all potential triggers or indeed reacting like a ninja to intercept a wrong tone of voice being used or anything which could be taken the wrong way is mentally draining.

I’ve come to the conclusion that lockdown, for parents, just means relentlessly taking on and juggling everyone’s needs, without any respite, 24/7 leaving even less time in the day for some self-care and recovery!

It’s naturally what we do, but that doesn’t mean it is less of a strain.

Impact of lockdown as a sibling

Being in lockdown naturally impacts everyone in the household and for my middle (adult) daughter, who still lives at home, she has had moments where it has been a real struggle.

She is used to going out doing her own thing, going off to work for 11hrs of the day, meeting up with friends, going to dance classes, going out for dinner and generally being an independent adult, but all this has been whipped away.

It has been a real eye opener for her to how full on her younger sister can be and how intense this is on a constant basis.

Impact on mental health

The impact on my youngest daughter’s mental health has been truly heart breaking. Don’t get me wrong, school had been difficult prior to lockdown for many months, however the biggest impact has not been missing ‘school’ per sa, it’s been very much about missing the interactions with the animals, in particular her favourite Shetland pony.

When lockdown initiated I saw a huge deterioration in her mental health, however this did gradually improve, until recently. Heartbreakingly, over the past week or so there has been a marked increase in self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Not even the thought of contracting Covid, or at worse dying from Covid, was enough for my daughter to rationalise that she was safer at home. In fact she saw this scenario as a win win, ‘I want to die anyway, so job done!’. There was no rational thinking or understanding and no matter what I said to her (whilst trying not to transfer my true fears onto her), nothing was changing her perception on this. So I found myself in a situation where her mental health risk was clearly outweighing the risk of Covid!

Difficult decision to return to school

It all really came to a head on her birthday last week. There had already been a second visit to the school ponies semi-arranged for that week and I, as I’m sure many of us would, thought that it would be really lovely if this could be on her birthday. Being a mum of a PDA’er, I should have known better really and realised that after what is an enjoyable experience there is nearly always a crash! And on this day, it was no different however instead of the angry, volatile meltdown we experienced last time, this time her mood came crashing down, sobbing uncontrollably, self-harming and pleading with me for her to be able to return to school as this was ‘killing’ her.

Yes, she’d had a super time with the ponies and her favourite TA, however once home her mood rapidly deteriorated, not even the surprise birthday present delivery (social distancing) visit from my bestie could lift her mood and she independently emailed school pleading to return.

We had lots of conversations about this but I eventually had to concede that returning to school was the best option. I was SO torn though. Such a difficult decision! How can you prioritise when the risks of each are equally as high?

Whilst discussing this with my daughter, she very maturely suggested going in for morning only ie this would mean that she would only be in contact with one member of staff and in turn reduce Covid risk. Great I thought, maybe this was the compromise we needed and my own anxieties diminished slightly! So I proposed this to school but unfortunately this was on Bank Holiday Friday so I didn’t expect a response before Monday morning and prepared myself for an agonising wait.

However, I did receive a response on Sunday, saying that this would be discussed with staff and see whether this was doable. In the meantime, my daughter had become adamant that she wanted to go for the whole day and this caused a great deal of volatile reactions to the previous conversations we had had.

So Monday morning, off we headed…..

Two days back….have I made the right decision?

We are only two days in and I am already questioning whether I have made the right decision? Why is this parenting malarky SO difficult?!

First day back my daughter was initially very excitable, overly excitable in fact! Lots of random swearing and her saying ‘please ignore anything I may say!’, so I just went with it as you do! However, on collection it transpired that the day had been ‘up and down’ with the transition at lunchtime, between TA’s, proving all too much and she had become very emotional.

There were more tears on route home and some initial talks about not wanting to go back in tomorrow. Naturally, it’s a huge change, yet again, and bound to be some teething problems.

Yesterday, I receive an email from school informing me that lunchtime transition was again tricky but this time had resulted in my daughter swearing and punching walls, something that was fairly typical, unfortunately, at school prior to lockdown. Could this all be going horribly wrong? Has the novelty already worn off? Has going back really improved her mental health? Is it too soon to say? Do I pull the plug or persevere? So many more unanswerable questions…..

To send back to school or not, this is the dilemma!

If you are experiencing this same turmoil, I totally get it, truly I do! I’d got myself in such a state over making this decision that it reduced me to tears! I felt very much stuck between a rock and a hard place, damned if I do and damned if I don’t! This was never going to be a ‘win win’ situation! I found that in situations like these, not that I have experienced such a difficult decision before, (had many but nothing like this!) you have to just bite the bullet, weigh up the risks and pray that you have made the correct decision!

Whilst many of our journey’s are very similar, this is such an individual decision and you can only base your decision on your own family’s situation. What may be best for one family, may definitely not be best for others.

If you are in this position, I really feel for you, it’s such an awful dilemma, but please be reassured that whatever you decide, it WILL be the best for your family!

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