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Mental health begins at home

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John Rochester

John Rochester

Guernsey
Mourant LP Partner

To mark International Men's Day this week, three of our people take a moment to talk openly about mental health and the importance of looking after ourselves and each other.

In this final short story, John Rochester, a Partner in our Guernsey office, reflects on 2020 being a challenging year and how he and his family have adapted their lives to support their mental and physical wellbeing during the pandemic.

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19 November 2020

When I was first asked to write a short blog to raise awareness of men's mental health on International Men's Day, I struggled to think of what I could usefully or interestingly say. I'm incredibly fortunate that my own mental health is – I think - relatively robust. However, 2020 has of course been an unusual year, and will have tested all of us in different ways.

So I decided to carry out a personal audit of 2020. I've looked back on all of the things that have been difficult, stressful or tested my mental wellbeing - and in fact there have been quite a few. This has been a challenging year, for all sorts of reasons.

For me, it entailed living a very strange life, on a largely derelict building site, sleeping in what remained of our house after building work started in January and stopped (thanks, COVID-19!) in February. We'd then trudge (in our pyjamas) every morning across to a small 'chalet' (effectively not much more than a big shed!) in the garden to spend our days there. That's me, my wife, two kids, two cats and a large dog, working from home, home-schooling, eating, playing, watching TV – all in one room!

It took all of us a good few weeks to work out the rhythms of that new way of living. Looking back, I think we survived by adapting, and focusing on the positive changes forced upon us.

This included taking daily exercise, as a family. We've always been very active, but to go for walks, or bike rides, all together, for an hour or two every day was a real treat.

We worked out that my son could better focus on his school work in smaller chunks, so we introduced regular 'lego breaks' for him – and me!

My daughter really missed the usual social interaction with her classmates and friends, so we suggested daily zoom calls, which were a highlight for her.

I started doing a lot of my calls outside, walking around the garden in the sunshine instead of sitting at my desk – a revelation!

My wife and I got into the habit of taking 20 minutes at the end of our working days to sit in the sunshine in the garden to decompress over a gin & tonic.

On reflection, it was a combination of all of these things that helped us as a family to look after both our physical and mental health.

We also quickly realised that we had to be sensible and realistic about how much we could each do. It made no sense for both my wife and me to try to hover over and supervise the kids doing their school work, for example. We couldn't simply share the load – we had to divide it. Our normal domestic roles evolved to fit the situation.

These little changes all added up to make our family COVID-19 experience not just bearable, but in many ways, (whisper it) enjoyable. We're trying to carry a good number of them into whatever version of life comes next.

I've read that International Men's Day encourages us to set a good example to our children, to be positive role models for them. Hand on heart, I actually don't know if I've achieved that this year. I don't know if I've been the best role model for my children, or the best example of a Dad.

But having carried out my own 2020 wellbeing audit, I think I've done OK. And in trying times, perhaps OK is good enough. Some things did fall by the wayside (I'm looking at you, overgrown lawn, chalet that remains stubbornly unpainted, maths homework that passed us by, fresh vegetables left to fester in the fridge when we had beans on toast twice in a row), but we looked after ourselves, and each other. And that's really what mattered to me in 2020.