“It is by being unrestrictedly and unreservedly what I am at present that I have a chance of moving forward”
David Sheff’s ‘Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction’ is a book that I have revisited recently and is a heartbreaking, honest and brilliant depiction of some of the struggles involved in loving someone with addiction issues.
“Try not to compare your insides with other people’s outsides. That is, it may look as if everyone else is doing great, their kids are sailing through. But no one sails through. When we tell others about our struggles, we find tremendous relief. We find comfort. We get help. We are reminded that life is hard for everyone”.
Whenever we are faced with a situation or event that is beyond our control, the most important question that we are left with is ‘How will and how do you respond?’. This is an aspect in which we always have a choice and is key to the development of resilience.
We have a choice in how we can respond to any given situation, you can choose whether you focus on what you still can do, what new opportunities may be available and what the learning from such an adversity might be, or solely what you have lost and the negative consequences to the situation.
“How you respond to the issue…is the issue” – Frankie Perez
“Between a stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. The last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances” – Viktor Frankl
“Catch the moment; make a choice” –Janet Friedman
“Every moment has a choice; every choice has an impact”- Julia Butterfly Hill
“I am no longer afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship” -Louisa May Alcott
Focus on what you can do
It is apparent that almost everyone is affected by this current pandemic. Either because they have older parents they are worried about or they themselves are in the high risk categories, many have underlying health conditions, or they have children who may have asthma and other health conditions. Work and income avenues have been disrupted and huge life events or plans may have been put on hold/cancelled or changed drastically, holidays that have booked and looked forward to have been cancelled and some may have friends and family stuck abroad. We have all had to put our lives on hold indefinitely in one way or another. With schools being closed many are having to attempt to work while home schooling, while others the endless hours ahead of them each day with limited ways to occupy their mind is tormenting and terrifying and this is not to mention the more sinister consequences that the lockdown presents with increased instances of domestic violence.
It is completely normal to worry and to feel fear in response to such events. In response to such unexpected events, all we can do is acknowledge our feelings, stay alert and informed, be aware and cautious, take small positive actions, think beyond ourselves, see what we can learn from this.
Undoubtedly, Covid-19 has limited our lives in a whole host of ways, but it has also led to creativity in how to remain active, connected, help others, and allow vital processes and work to continue as much as possible. It has connected communities, families, allowed more time for self-reflection and slowing down and enabled us to ‘be’ more than ‘do’ – a rare experience. What can this period of time help you to develop? What changes that you have had to adopt have actually had a positive impact that you could continue to integrate post-lockdown? Who have you become closer to? What have you noticed that you used to spend time on that actually may not have been necessary? Have certain exercise/eating habits made a difference to your overall wellbeing – this is something that many of my clients have noticed.
At the same time, you may have found that your wellbeing and mood has actually improved in lockdown and it’s equally valuable to pay attention to this and consider the possible factors involved. This way you may be integrate these into your life post-covid-19. If you are someone that struggles to get out, perhaps knowing that others are having similar experiences to you is comforting, perhaps you feel that your situation may now be more readily understood, perhaps the change in communication systems has in fact meant that you can be more involved in life and relationships than you previously were, maybe certain pressures have been removed or you have realised that in the absence of certain experiences or people your anxiety has greatly reduced, perhaps there is some reassurance in knowing that you are not missing out on certain things. Many clients experiencing depression or chronic health conditions have reported how the acceptance that they have learnt to develop in light of uncertainty, their ability to live in the present, tolerate loss and isolation and find gratitude for what they can do each day has prepared them well. Those with health anxiety or OCD have reported feeling less alone now that much of the population is sharing this anxiety and having to take more extreme measures to protect themselves. I have heard some people say that they have more confidence in meetings over Zoom than they would face-to-face, some people who never speak to friends on the phone have changed this habit and feel closer as a result. How has this time impacted you? Some people have felt a huge amount of pride and an increased sense of resilience in observing how well they have adapted to this challenging situation. It has put life into perspective for some and forced us into facing our limitations, finitude and temporality, helping many to identify wider sources of meaning and purpose in their lives.
Choose which sources you will receive information from
Often there is a tendency surrounding feelings of panic, anxiety and uncertainty to take in as much information as possible. But as there are lots of fake scaremongering stories out there and misinformation/speculation regarding Covid-19, it is important to both be selective about your sources of information and also remind yourself that unless the source is peer reviewed by academics it may be “massaging the data” to promote an agenda and a particular political point of view. It can be useful to consider the motivation, agenda and background of any given spokesperson on an article or video and what paper or TV channel this takes place on and the subsequent values and beliefs of these also.
News tends to focus on the negative and shocking to draw in attention. There is less emphasis on positively spinning unfolding stories. We have a choice in ensuring that we have a balanced array of the information that we consume and whether we get drawn into a narrative of dread and fear or one of the power of humanity coming together, the incredible small acts of kindness being demonstrated etc, whilst also ensuring that we take this seriously.
Set good boundaries
Notice how your mood is impacted by news or discussions around Covid-19 and if it is triggering then limit how often and when you listen decide to consume it. Do you need to stay informed every hour of every day?
Maintain healthy routines
In the same way as when people work from home having had a structured routine in an office, or upon retirement, it is essential to continue positive health behaviours and include a routine if this helps you.
This means getting up at a set time, going to bed at a set time, ensuring that you get dressed before a certain time each day, eating healthily and regularly, drinking lots of water, sleeping well and making sure you do some exercise. This may be walking around the garden, doing some exercises in the house on the many free exercise classes being offered, cleaning or anything that keeps you active. If you are in self-isolation it is even more important to keep up with this to maintain your physical and mental health. It can be helpful to write a list of behaviours that you tend to find energy zapping or energising to ensure that you have the right balance of energising behaviours in your day. It can also help to keep a thought diary in order to identify what thoughts are currently ruminating in your mind and how they impact how you feel and act. If you are in the position of finding that you have more work and are doing longer hours, it is even more important to factor in breaks for exercise, rest and find ways to signify the ‘end of the working day’ as this is much harder in the absence of a commute, a separate living-working space and being surrounded by others.
If you are in a state of panic and anxiety, ensuring that your basic physical needs are met will help combat the flight / fight mode that will be activated.
Use digital technology to connect
Even small conversations are important in these times so ask for support or rely on family and friends more if you are lacking connection. Also most therapeutic services, therapists, physios, GPs are online now so make sure that you access the support you need. Most the time professional support services can offer a range of platforms to deliver services on, including the telephone, so do not let a lack of internet, devices or personal space deter you from that. There is no need for anyone to go through this time in literal isolation. I have had to conduct a number of therapy sessions with people sitting in their cars as this is the only space they can get and we are all having to be flexible and human in findings ways to work around the limitations.
Take this time to return to the simple things (enjoy a good song, book, film, garden, speak to friends you have lost touch with, take time to appreciate your surroundings on a walk). Do the things that you never have time to – learn to play an instrument, sow, paint, write a book or article, try a new language on duolingo for your next holiday, use the time to organise/throw things out, do things to the house you always put off, spend time fully immersing yourself in play with your children. Shift your mindset to embrace the lessons and potential growth this time is presenting us with. As with all suffering, we can get through it when we realise the lessons it is personally teaching us.
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you”
“Don’t worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”
“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.” (Martel 161)