So, now it really is a lockdown. Despite the Taoiseach preferring to avoid the term, it’s the one we’ve been using in my household since the schools closed on March 12th, and it’s beginning to seem more and more apt.
Actually, in my household, we pretty much have been in lockdown except for essential shopping and the occasional solo jog or walk since the schools closed. It has felt safer that way; we’ve been as careful as we could be, and so we’ve been pretty confident we would be safe.
And then today I went into panic when someone helpfully reminded me that I had put away the grocery shopping without disinfecting each individual item. Despite that careful 20 second handwash on re-entering the house, I suddenly realised I could have been the cause of spreading contagion in our nice safe home and my anxiety levels hit the roof.
It made me realise that the lockdown tension that is so palpable in the air these days isn’t too far from the surface in me either. So, since we’ve moved from general lifestyle overwhelm to specific situation overwhelm, what is to be done?
Allow for differences
It’s important to recognise that people respond differently to stressful situations, and lockdown is definitely a stressful situation.
Some people need routines to help them maintain a sense of order and comfort, while others might find that the imposition of strict routines simply adds to the stress.
Some people rush into caregiving mode, while others might dive into research to try understand exactly what’s going on, or even shut it all out by escaping into TV boxsets. We’re all different.
This video from YouTubers Leeann and Michelle captures it brilliantly by illustrating how each of the nine Enneagram personality types might respond to the Covid-19 crisis. There is no right way (as long as you wash your hands and take all sensible precautions) to get through this time. Do whatever it takes to stay present and to maintain mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health for your family.
Acknowledge the difficult feelings
The hard truth is that none of us know how this will play out. We are all sitting with a certain amount of anxiety, uncertainty and even fear. If we deny and push these feelings away, the one sure thing is that they will eventually erupt in destructive ways.
How can we acknowledge our difficult feelings without letting them take charge? One way is to set limits for them. Sit down with pen and paper and set your phone timer for 20 minutes. Let loose onto a piece of paper – spill out every thought you’ve been pushing down, so that it is no longer taking up valuable space in your head.
When the timer goes off, finish up, hold the paper for a moment. Take a deep breath and recognise that you are not your thoughts. Take another deep breath. Then tear up the paper and either burn it if you can do so safely, or throw it away. And remember, you have your thoughts but you are not your thoughts. Your thoughts do not have to be in charge.
A breath of fresh air
Fresh air will help you. Whether you have a balcony, a garden or even just a window, let some air into your space. Go for a walk if you can. Listen to the birds – they are nest-building at the moment. There’s a beautifully glossy magpie outside my window who has spent his morning gathering twigs from the unkempt border between my garden and next door’s. I may have been imagining his gleeful triumph every time he extracted a piece nearly too big to carry, but it still did my heart good. The daffodils are out, the trees are budding and the sun – at least today – is shining. Let them bring you joy.
One of the more beautiful parts of this lockdown period has been, for me, the ways in which communities have come together to take care of each other. Whether it’s a WhatsApp group to connect neighbours, offer errands and trade jokes, or more organised community initiatives to deliver food and medicines to the vulnerable, I have been touched deeply by how willing and eager people are to connect once they get past their busyness and inhibitions.
If we could all emerge from this lockdown period with a new appreciation for our neighbours and the communities to which we belong, our lives might be richer for it. And, because it seems appropriate, but also because it made me tear up – this gorgeous song from Cristovam Music says it all.
It’s ok to have a bad day. None of us is going to be on top form all the way through this experience. This doesn’t have to be your best ever lockdown. Nobody is grading you. You just have to get through it, keep breathing, keep caring, day by day, moment by moment.
But remember, the extension of this thought is that it’s ok for those we live with to have their bad days too. Perhaps the single greatest thing we can do for each other right now is simply this – to be kind. Let us be forgiving of ourselves and each other in our imperfection, and just give each other a break.
Time for change
This experience might change us all, and that might not be a bad thing. As much as we might push it aside and distract ourselves with internet memes, what we are being presented with here is a glimpse of (if not a headlong crash into) our own mortality. In some ways, if we can face it, engage with it and not run away, this is an initiation into life, an invitation to engage with things we may have spent a great deal of time and energy avoiding until now.
Some years ago, I carried out some postgraduate research on the experiences of people who lived through a ‘dark night of the soul experience’ (not necessarily in the classical sense), and who emerged feeling that they had grown and changed significantly as a result of their experiences.
I’m not claiming post-traumatic growth to be a universal experience, but one of the characteristics of people who have hit rock bottom and come out the other side tends to be the drastic re-ordering of priorities. The loss of all that was once held dear can lead to the realisation that a great deal of life has been spent chasing the wrong things and ignoring that which is truly important.
A lockdown, a forced retreat from social life and consumption, the enforced solitude (for some) and enforced closeness (for others) can be an invitation to re-evaluate and explore what really matters. What do you miss? What don’t you miss? Are there parts of your life that need to change? Are there parts of this lockdown experience that you’d like to carry into the future?
A little imagination exercise – you might want to take some time with pen and paper for this one. If you were facing your death now – would you feel that you had lived a good and full life? What have been the great blessings of your life? What have been the challenges and regrets? Do you have unfinished business? Are there things you would change if you still had the chance? What feelings come up when you consider your own death? Can you stay with them for a while without running away? What are the gifts you have brought to the world? What are the gifts you wish you could have brought to the world but never had the chance?
On the wall of my little home office is a postcard with a quote from Sydney Smith, the 19th century Anglican cleric: “A great deal of talent is lost to the world for the want of a little courage”. The great gift of this imaginary encounter with death is that it is not final. We are still here. We can still choose every day how we want to live and who we want to be. All it takes is a little courage.
I have heard many people remarking that this pandemic has shown us that great and speedy societal change is possible. Many more have voiced the wish that we could mobilise with similar force and intent to avert the equally serious – if not quite as immediate – climate crisis. Perhaps a dramatic re-ordering of priorities on a societal level is at hand, and we can now consider what it is that we wish to carry forward as a society into the post-Covid-19 future. May we – collectively – make the right decisions for all of us as we look ahead.
If you are struggling with the lockdown experience, if it’s triggering anxiety, depression, loneliness, existential angst or other issues, it might help to talk. I’m available for phone or video sessions online – contact me here for further details