I spent two and a half years in hospital following my accident. In that time, as I only recently discovered, I was not allowed visitors, so the only people I came in contact with were mainly medical or hospital staff.
Those were impressionable years, and it’s hard to believe looking back now that I wasn’t affected in some way by not having my parents and family around. No hugs and kisses, no reassuring words from them until I left hospital. I was almost five then.
In subsequent years I spent much time in Dublin undergoing operations. I was older then, so the isolation from my parents, family and friends was more pronounced. I hated the enforced absences, the visiting hours that arrived without even one visitor for me. The mental anguish I went through affected me in many ways. Those feelings of loneliness, fear and depression dogged me throughout my teenage years and into my twenties.
As my social isolation deepened I struggled to fill the time that weighed heavily. I wasn’t without friends, but I couldn’t talk to them about what was going on inside me, how difficult I found getting through each day. A lot of this was because I lacked confidence in myself. I believed my face defined me as some kind of freak, and that destroyed my self belief.
So I learned to internalise my fears, never letting others at work, or the few friends I knew outside my work environment, inside. I became comfortable with my own silences, killing time by reading, music and the cinema. I’ve never really talked about those awful times and I don’t plan on doing so now. Instead I’ll just say that the Covid-19 restrictions haven’t hit me quite so hard.
Part of the reason is that I’m not the same person as I was back then and that’s because I married to Trish. We have two super kids who have their own lives and partners abroad. It’s nice for them to FaceTime or WhatsApp us regularly so we can stay in touch. I’m comfortable with those interludes and also regular calls with friends and my brother and sister.
Would I have been quite so assured if I were living alone? I’m not so certain about that. Perhaps my earlier experience would have got me through these months, happy in my own company. I’d like to think so, and yet I’m not at all certain. Work was one way of filling time during the day, but I’m retired now. Filling in 24 hours a day living alone is difficult. I doubt I would have accumulated enough friends as I have today had I never married.
I’m just grateful to be able to sit here and not worry about that. The sun is shining and we’re a week closer to Phase 2 of the lockdown easing. Some more cafes and restaurants are opening up for takeouts, and some have outside seating just as the summer weather kicks in.
We’ll be able to travel 20km then. That’s enough to get us to the other side of Cork City and beyond. It offers hope and hope is what we live on these days. With luck I might see some of you soon.