15 May 2020

'Lockdown' - Week 8 - from a front line Support Worker

We chat to Maria Bibi, another of our fantastic Support Workers working on the front line.

At first obviously working from home took some time to adjust to because I’ve never done it before and it’s quite tough separating personal life from home and balancing it properly. When you’re at home it’s not 9-5 anymore, you still find yourself doing paperwork at odd hours. I’ve got used to it now though. It’s a lot quieter being at home, you have a lot more interaction in the office with clients and colleagues - you’ve got to answer the phones and the door and that takes up lots of time. It was a big shock to the system at first - change is hard to adapt to any time. We have a busy household at home but I’ve not found that I’ve been getting distracted and it’s been easy to get on with my work.

Client-wise I’ve had a lot going on! I have one client with severe mental health problems and she was really lonely. She was ringing me a lot just for conversation. We helped her with some furniture and food parcels and she’s settled down quite a bit now.

I’ve another client who I’ve been quite worried about – I have regular contact with him. He was struggling anyway but recently lost his grandma and then his father was diagnosed with a terminal illness last year so he’s really struggling with the thought of being left on his own. Loss is difficult for anyone to cope with but he’s especially vulnerable. Then of course when Lockdown started and he couldn’t see his dad who needs to self-isolate, that hit him really hard. For the first few weeks I was on the phone with him for over an hour at a time providing mental health support and he was really reluctant to be referred for any sort of counselling, but he’s agreed to that now so I’m really pleased. He obviously wants to be able to see his dad as much as possible but he’s just not able to at the moment. For the first few weeks he lost touch with his budgeting so he needed a bit of additional support with his gas and electric and a few food parcels, but things seem to have settled down a bit now. I do worry about him though because he doesn’t really have anybody else.

I have one client I couldn’t get hold of whatsoever. He has significant physical health problems and is diabetic so needs to be self-isolating. He’s not always in his flat and doesn’t answer his phone which isn’t ideal in these circumstances. He had a prolonged period of street homelessness, so it’s hard for him to adjust and stay in one place and get used to having a flat and the routine. He’s very streetwise and knows how to look after himself so I’m not worried for him in that sense, it’s more his health and the fact that he needs to be staying at home and he isn’t always doing that. I eventually got hold of him through his Key Worker at Recovery Steps and got a food parcel to him. He knows to ring me if he needs anything.

Another client wants to give me a heart attack! He’s currently waiting for a kidney transplant, and he has dialysis 3 times a week which keeps him alive. He has no family close by. When Lockdown started he gave me 3 days’ notice that his medication was about to run out. He has a huge list of tablets and I really panicked worrying that if I didn’t get it to him in time he’d be really ill or even worse. Anyway, we got that sorted and then he’s rung me again today to say he only has 2 days left of his medicine! I suggested he needs to put a note on his fridge to remind himself a week in advance to get in touch with the pharmacy or GP. I’ve managed to get a repeat prescription for him and he can get those on Monday afternoon so he’ll be ok. His boiler broke yesterday as well so I’ve arranged to get someone out today to repair that for him.

I’ve managed to house two clients during lockdown which is great with everything being shut down.  There is one in particular who was with together housing, he has undiagnosed learning difficulties. SmartMove provided half of his rent to secure the tenancy, I got him a Community Living Support grant paid and provided him with a new starter pack and it was all sorted out within a week. We also more or less furnished his flat with a sofa, cupboards and a bed. I’ve got two clients ready to bid on properties through Key Choice but we’re just waiting for that to open back up again which should hopefully be next week.

My other clients are doing well. They’re all receiving telephone support. I’ve been supporting them at the same level as I would have in the office, the only real difference is you can’t see them face to face. Some are getting food and hygiene parcels, I’ve managed to get a bed for one of them, sorted some furniture for others and provided financial assistance and support over the phone. I do have some clients who have difficulties with communication, so I’ve been supporting them by liaising with their family members. I was trying to get hold of one guy for almost a month and he just wasn’t answering his phone. He eventually answered and I could speak to him. He has mental health difficulties so I was really worried about him but he’s fine, he’s just been adjusting to the changes and trying to get his head around the Lockdown. We need to appreciate that sometimes it’s really scary for someone who has mental health issues to process what’s going on in the world at the moment and that their reality might be very different to ours.

For me personally, I’ve found it tough because I used to go to the gym every other day but that’s not happening now so I’ve been trying to find other ways to keep fit. I’ve been going out for walks but I find it a bit boring. I’ve been doing an evening course that’s keeping me busy – it’s Level 3 Education and Teaching. It’s nearly coming to an end now though. It’s just something I’ve really wanted to do as a taster for teaching and you can also teach adult learning with it, for example community courses on drug awareness like we do in SmartSkills. I just wanted a new skill and I’ve really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the social aspect of going to College and meeting new people. We all got on really well and I enjoyed stimulating my brain and learning something new. It’s all been moved online now so we’ve been doing virtual learning. It breaks up the evenings for me and it gives some structure to my week.

I’m obviously being cautious, but I’m trying not to get paranoid and scare myself to death. I can appreciate that there might be some people who read everything and watch the news all the time and may become easily consumed by it and frightened to go out. I’ve just been dipping in and out of the news and keeping myself up to date with the facts. For me it’s business as usual, I’m supporting my clients and their wellbeing as much as I can. I’d like to go back to normal as soon as possible. It feels as though time has stood still and I want routine and normality back. I really miss clothes shopping and eating out and just normal life in general! I’m feeling positive though and I think we all just need to follow advice and stay safe.