The lockdown, we discover, is taking people in very different ways. We are currently getting anecdotal reports of a sort of flatness. It’s been variously described to us as a feeling of blah, of a complete lack of va-va-voom, of a dull kind of pointlessness. ‘I do all my work,’ said one person, ‘and I look back on the day and I wonder what the point of it all was.’
It may be that there was a kind of adrenaline rush in the first weeks. There was fear and uncertainty, but there was also that positive sense of rallying round, of a nation drawing together. You could literally save lives by staying at home. There was a feeling of being part of a collective. But six weeks is a long time, and the loss of normality may be starting to wear on the spirit. We hear people say, ‘I just want to hug my grandchildren again.’ That’s such a tiny thing, when the key workers on the frontline are facing grief and danger, and the number of deaths climbs upwards. But we believe that those small losses should not be overlooked. Hugging the grandchildren – hugging anyone – is one of those minute, vital threads that stitches the wider human family together. That loss is not nothing. It should be marked.
At HorseBack, we deal with huge mental health problems. The veterans we help run the gamut of trauma symptoms. Some of them were so mentally scarred that they were locking themselves down long before lockdown was even a word in common usage. Self-isolation is widespread among those who have seen too much in hot wars. One of the first things we do, when a group arrives at HorseBack, is get them to connect with each other, to bond as a team. Funnily enough, we are great huggers here. We did not do this consciously, as a therapeutic measure, but fell into it naturally, and it’s become a bit of a HorseBack trademark. We discovered the healing power of human touch, and we never looked back.
In the early days, many of the veterans who came to us had been through various rehabilitations in clinical settings. One of the things they said they found difficult was when people with clipboards came round and asked them how they felt. Some of them were so scrambled in the head that they did not know how they felt, and could not put it into words. We experimented with giving them a horse, a hug and the great Scottish outdoors, and not asking too many questions. (We discovered, as we went on, that we did need to do a bit of questioning. Those clinicians were not using their clipboards for nothing. But we also discovered that this process is much easier if a veteran has just come in from a bonding session with a horse in the round pen.)
Humans are social animals. They need the group, just as our horses need their herd. No wonder people are feeling a bit flat and demoralised. No wonder they are missing the grandchildren. No wonder they are missing the hugs.
The team here is scattered at the moment, and we miss each other and we miss the sense of purpose we get from the work we do. But just as we honour the small things that people are missing, so we have discovered that it’s the small things that can lift the spirits and keep one bashing on. One of us was treated to a FaceTime session with a friend’s puppy this morning, and that transformed a flat day to a happy day. We are great believers in reaching out. A telephone call to an old compadre, checking up on those who are living alone, even something as tiny as sending a cheering message on social media – all these are the small things that make a big difference. The real hugs might not be possible, but the virtual hugs are lifesavers.