COVID LOCKDOWN – HEAVEN OR HELL?
God only knows if this pandemic will be heaven or hell for you? Hell for most I am guessing but there are silver linings to every bad situation.
I have continued to ‘see’ and speak with some of my clients via video calling on a weekly basis and I have to say this wonder of technology has been a tremendous asset to me in my business. It has given me a broader overview of what is really going on in the world out there rather than relying on what I see on tv and what I hear from family and friends. My clients have shared their anxieties and struggles with me and I’m even getting really used to interacting through a computer screen these days. Never thought that would happen!
Many of you tell me that you are scared of how things will pan out. You are fearful for your jobs and your health and the health of those you love. Sadly, some of you have told me of your plans to leave your partner once this is all over. This enforced lockdown has only served to highlight the breakdown of your relationship and has given you the opportunity to really examine what you want out of life and perhaps more importantly – what you don’t want. For those of you for who this pandemic brought about massive personal change in your circumstances, then you have my heartfelt love and sympathy. It can be a tough, cruel world.
Similarly, some of you tell me that its been a rewarding and calming time in a ‘spiritual growth’ kind of way. That’s good and I share in your good fortune. I too have found this time to be healing and explorative. It’s interesting that already the University of Cambridge have been calling for global studies to be undertaken into the mental health effects of Covid 19. Experts have clearly said that this pandemic and enforced lockdown is having a major social and psychological impact on the whole population. I guess we’d all agree with that.
Covid 19 aside, my life changed dramatically last year too, as I developed a painful neuropathic condition called Small Fibre Neuropathy. It’s a bloody awful condition and at times can be very painful. Sadly there is no cure. Once this particular condition takes hold, then you are never rid of it but you can learn to adapt your life around it, and you eventually, after much trial and error, find the medications that work for you in helping ease pain.
Yet, since living with this condition for the past eighteen months, I appear to have become hyper-focused on my health. (Yes, it happens to us therapists too!) I have health anxiety like nothing before, its not good; yet strangely during this pandemic my health hasn’t concerned me at all. Moreover, I have stressed over my private practice and clients I can no longer see, and also missing my grandchildren much more than any health worries. However, what I’m seeing now is that other people are becoming more like me. Many are fighting against the new ‘normal’ and have greater anxiety as I did when I had to accept my debilitating condition.
Here are four truths I’ve come to embrace:-
Slow Down. If you’re not a key worker then its likely the pace of your life will have slowed dramatically. The urgency to get things done and be driven by the clock will most likely have abated; Home-schooling, playing with kids and sitting in the garden to have a cuppa alone or with family are part of this new ‘normal’ and these are great things. I value rest and relaxation on a daily basis, and it’s always my mission to persuade clients that it’s vital to re-charge when life is busy, so this enforced ‘slow down’ right now can be a very good thing indeed.
Fear is a worse setback than Covid19. We’re hard-wired to fight or flee when potential danger approaches. But fear can be destructive and can certainly turn to anxiety in the longer term. Right now we fear the unknown, we fear death of ourselves and loved ones. We fear life not returning to normal and we worry greatly about our jobs, our finances and our health. That’s understandable; but take time to study what may not happen and what is ‘worst case scenario’ and try to differentiate between the two. There is no room here for catastrophising with ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybe’s.’ I’m certainly not playing down the power of conditions like emotional stress and the lack of control we may be feeling right now, but attempting to reclaim a sense of control over the things we actually can do is beneficial.
Clearly those who are facing extreme situations like job loss, businesses folding and death or ill health of a loved one due to Covid are going to have a different experience than the rest of us, but they too can reclaim control over what is possible for them. Ensuring they eat well and healthily and exercising wherever possible – I don’t necessarily mean the strenuous kind, but anything more than sitting in a chair all day if they are able to do that will be helpful. It is so important to hold onto the things we can control when everything else seems to spiral out of our hands. I have spent time improving my meditation and deep breathing techniques and it does bring about a calmness when you are feeling anxious or down. I enrolled in some online education courses to keep the old brain going and make me feel like I am doing something to enhance my professional life. Further education is not for everyone I get that, but for me it an escape and feels worthwhile.
So I urge you to look at the things you can maintain control over, and bring them into play every day. If it’s getting fit (instead of fat) or learning a new skill or hobby every week then do it if you can. Sometimes the only control we can have is our ability to control what we will do for the next ten minutes.
I recall a time when I was 35 years old and was in hospital for a month with viral meningitis, followed by a very slow recovery over the next 12 months where I was mainly confined to home. To try and come to terms with the emotional and mental scars of what I had just been through, and my failing brain at that time, I set myself a task of reading an educational book each week. My brain and memory were sluggish, but my eyes were still good and I could remember the passages I had just read. These were the days prior to internet and mobile phones so books were my lifeline. I think quite possibly this is where my passion for all things psychological was borne, as one of the books I was given to read was ‘Love’s Executioner’ by the amazing writer Irvin Yalom. It forged a fascination within me to reach out to other people and try and help them emotionally. Thank God for that book during my time of confinement! It was my only means of self-development during a distressing, arid time when I had little control over very much at all, but my mini-victories came with the passages I was able to read.
Another important thing to highlight is that after weeks of lockdown, many people are falling prey to loneliness. Feelings of emotional disconnection can be really sad and confusing as we are programmed as humans to connect. I urge people in these situations to reach out to others via the internet, chat groups, neighbours over the garden gate and by whatever means possible to stay connected in some way to the outside world.
Simple life brings clarity. When options are removed from us, what we are left with becomes more grounding and sturdy, and we appreciate it more. I’ve cherished my small patio garden more than at any other time; I appreciate my neighbours for warm and caring chats from a distance and I’ve even learned to embrace technology in a way I never have before, and feel I’m somewhat an expert in videocalling my grandkids at a moment’s notice! I won’t forget these things when life returns to normal…… as it surely will.
Embrace the freedom. It’s refreshing to live outside of normal parameters. It can be so freeing to not have to conform to the rigours of normal life. To walk around make-up free in loose-fitting clothes. To bake and binge watch tv, without clock watching. I’d urge you to embrace this current ‘vacation’ to live outside of your usual plans and self-imposed expectations.
Wishing you all well during these difficult times.