Illustrations: Jacob Komesaroff

Staying close to nature, staying well Disability Ageing and Carers

Staying close to nature, staying well

Staying connected with friends and nature is an invaluable coping strategy for Ruth Skewes during COVID-19 restrictions.

The 79-year-old passionate bushwalker’s social activities have been restricted since January after a back injury. Despite her preference for longer nature adventures, Ruth is happy she can now manage weekly short walks.

Ruth visits the same coffee spot after most outings with a walking buddy, adding that simple routines like this are helping her cope during the pandemic.

“We meet up every so often, about every week … and have a walk and then a coffee,” Ruth says.

“(But) you don’t meet the people you normally meet on a bushwalk every week, so that’s the hardest – that’s frustrating and isolating.”

Ruth, who lives alone in Box Hill North, reaps both physical and mental benefits from being close to nature, even if it’s just gazing at the towering eucalypts near her local pool, where she did hydrotherapy around four times weekly before COVID-19 restrictions forced the facility to close.

“It’s also good for your mental health because outside the windows are the most beautiful gum trees … I know it’s doing me good.”

Ruth says her back injury plus the COVID-19 restrictions have meant a loss of independence and she’s grateful to have had visits from her daughters under carer rules. She also loaded up on quality time with her three grandchildren – one aged 14 plus 12-year-old twins – before Melbourne’s stage four restrictions came into force in August.

Ruth maintains phone contact with friends and offers support to a friend whose husband has dementia. She considers the telephone a lifeline and doesn’t enjoy using video applications like Zoom. Her injury and recent surgery means she can’t sit down for long, and it’s hard to hold a computer while lying down.

“I’m over, over screen time,” she says.

“you don’t meet the people you normally meet on a bushwalk every week, so that’s the hardest – that’s frustrating and isolating”

Fear of contracting COVID-19 has prompted Ruth to drastically reduce outings on public transport, which she would normally use to travel to monthly specialist medical appointments in South Yarra.

“I’m a public transport person, but that’s a real loss actually.”

She wears a mask to go supermarket shopping – and did so before it was made compulsory – as well as gloves, and has no qualms about pulling up fellow shoppers who don’t observe the 1.5 metre social distancing requirement.

“A lot of people don’t socially distance and couldn’t care less unfortunately,” Ruth says.

“Some supermarkets are just not nice to go to. Others are better at controlling numbers. A lot of people I’ve had to ask, ‘would you mind social distancing when we’re in the queue?’ And one guy apologised – some people just forget.”


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Words:  Melissa Jenkins. (CC-BY-NC.)

Illustrations:  Jacob Komesaroff. (© VCOSS, 2020.)