The phrase, ‘When this is all over and things go back to normal’ pops up regularly. Don’t we all look forward to that moment? I find myself thinking, ‘well, surely those houseguests I was expecting in June…’ or ‘how about my plans for next January?’ The truth is, we simply don’t know.
Call it denial, call it wishful thinking: I’m a stubborn optimist, as I’m sure many people are. I like to think of this as a period with hidden gifts. We now have time for new creativity and new learning opportunities. We see the air and water clearing as fewer pollutants are produced, and we read about animals emerging from hiding and roaming empty city streets.
At the same time, for the past three weeks, I’ve had multiple screens on my computer open all day. I’ve been trying to follow developments in international news, medical research, and the world economy. I witness blundering politicians, heartbreaking personal stories, and a death toll that continues to mount, all over the world.
Accepting the fact that, in spite of a healthy immune system, I’m over 70 and therefore considered vulnerable, has been another challenge. It means that, as much as I would like to be of service to my family and community, I would only do more harm than good. So obeying the directive to stay at home means combatting feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and loneliness.
These days, life is about finding and keeping one’s balance in the face of a constantly changing reality. Gradually I’ve collected a few coping strategies to stay in balance as much as possible.
Stay informed but don’t overdose on news. Try to limit the intake of news to one or two periods during the day. Spend the rest of your time feeding your heart, mind, and soul with good nourishment.
Try to go outdoors, if your situation allows it, for a brief period every day, even if it’s just a walk around the block or sitting on your balcony. If you’re working from home it can be a welcome break from the computer screen. If you’re home-schooling it can help the children release pent-up energy. If you’re alone it’s a good opportunity to be in the moment, allowing yourself to see, hear, smell, and feel the changes of the season.
Be critical of your news sources, especially when medical information is given. Is this the personal opinion of a single professional, the partisan opinion of a political figure, or a pronouncement by official medical authorities? (Unfortunately the medical authorities of different countries differ as well. Be strategic about whom to believe.)
Try to find the balance between caution and anxiety. We all need to take this virus seriously. Even if we aren’t anxious about getting sick, we can inadvertently pass it on to someone else. But too much anxiety is going to make us sick as well.
Staying positive is one thing, but denying feelings of grief and helplessness is inadvisable and even dangerous. Unacknowledged grief goes underground and can make you ill. We’re all feeling the weight of the world now in some way or another. Take a few minutes each day to sit quietly and tune into whatever feelings you’re trying to push away. You don’t have to let them overwhelm you, simply acknowledge them, breathe through them, and let them go.
Stay in touch with your loved ones. Learn to use not only messaging services but video calls that connect through Wi-Fi. We will have to forgo real hugs, but giving people your undivided attention is still healing. And don’t forget to find reasons to laugh. Humour is healing.
Appreciate all those working in health services now, battling against the odds with insufficient personal protection and insufficient equipment. If you know someone working in health care, spend time being present for them, listening to what they need to share.
When will it end? A virus never ends, it will always be with us. It will probably flare up a few more times. We will eventually become more immune to it, once a vaccine is found and a certain amount of ‘herd immunity’ has developed. Eventually it will no longer rage like a wildfire through our human world. But if, like me, you are a member of the vulnerable group, living with the reality that life has changed will remain a challenge until a vaccination is available. Breathe through this knowledge and stay in balance. Please take care of yourself and the world around you.