It’s April 2020 and we are deep in the throes of a global pandemic outbreak of coronavirus, also known as Covid-19. I’m writing this to document what life is currently like, the impact this situation is having on us and a few of my thoughts and feelings about it all.
This blog was always intended to be a legacy for my girls. Something that they can look back on as they grow up and in the years that come after I’ve gone, to remind themselves of the story of their lives.
The coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic is a pretty major plot twist in that story and will ultimately become akin to the stories our grandparents and great-grandparents (if we were lucky enough to know them) used to tell us about the first and second world wars. It’s important. A pivotal moment in history. I’ve been feeling the pull to put down some words about it but haven’t really known what to say until now because my thoughts and feelings have been all jumbled up, much like everyone else’s I imagine.
Lockdown Life (version 1)
The UK has now been in ‘lockdown’ for three weeks and a continuation for a further three weeks at least has just been announced by the Government. All schools are closed. Businesses have shut down. We’re only allowed to leave our homes for essential food or medication supplies and one hour of exercise per day. Social distancing rules are firmly in place – everyone must stay two metres apart at all time. We cannot visit friends or family and are only permitted to see the people we live with.
Travelling anywhere is banned, flights are grounded, the roads are quiet. Shops are closed and the high street is empty. Protective gloves and face masks are becoming the norm when out in public. Panic buying and stockpiling has been a real issue, though thankfully that seems to have mostly stopped now. Some items that are still frustratingly impossible to come by, such as flour. At it’s worst the supermarket shelves were totally devoid of anything and everything: toilet paper, milk, cheese, meat, cleaning products, pasta, tampons, bread, rice, handsoap, tinned products, eggs, medicines and other essentials.
Life Is Like The Movies
Like most people I began by feeling overwhelmed, panicked and anxious about the present as well as scared and worried about what the future might hold. I spent a lot of time glued to the news channels. So much happened in such a short space of time: the details of the seriousness of the situation changing minute by minute; the restrictions tightening; the threat increasing. My mind was spinning from it all, leaving me breathless. It was hard to know what was media hype and what was actually real.
It sounds like something out of a movie. It feels like something out of a movie. A deadly virus sweeping the globe, indiscriminate in who it touches, hundreds of thousands of people dying, the world’s population living in fear and uncertainty. It paints a fairly grim picture of this moment in time doesn’t it?
And yet… I firmly believe that we have been given a gift that we will likely never be given again in this lifetime.
I know that probably sounds strange. How can a life-threatening pandemic be a gift? Of course, the virus itself isn’t a gift – it’s a tragedy and a lethal enemy and it has unfailingly affected the life of every single person on this planet in one way or another, some more significantly than others.
It’s the circumstances that we find ourselves in as a result of the virus that I consider to be a gift. Let me explain…
Because of the virus I now have:
- Uninterrupted quality time at home with my husband and girls
- A second chance to be more of the Mum I’ve always wanted to be
- The opportunity to be present with my family and actually play with the girls instead of always working to tick the next thing off the to-do list
- The prospect of trying out homeschooling – something I’ve always wanted to try and circumstances have never allowed
- An option to slow down
- Time to start and finish things I’ve been wanting to do for a long time (personally, professionally, creatively and practically) and have never created the space for or given myself permission to work on up until now
- A community of people I can call on for help if I need it
- The ability to refocus on what is really and truly important in life
- Potential to re-set ourselves (as individuals and as a family) to a better way of living and being – more positive and intentional instead of reactive and negative
- The possibility of reconnecting with each other and strengthening our relationships
It feels like we’ve been offered a lifeline, each of us, to lead us back to ourselves. Almost as if the planet / the universe / god / what or whoever you believe in* (*delete as applicable) has hit the ‘re-set’ button and is giving us all another chance to get things right after getting things so very wrong for such a long time.
Loss and Grief
There is an opportunity in every single challenge we face as human beings. It might not be easy to see at first. In fact, it may take years to become apparent. But it’s there. This pandemic is a huge challenge for everyone and it’s up to each of us to seek out the opportunity it’s presenting, to look for the light amidst the loss.
For now I’m mostly just grateful that we and our family & friends still have our health – we’ve not lost that, though I know it’s a different story for many, many people who have lost people they love to the virus.
However, as a family we have lost certain things. We’ve lost some of our freedom. We’ve lost work. We’ve lost a fairly significant part of our finances and our monetary stability and security. We’ve lost our travel plans for the year. We’ve lost time with family and friends. The girls have lost a major portion of their formal education and life as they’ve known it so far has been turned completely upside down.
It’s ok to grieve these losses. They are important things and honouring the sadness, the disappointment, the frustration and the concerns recognises that importance. I’ve had moments where I’ve cried, moments where I’ve raged about the unfairness it all and moments where I’ve completely and utterly panicked. That’s all ok and a completely normal part of any grieving process, whether you’re talking about surface-level losses like these or the deeper loss of a loved one.
I think maybe the key thing with these particular losses is allowing ourselves to feel those feelings and then working to shift our perspective to look at them from the flipside:
- The loss of freedom is temporary, we know we’ll get it back eventually, this isn’t forever.
- We can carefully budget and over time we’ll be able to rebuild our finances and our security
- Travel plans can be rearranged and the places we were going to visit will still be there waiting for us next year
- We can continue to connect with family and friends, it just needs to be in a different way for the time being, and we can look forward to all the hugs and smiles when we are eventually reunited
- The girls may have lost lessons in how to factorise quadratic equations and learning about what life was like in Mughal India but they’ll have gained an education in other, far more useful life topics like what’s involved in running a household, the importance of community, the ways in which they can help themselves stay focused, and understanding what self care looks like for them as individuals.
On the subject of education, we, like almost every other parent around the globe, are now ‘homeschooling’ indefinitely. I’ve put it in inverted commas deliberately because really, we’re not actually homeschooling. Not in the genuine meaning of the word. It more closely resembles ‘distance learning’. My girls are doing the work set for them by their schools (I have two in high school and one in primary school), with me supporting them wherever necessary. The workload is as intensive as it would be if they were having lessons at school and whilst I’m encouraging them to do as much of it as they can I’m also being mindful to give them grace and recognise when they’ve reached their limits for a particular subject or by a certain point in the day. I’m not giving them additional worksheets or typing up lesson plans or even setting a rigid schedule (I wrote out a timetable and immediately discarded it because I knew that we would never, ever stick to it) and I’m not teaching them the curriculum (because I’m not a teacher!).
I’m keeping things as fluid and un-pressured as possible because what I’ve noticed is that since they’ve been home from school, they’ve been far less stressed. I mean, they have their moments of course, as we all do, but overall it’s been better. They’re less over-stimulated. Less worried about marks out of twenty or upcoming tests or being somewhere at a certain time. And it’s been wonderful to see. They work whilst I work and I’m trying to prompt them to follow the things that they are interested in learning about within the tasks they’ve been set and whilst they sometimes need a little nudge of motivation to get started they’re mostly getting on with things themselves.
As parents we’ve always been our children’s first teacher. Their primary point of learning and encouragement and support since they were tiny newborns. For me, it’s no different now that they’re 13, almost 12 and 10 years old. And whilst I may no longer remember how to multiply fractions or what a subjunctive verb is or the names of every bone and muscle in the human body, I can certainly teach them the skills they can use to be able to figure it out. To ask for help from other sources if they need it, to research in depth, to think outside the box and get creative about how to find a solution to a problem. I’m not worried about their education or them falling ‘behind’ at all – every single child is in the exact same position right now and they’ll all be starting in the same place when they do eventually go back to school. It’s not a race. They’re learning every day through reading and playing and getting creative (and arguing – I call that part of their learning ‘conflict management and negotiation skills’)!
Lockdown Life (version 2)
Truthfully, I’m loving having my girls home with me every day. Even with the endless requests for snacks and occasional bouts of bickering and stomps up the stairs and slammed doors. Loving my husband being home from work with us all for the foreseeable future. Loving all this time together with no real obligations beyond the small amount of work that I do still have that’s bringing in a little bit of income. I’m not sure that I ever want them to go back to school and work when the time eventually comes.
I’m loving the chance to be present and to say yes more. To play in the garden, to bake cookies, to cuddle, to do a ‘PE with Joe’ workout together every morning. Loving the opportunity to be a witness to sibling relationships that are actually beginning to blossom when I just let them be, their imaginary made-up games filling me with as much delight as it does them.
I’m loving being able to write and photograph whenever the mood takes me. Loving having the time to work on half-finished, perpetually put-off projects that have been on the to-do list for, well, years (like unpacking still-sealed boxes from previous house moves, sorting out recipe folders and decluttering old toys and clothes). I’m doing my best to embrace the noise and the chaos and the mess because it means I more fully appreciate the slowing down and the quiet moments.
I’m soaking up the permitted once-a-day fresh air excursion and exercise because when something is limited it makes you enjoy it all the more when you do eventually get it. The arrival of beautiful Spring weather has also played a big part – I’m pretty sure lockdown life would have been much harder if it had been raining non-stop rather than gracing us with the glorious sunshine we’ve been having over the last month or so.
I’m relishing in having less pressure, less need to be rushing about, less stress and zero school runs to do. There is more laughter in the house. More tickle fights, more music. Less of a knot in my tummy, even if my mind does still sometimes wander into the squirmy territory of worries and what ifs.
Last year was my ‘year of more and less’ and that theme is clearly continuing on into this year too. Maybe I didn’t quite learn all that I needed to learn last year. Perhaps I needed to be nudged more firmly into making those choices so that it would really sink in and I’d gain a deeper understanding of exactly what I want/need more and less of in my life.
My intention for 2020 is ‘connection and growth’ and I can already see both of those things manifesting – in our home, in my relationships with people and in the different threads of the work that I do. In some cases it’s purely because of the current circumstances almost forcing it to happen and in some instances it’s because I’ve taken deliberately made choices and taken action to make it happen. It’s an interesting experience for sure.
Control and Language
Because of my job as a therapist I’ve been spending a lot of time helping my clients navigate the current lockdown situation. Many are finding it incredibly difficult for various reasons and I’m working to help them recognise that ultimately a lot of it comes down to control.
There is so much going on that is out of our control right now and that can feel really scary – our brains don’t like chaos and the unknown, they like safety and predictability. This situation is so far beyond any frame of reference that we have for how to behave and respond that people simply don’t know what to do and they’re struggling.
We can’t control whether or not we get the virus; we can’t control whether or not our family, friends and other people we care about get the virus; we can’t control the decision to close schools and cancel exams; we can’t control the government’s decisions regarding extending the lockdown and not being allowed to leave our homes; we can’t control whether or not we lose our jobs or have enough money to pay the bills and put food on the table; we can’t control how quickly or how far the virus spreads; we can’t control other people’s behaviour regarding social distancing rules; we can’t control what products are available in the supermarkets and, perhaps most importantly of all, we cannot control the future.
I’m also very aware of the language that is surrounding us at the moment. Words matter so much more than many people realise. Phrases such as “global emergency” and “deadly pandemic” and “rapidly rising death tolls” are becoming part of our everyday conversations. World in crisis, panic buying, social distancing, self isolation, quarantine, loneliness, vulnerability, at risk, highly contagious, intensive care, shortage of healthcare workers, lack of funding and vital safety equipment… it’s all there, all the time – on our TV screens in the news broadcasts and even product/brand adverts now, in discussions on the radio, as we’re scrolling through our social media news feeds, landing in our inboxes.
So far, the girls seem to be doing ok. I’m doing my best to remain calm, positive and resilient and I’m hoping that they’re picking up on that. As I said before, I’ve had my moments where I’ve struggled and they’ve seen that too. Importantly, they’ve also seen me pull myself out of the anxiety and negativity by doing things that I know help me, like sitting in the sunshine, going for a walk (as per our permitted daily exercise) and putting down my phone/turning off the news in favour of listening to music, reading a book or getting creative with photography instead.
Ultimately, the only thing we can fully control are our own choices and responses – to the situation as a whole and also each mini-scenario within it. I’m choosing to respond with hope and strength and kindness wherever possible, to look for the things I CAN do rather than focusing on the things I can’t do.
I can’t stop my loved ones who live far away from getting ill…I can check in with them regularly to find out how they’re doing and stay connected. I can’t send my girls to school…I can help them with their learning whilst they’re home. I can’t stop clients from cancelling their sessions with me…I can keep showing up for them and supporting them in other ways that might be useful for them. I can’t do anything about lost income…I can budget carefully to make sure the bills get paid and trust that we’ll be able to start saving again once we are able to go back to work. I can’t travel right now…I can research and plan trips that we’ll take in the future. I can’t do anything about other people’s behaviour regarding social distancing rules…I can choose to stay open-minded, to move myself further away, to believe that they’re doing the best they can with what they’ve got and to remember that they’re probably struggling too.
Of course it’s important that we all stay informed and I want the girls to understand how serious the situation is, but I also want them to know when to shift their attention to something else. I want them to learn how to manage their own thoughts and emotions and to make sure that they don’t create meanings in their own minds about themselves or others or the world as a whole that aren’t necessary or helpful. I want them to notice all the good and positive news stories that are being reported so that they come out of this believing in courage and community and their own abilities to make a positive difference in the world, no matter how small.
Courage and community is definitely out there in abundance. Some truly wonderful movements have come about over the last few weeks:
- rainbows displayed in windows and on pathways as symbols of hope, resilience, strength and gratitude (using the hashtag #letsallbewell);
- the whole nation clapping in the streets at 8pm every Thursday evening to show our appreciation of the NHS and all frontline keyworkers;
- local communities creating teams of volunteers to deliver essential supplies to elderly and vulnerable people are just a few examples.
I’ve witnessed beautiful things happening – both in my own neighbourhood and around the world thanks to the wonders of social media, which has never been more important than it is now.
There has been the story of Captain Tom Moore, a 99 year old war veteran who has raised over £14 million for the NHS just by walking laps of his garden with his zimmer frame.
There’s the note that was pushed through my door with the details of a WhatsApp group set up by neighbours so we can help each other out – I’ve offered a huge box of free eggs for people to help themselves from and others have swapped bags of flour in exchange for sugar.
Kindness rocks are popping up all over the trail we walk along for our daily exercise (we’ve contributed a few of our own too).
This is what’s important. These are the things that we need to hold on to. This is the magic that is inherent within humanity.
What Do You Want To Remember?
After all of this is over and the years roll on by, our children will tell their children and grandchildren stories about the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my girls to remember about this time in their lives. I have no real control over that of course, but I can influence it in some ways.
I want them to remember the importance of everything that happened and still be able to see all the positives that came out of it, all the good things in life that ended up being reinforced. To be able to share stories of the year that the summer holidays lasted for six months; to reminisce about when they were home with their family and played in the garden every day. To remember how they learned to bake and became best friends with each other and did their schoolwork at the kitchen table. To recall with fondness the bike rides and walks we went on and how we found new places to explore that are right on our doorstep. All the times they laughed uncontrollably at silly jokes and had movie nights all squished on the sofa together and discovered new (old) music their Dad introduced them to. All the ways in which they still had freedom even within the restrictions that were placed on them for their own safety.
I think maybe that’s what’s at the heart of it really – all these conflicting emotions I (we) have been wrestling with in recent weeks. The two can co-exist. Freedom and restrictions. Joy and concern. Struggles and privilege. Worry and optimism. Fear and happiness. They’re not mutually exclusive, one can exist alongside the other, it’s not an either/or. I suppose it all comes down to perspective in the end. We feed what we focus on and so I’m deciding to focus on all the gifts this pandemic is bringing (even within the heartache) and I’m choosing to look for the positives amidst the negatives.
I have no idea how any of this will pan out. I do hope and believe that something good will come from this. Somehow, somewhere, in some tiny, majestic way. None of us know anything for certain though and that’s both the difficult and the wonderful thing about it. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have and that’s all we can ask of ourselves, and our kids.
However you’re doing – whether you’re coping or not, whether you’re lonely or surrounded by family, whether you’ve lost your job or have the relative security of furlough, whether you’ve lost someone or are healthy, whatever your thoughts and feelings are on a daily basis – I hope you’re doing ok.
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid” ~ Frederick Buechner