As March 2020 has drawn to a close it feels like it has been a very long month indeed. Much longer than a normal March should be.
“Events, my dear boy, events”; and certainly who would have predicted that in the space of a couple of weeks schools would close, Parliament be suspended, most all businesses shut down and the majority of the population confined to their own homes …. Goodness, if you’d asked me a month ago what, ‘social distancing’ was, I’d have figured it was a 1980’s synth-pop act.
Given the unusual times we are living through, I thought I’d write a brief personal piece on how I have found the last few weeks. What follows is not directly about the Covid-19 Pandemic, or the deeper significance of the changes we’re experiencing. Rather, I thought it might be worth giving a moment to reflect on the emotions and feelings that have been generated by these momentous events.
Over recent weeks there has been unprecedented amounts of new information we’ve all had to take in and process. Professionally, socially, culturally – the flow of news and new data is enormous, incessant and indeed changing by the day and even by the hour, so it’s no wonder we’re struggling to keep up and feeling a bit emotional. In years to come they’ll probably write entire plays devoted to PPE ….!
Another significant source of emotion at this time comes from the recognition of how vulnerable we are. It’s not that wars or pandemics suddenly make life more fragile than it already is. They just force our attention to be refocussed so this unavoidable fact can’t be ignored anymore.
At the time of writing I haven’t yet felt the need to alter the amount of toilet paper I use. I have though, on a day to day, week to week basis found my emotions cycling quite substantially. At times, I find myself to be hugely optimistic that some of the changes we are going through will be profoundly positive for our society. But by turns, I also find myself to be really quite anxious and uncertain of the times ahead. Whether I’ll be able to cope professionally. Whether I’ll able to provide the kind of support that patients and staff might need. What the future might mean for loved ones and family. Genuinely feeling quite helpless at times.
This swing of emotions isn’t helped by the disruption to ones usual routines and coping strategies. Regular exercise is one of the best antidotes to stress. But with the gym, climbing wall, mountain bike park and even National Parks out of action, the antidote has become another problem. Similarly, the routine of regular work for many is also a way to anchor ones life – also gone for a lot of the population. Those who remain at work in essential services, are often stretched to the limit – in turn missing their own coping mechanisms for but very different reasons.
So what to do…?
The honest answer in times like this …. You do the best you can.
Be kind and go easy on yourself and others. Avoid the things that might overwhelmed you where you can. I try to limit the amount of social media and the news that I consume these days. It’s not always easy, but it definitely does help.
To deal with my negative feelings I look to find productive, concrete things to do to displace them. I’ve found myself putting more effort into cooking and making nice meals, often challenging myself with what I have in the cupboard. Similarly, with less options for exercise I’ve been forced to be more creative and I have managed to find alternative places to run and cycle. It’s about shifting ones focus on to the things you can control and away from the things you can’t.
Now is also a good moment to observe and acknowledge that these emotions are real. Statements like, ‘these are exceptional times we are living through’, are no cliche. Hence, it’s hardly surprising that feelings of uncertainty are bubbling to the surface. Validating the emotions you’re feeling, allowing them to exist rather than suppressing them is a form of acceptance. Once you accept that you are right to be feeling the way you do you can move forward, instead of being left stuck with the anxiety.
Out and about, to my delight, I have found all kinds ordinary folk making an extra effort in these extraordinary times. In the supermarket, customers and staff are catching your eye (above their masks) and being extra considerate with space and products. More folk say ‘hi’ or wave when you pass on your bike, or run by on foot, (made easier on the spooky quiet roads). At work, people ask how you are and really seem care how you answer. The community is making a real effort to pay attention and listen to those around them – this compassion, this humanity is the wonderful counterpoint to the serious and trying times we are all living through.
I’ll wrap up now so as not to make this too heavy. Click on the following link to a song. One that I hope finds the right balance between levity and sincerity and features some classic Kiwi humour. (“Always look on the bright side of life”, was too much of a stretch ; )
Dr Robin Barraclough
April 1st 2020