• Chris Ellis

What is Normal?

Normal is a word that has numerous connotations depending on who you are and what your circumstances are. Two months ago, normal might have been meeting friends on a Saturday night for a drink and a catch up, taking the kids to the park with other parents or even going to the hairdresser for a good old gossip and a pampering!

What about those people that two months ago, normal was going day after day not seeing another person; sitting in their living room watching re-runs on TV while the world hurtles by outside their window?

During my adolescent years I was a very shy, retiring character that struggled to make friends. I spent a lot of time in hospitals as a child and my social circle usually consisted of nurses and consultants. As the seasons came and went and my school days ended I turned eighteen and was officially classed as an “adult”; a title that today is still internally up for debate as to whether I have accepted this.

As the big wide world grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and placed me into working life, I quickly had to adapt to conversing with strangers and take a step into the mysterious world of being social. So what career path did I choose I hear you ask? Well, what seems like a lifetime ago, I trained as a hairdresser. Transitioning from being the person hiding in photographs and too shy to make a phone call to being up close and personal with people, making conversation and having (other hairdressers will know this well) a direct responsibility to make someone not only look good but feel better about themselves! As a quivering eighteen-year-old social recluse, I can tell you this was no easy task.

Referring to my opening lines; a hairdresser or barber is not just someone that simply cuts and colours hair, the salon is and always has been a place of solitude, togetherness, safety and friendship. There are always the people that like to get in, get haircut, get out. But for some, a regular trip to the salon is the highlight (pun intended) of their week or month. Sat in the chair while drinking a coffee with bits of hair in, the most weird and wonderful conversations take place. For some once that gown goes on all their inhibitions towards keeping their feelings and opinions inside takes flight and goes and sits in the car reading the newspaper.

During my 10-year lifespan in the world of hairdressing I helped and supported countless people through grief, divorce, becoming parents, loneliness, addiction, finances……the list goes on. You name it and I have a self-certified PhD on it.

Since those days I have delved much deeper into the world of support and now work in Adult Social Care, which in Torbay is delivered by Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust. Each morning after getting dressed for work, I very proudly put my blue lanyard around my neck and set off for another day. For a lot of people, social care is not something they know anything about until they need it. This alone has both positive and negative implications; during my time in Social Care I have seen the best and worst of many situations, from helping people grow and develop into a place they no longer need Social Care support, to making the last few weeks of someone’s life as comfortable as possible. A world full of emotions and unlikely relationships.

I am immensely proud of my friends and colleagues that are currently putting on that blue lanyard each morning and heading out into a world of uncertainty and anxiety. Some of which spending weeks away from their families so they can provide vital support for those that need it most. Raise a glass to all those Social Workers, Health and Social Care Coordinators, Community Care Workers, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, District Nurses, Finance and Benefits Officers and Customer Service staff that work out in the community every day and that I stand proudly next to.

So how does this all link back to the word “normal”? Well, next Thursday when you are stood at your front door at 8pm applauding those NHS workers, take a look around you. If you look up and down your street and see that Mrs Jones, three doors down, is now sporting a delightful sombrero, stop and think that Mrs Jones has not been to the hairdresser for six weeks and is likely covering up a failed, home haircut; but more importantly, remember that trip to the salon could have been her only social interaction. Take five minutes to say hello, ask how Mrs Jones is managing, with social distancing of course! You may be the first person that has spoken to Mrs Jones in nearly two months.

We have all been forcibly removed from our “normal”, but for some that removal of their normal could have a much bigger impact than you. To reference one of my favourite quotes “Alone, we can do so little: Together we can do so muchHelen Keller. We need each other now more than ever. Build those relationships, make new friends and together we will come out of isolation bigger and brighter communities.

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