Dancing by myself — COVID & celebrating alone

The past week has been one of the most challenging of the an already challenging year for me. As a single person living on my own and working long 24 hour shifts as a lone working mental health support worker I have been struggling more and more with the loneliness and isolation that are becoming an every day aspect of life under COVID.

Separated from friends and family I spend my days either supporting vulnerable adults or alone in my mobile home, a converted horsebox that I have named Betty Blue.

For me lockdown means longer hours at work, while continuing to fulfil my commitments as a writer and speaker highlighting the damage that prejudice, hatred and abuse cause to the mental health of many who identify as LGBT.

To be recognised by the British LGBT Awards for an Outstanding Contribution to the LGBT+ Community during this week was both unexpected and a great honour but the award was accompanied by a bittersweet feeling.

Last year I attended the Awards for the first time, a glittering star studded affair in a top London hotel. The love in the room was palpable as the great and the good of the LGBT community walked on stage to receive their awards. Tears were shed and laughter rebounded off the walls as Paul O’Grady gave his acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award.

Veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell, a hero to many of us, was the recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to the LGBT+ Community, the award that I would receive a year later and to be included in the same group as Peter is an honour for which I feel unworthy.

That glamorous night, barely a year ago, feels lost in the past, a different time separated from us by 2020, a year that has unfolded under the cloud of COVID. A year in which so many have lost their lives and many more have suffered the debilitating effects of isolation and loneliness.

Instead of receiving this unbelievable accolade in a packed ballroom, surrounded by friends and supporters, I was sat watching YouTube in my motor home, parked high on a dark and rainy hillside in the South Downs, alone.

Instead of celebrating late into the night, kissing and hugging friends old and new, I treated myself to a pot of jelly and began calling some of my closest friends. I was emotional and needed to share this event with someone, anyone. It should have been one of the greatest nights of my life but the isolation rendered it hollow and painful.

I couldn’t even share the news with friends and supporters on social media as the awards were pre-recorded two day’s prior to their broadcast under a strict embargo and I couldn’t tell anyone publicly.

The recognition still means the same, it still validates and appreciates the work that I do to break down prejudice within our society, but without the human interaction it lost much of the emotional meaning.

I am honoured beyond belief to receive this award but realise that even the most positive of events can lose their meaning when we are forced to experience them alone, it is the sharing of the pleasure that gives us the emotional connection to the event.

Until we are free of this virus we will be going through so much more of life alone and it is essential that we reach out to support each other and ensure that alone does not mean lonely.

Together we are stronger, together we will get through this and together we will ensure that the light will always prevail over the darkness.

Afterword: Following the public announcement of the Awards I received hundreds of wonderful messages of support through social media. I am eternally grateful for every single positive message that I receive, it is that support that gives me the strength to fight on in the face of hatred. The emotional connection to the award is still difficult though and there’s a part of me that still wonders if it actually happened.