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Our Weakness Has Brought Us Together

 Charlie Mackesy, Artist and Author 

Charlie Mackesy captured the heart of readers everywhere with his book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, a tale of kindness, empathy and understanding. Here, the author, artist and illustrator shares his reflections on our collective mental wellbeing and vulnerability during lockdown and the importance of gratitude.

The more honest we can be, particularly in this time, about what we are feeling and thinking, what we are frightened of and what we are doing, the less alone we are going to be.

Often, it’s easy to get lost in the idea where everyone else is doing fine. It is just me struggling, but I do feel that this period of time has made us feel a little mad and unhinged, and that everyone is a bit lonely and debilitated. 

I feel that our weakness has brought us together on some level.

 

If we can just say to someone, “I am really finding this difficult,” you are suddenly connected. I was speaking to a friend recently who knows me and loves me, and I found myself saying: “I am not doing well now. I have been alone a lot this year and it is taking its toll on my mental health.” It was so liberating to say that aloud to someone who I've known all my life. Just to voice it. Voicing what I've hidden.

We will get through this, but it's how we get through it that matters and talking is a way to minimise the damage that has been done to us. I see it like spooning out chemicals from a toxic bath. If you get a teaspoon, of liquid and flick it in the sink it won't look like much. But if you keep doing it, it will drain, it really will – even if it doesn't feel like it. Talking and walking and expressing is absolutely critical for our mental and ultimately physical well-being because they're all connected.

It been such a privilege for me to work with the NHS during this time, because ever since I was a kid, I’ve thought nurses should be valued more highly and that there was something angelic and selfless about them. I think that’s something that has really been brought to the forefront, especially when you consider many of them have been sick and some have lost their lives.  

Rather than looking at the problems in my life, I’ve developed a habit of being grateful.

 

While it is hard to stop this sense of anxiety, gratitude has always been a valuable tool for me that helps me to cope in challenging times.

In many ways, this may be difficult to do in the present moment when we are exposed to so much fear, loss and hurt. But as we come out of it, we will be grateful for the small things that we once took for granted. Being able to walk down the street to a coffee shop and seeing a friend, going to the cinema. You know, these were givens, but now are unheard of. So, who knows, whenever that comes back, we will relish these things so much!

Take time to breathe and remember that you're loved, because everything is in flux, everything changes and you will get through this.

About two months ago, I accidentally killed a robin while driving home from my Mum’s. She’s 91 year old, and I take her for a walk daily. I was devastated because I really love songbirds. I just love them. I could stare at them all day. So I went online and bought a mountain of birdfeeders and bird feed and I put them in the trees near where I work. Little by little, it became a sort of aviary. Now I just stare at them and feel good. I even wrote a piece of music with Isobel Waller-Bridge about it. I called her and said, “I just killed this robin and I’m devastated.” We talked and I started to hum a tune and she played it on the piano and then formalised it into a piece of music. Now when I hear it, I just think of the robin and all the songbirds. There is always an unseen benefit to everything. I suppose you could say that about the robin, and you could say that about this whole storm we’ve all been through.

Take time to breathe and remember that you're loved, because everything is in flux, everything changes and you will get through this. The things around us are always changing, always in flux and it is important to recognise that it will not be like this forever and sometimes there is a silver lining to the bad things that can happen.

So, I would say to people, if it's any help, you should be very proud of yourself, so say, well done often to yourself, because often no one else does, and make sure that you look after yourself properly.

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