Conor Brady said he sets himself small daily tasks and has tried to keep up his social life using online apps.
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A Belfast man who has spent more than a week on coronavirus lockdown in France has advised people to take things one day at a time and allow themselves an occasional “wobble”, as the UK enters its first day of severe restrictions on movement.
Conor Brady described the first 10 days of being cooped up in his small Parisian apartment as “really hard” but said having some kind of structure to the day and setting small tasks is key to coping with such a drastic lifestyle change.
The 43-year-old has left the 30-square metre flat only to go for a jog alone or buy groceries – and carries a certificate with him to state his reason for being outside should he be stopped by police.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in a televised address to the nation on Monday night sweeping measures for the UK, including people remaining indoors except for exercise once a day and shopping trips for necessities only.
Mr Brady, a policy analyst on secondment in the French capital until June, told the PA news agency: “The key thing is don’t look at the endgame, don’t look at the lockdown in its totality.
“I made that mistake last Monday and had a bit of a wobble, knowing that I’m basically not going to see or interact with another human for another couple of months.
“The most important thing I’ve found just for psychological well-being and mental health is – and I know it sounds like a trite cliche but – one day at a time.”
He spends 20 minutes before bed each night planning the next day which includes dedicating an hour to an online exercise class, and has made a list of films he has always wanted to watch.
“Everybody is going to suffer from a wobble,” he said. “Everybody will have moments where they just look at it from a macro rather than a micro perspective and that’s so daunting, so intimidating. But allow yourself that wobble and then get back on the horse again.”
Mr Brady said he had seriously considered returning home to Northern Ireland when French President Emmanuel Macron gave notice of the lockdown last week, but felt it would have been “irresponsible” to do so.
He said: “I had a window of opportunity to travel and I just thought I couldn’t in good conscience be that irresponsible because I might be carrying the virus. I might be asymptomatic. How irresponsible would it be of me to come from an area of high incidence and take it back home?
“I just thought this is a level of social responsibility I need to take, not for me but for other people.”
Despite his positive mindset he admitted it is an extra challenge to be away from family and unable to help his self-isolating parents who fall into the category of people urged to stay at home for at least the next 12 weeks.
He said: “Don’t get me wrong, it’s really hard. The frustration is that I’m not there to support my family as much as I could be (if I was at home) but we’re all pulling together as much as we can. The family WhatsApp has never been busier.”
Like many others in affected countries across the world Mr Brady’s family is also making use of group video calls to keep in regular contact, and he has tried to keep up his social life in the same way using online apps.
He said: “Do the same social things but do it over Zoom or do it over Skype. I had Skype drinks with two of my friends last night. We arranged that we were all going to drink red wine. And for an hour and a half we just sat and chatted.”
He said it had been “terrifying” to watch from abroad as some people back in the UK were seen not to be taking social distancing measures seriously, and questioned why it had taken so long for Mr Johnson – who had faced criticism over his reluctance to bring in more extreme measures than simply guidance – to put a lockdown in place.
Mr Brady said: “This idea that a public policy of such severe nature should be left to the individual wishes of the general public is insane.
“We appreciate that the UK is at a different stage in terms of where the virus is spreading but we (in France) just can’t see what the logical rationale of his inaction was.”