Jamie Greene: Lockdown has consolidated all pre-existing anxieties
The Scottish Conservative MSP for West Scotland on his mental health struggle in lockdown
Lockdown has consolidated all pre-existing anxieties, stresses, concerns and regrets and bundled them into one big mental lump. Like everyone in the public eye, we live in the cut and thrust of politics, media, interaction with large numbers of people. Politicians are generally social animals, such is the nature of the job. Now we are stuck in apartments, with no gardens, no contact with friends, apart from family, colleagues and if you’re single – goodness, it’s even worse.
My sleep patterns are a complete mess. I am having weird dreams. My weight is up and down. I find myself now having ‘good days and bad days’, whatever those are. On a day off I struggle to get the energy to get out of bed sometimes, to be quite frank. I find myself irritable; I shout at the radio and TV (like my grandfather used to do). I’ve become curmudgeon. Surrounded by 24/7 news cycles about death rates and doom and gloom takes a heavy toll on you. More so if you’re in the thick of those debates.
For the first time in a long time, I feel lonely. I have 15,000 loyal followers on social media, but no-one to share a cup of tea with after a stressful 12-hour stint in Holyrood passing emergency legislation. It’s a bizarre feeling. The endless communication from people in utter dire need and tragedy also takes its toll. Politics is after all about people. And now more than ever we are reminded of the fragility of life and our own mortality and that of those we love. Believe it or not, politicians have feelings too.
I’m trying everything as short-term distractions. I’ve bought an electronic drum kit and I’m teaching myself. (I’m quite good!) I started to draw and paint, something for which I have zero talent, but I feel better for it. I also have started to cycle, and I cook a lot more, though cooking for one has its limitations. Some friends of mine and I also set up an online ‘pub’. It’s open every evening from 8pm; we have quiz nights, treasure hunts, karaoke and general pub debate and banter where we can let our hair down. I’ve made virtual friends with people I’ve never met – we plan on meeting in real life after all of this is over. It’s been truly lovely. We have two rules though. What is said in the pub stays in the pub and we DON’T talk politics! Also, rather than my usual excitement in looking forward to recesses and disappearing abroad to lie on a beach, my priorities this year are about travelling to see friends. Driving round the country catching up with family and friends. My priority is now others, not just me. That in itself is satisfying.
In the long term, it’s also made me think about why I got into politics. I think for many we were on a sliding scale downwards after four horrid and bitter years, jaded by the partisan divides. I now consider some of my best friends to hail from all sides of the political spectrum – we are actually all in this together, possibly for the first time in my lifetime.