One minute I’m dreading May due to my teenagers’ exam stress. The next I’m dreading May because it’s apparently when a global pandemic is going to peak (at least at time of writing).
No exam anxiety, just pandemic anxiety. I never thought I’d feel nostalgic for the former.
Who knows what will happen? It is the early days of lockdown, and I have no idea how this will pan out. Uncertainty is my new best friend (I shall call him Bob: he looks pretty anxious right now).
My single mum friend is currently tearing her hair out home-schooling her nine-year-old. I feel for her. So far, my teens have been remarkably resourceful. For my son little has changed. He’s currently in his room online gaming with friends, but he is also learning the guitar online, going for walks with his sister (they’re getting on, so far...), listening to music and making animation films.
My daughter has anxiety anyway, which means she knows what to do when it peaks – talk it through, meditate (headspace currently have Covid-19 mediations), exercise, talk to friends, watch a feelgood comedy like Paul or Chef (although isn’t it weird now watching people not doing social distancing on TV? How quickly we adapt). She has rearranged her bedroom, made a list of books she wants to read before going to university and has bought seeds online so we can grow our own vegetables. I have a lot to learn from her.
Although such things can seem trite when so many are suffering, the rest of us have a duty to stay healthy and kind, and come out of this with a degree of awareness and enlightenment.
I recognise my family are lucky in lots of ways. I can work from home; our home is surrounded by countryside so we can walk for miles without seeing anyone, let alone breathing on them; we have WiFi and books and music; and most importantly we are well. Our parents are okay so far and this is making us all value them so much more. Something like this does force you to get your values straight.
Find the positive
My daughter discovered a website Positive News. It highlights the good things that are happening and restores faith in humanity, which may be lacking in the face of reports of panic buyers, toilet roll thievery and Donald Trump. For example, the rapid drop in CO2 emissions as industrial countries and cities grind to a standstill: the amazing things people are doing to help each other.
Not wanting to bury my head in the sand, I also like the cautionary advice from Yuval Noah Harari and the like (if you were worried about surveillance culture before lockdown, be afraid...) All good grist for my online dinner party conversations (see below).
The quote “hell is other people” is spoken by a character at the end of Sartre’s play No Exit. It’s about three people trapped in a drawing room realising they are in hell and that they don’t like each other much, which, they realise, is kind of worse than being pokered by demons. Perhaps if they had Skype and could talk to other people, they’d feel better? Let’s hope so.
I must say I have found Zooming and WhatsApp-ing friends hugely medicinal. I’m going to take a leaf out of Eco Millennial’s book and organise an online party for my daughter, who also has a birthday in April. My friends and I are meeting for virtual drinks as usual (I love an idea I read in The Guardian on online cocktail hours, even if it does have a tinge of the orchestra on the Titanic about it). I also had a Mother’s Day virtual lunch with my mum.
This is an existential crisis – it magnifies all the givens: death, uncertainty, meaning and isolation. It’s also a bit like an enforced early retirement. If we get through this, there will be a lot of very beautiful gardens.
So, we are clearing out the garage to make an at-home gym, and building a little calm, meditation space at the end of the garden and a vegetable patch. Projects like this will hopefully keep us occupied, along with Netflix and TV, give us new skills – and (hopefully) vegetables.
It always seems to work when I feel myself spinning out. Whatever has happened or might happen, if you stop and focus on the present moment, there’s not a lot going on. The centre does appear to be holding... for now at least.
Mediation is something that will always see us through difficult times, and now we have the time, plus plenty of resources online, there’s no excuse not to practice every day.
Meditation is a personal thing, so you will need to go on your own journey to find your perfect teachers. I am good with American voices and Buddhists, but many people prefer straightforward things like headspace.com and calm.com.
Find your wise ones
I’ve taken to listening to how wise people are dealing with this, such as:
The New Yorker – offering intelligent, informed and well written thoughts on the current crisis.
Brain Pickings collates the work of all brilliant minds, beautifully illustrated, eternally applicable.
And (weirdly, no, seriously) Russell Brand. For a historical perspective of plagues and how they cause the rebirth of modern societies, watch Russ talking to philosopher Brad Evans.
On my favourite wellbeing podcasts – Hurry Slowly, The One You Feed – wellness experts seem to be saying the same thing: while recognising the reality of the catastrophe for those suffering right now, if you are okay, lockdown is a moment to go on a kind of impromptu spiritual retreat; to go deep into ourselves and question the way we have been living, to think creatively about possible new and better ways of being.
I can see the value in this: when the storm hits, it might help to be more centred and focused so that we can respond rather than react. Also, it would be good to emerge from this with something positive.