Hostage negotiator Terry Waite was kidnapped in Lebanon in 1987 and held alone in an underground cell for almost five years. He was chained up daily for 23 hours and 50 minutes whilst in captivity.
He survived by keeping himself mentally sane and not allowing for morbid thoughts to enter; he knew that the battle was not as much to his body, but with his mind.
As he left that small dark cell when freed, he felt he had become a better person, and became a firm believer that out of suffering, something creative can emerge.
Although this is an extreme example of being locked in, it’s astounding how as human beings we are capable of surviving anything.
Even the lockdown most of us have been forced to endure due to the coronavirus.
However frightening, sad, upsetting and confusing it can be, we can survive it, but those old ways you used to feel better, are not going to work at the moment.
Because life has changed, and through this process, you will too.
This is time to learn a different way of being, and boy once this is over with, you’ll be ready for whatever life throws at you.
I’ve outlined the aspects of lockdown which I’ve found has most played with my sanity, and what I’ve done to make this better.
1) There’s no time frame of when this will be over.
We often work better when given instructions together with a time frame.
That’s how convicts are condemned to their fate; they’re given a time frame to remain in prison, it manages their expectation and allows them to get their head around how long they will spend being incarcerated.
A year, twenty years or life behind bars with no parole.
Yet, once lockdown was declared, most of us have been left with an open-ended option. No wonder people are queuing endlessly to bulk buy food, they don’t know how long they will need to plan for.
Fear is pervading most of our moves and when this hits, we tend to lock into survival mode, and this can make you do things you wouldn’t normally do — like buying 10 packs of toilet rolls and the entire stock of paracetamol.
What can you do instead?
Take a big breath. Yes, you can still do this whilst on lockdown.
If fear is the overriding factor that is making you run around like a headless chicken with no clarity of how to move forwards, acknowledge the fear.
Name it and bring it into awareness.
How you’re interacting with the coronavirus situation is possibly how you deal with every other area of your life. This could be a great way to learn more about yourself and how you handle life when under stress.
Whether it’s the coronavirus, losing your job, marriage or finances.
Unlike other times in your life, there is nowhere you can run to, this is the time to finally meet yourself face to face.
It’s also time to look at the way fear plays out in your life and methods you’ve previously used to block this; so that when this situation finally ends, and it will, you will become more attuned to your response to fear.
2) The isolation from family and friends.
This is currently the one I’m struggling with most. Having my daughter living away from home, parents abroad and siblings I’m unable to see during this time has been tough.
We’ve seen heartbreaking pictures of children speaking to elderly parents through a sheet of glass. It’s become incredibly tough for so many people who are worried about vulnerable family members they’re unable to reach due to the restrictions being imposed.
We ask ourselves daily, when will we be able to hug our elderly parents, arrange a dinner party for our closest friends and see our siblings again under normal circumstances.
This is what you can do instead.
Since we can’t change the situation, we can focus on how technology might be used to bring out the humanity in us. Although this doesn’t extend to touch or hugs, it can bring tremendous comfort to regularly call more regularly than you normally would.
Add this as part of your new routine, a time in the day when you facetime a friend who’s alone or take turns to call family. You now have more time than ever to do this. Use this time to connect more than you ever have. Whether you’re in contact via video messaging or in person, you can still have the same conversations.
However frustrating it feels, keeping connected as much as possible is tremendously helpful. To continue to be involved in their lives more consistently than ever, we all need this so much at the moment on a global level, and this in itself feels comforting.
It’s not just my issue or that of the country I live in, but it’s happening to everyone, which can only mean that we’re not alone, that we’re all in this together.
I don’t think we have ever been so connected as the virus has trespassed through cultures, religions and political standpoints. We finally all now agree on one thing. We want to protect the vulnerable and do what needs to be done to eliminate this virus altogether.
3) We resist the new situation and want our old lives back.
Most of us are finding it impossible to surrender to this new situation, even though it was threatening us from afar for quite a while, it has still taken most of us by surprise.
I for one will never complain about my mundane and normal life again.
I love, crave and want normal.
I realised that any turbulent moment I endured over the years when my world became fragmented, there was always the local Starbucks around the corner. A place where I could drown my sorrows over an extra hot chai tea latte. Always a ticket to my hometown I could arrange, to gain a measure of sanity, a hug and wise words from my parents.
There was always somewhere I could escape to, recalibrate and gather my thoughts.
Never in this generation have we been in a situation where there is nowhere to run but to go within.
This is what you can do instead.
Own the frustration you feel about this new situation, rather than try to resist it or force yourself to be positive, surrender to how angry and frustrated you feel.
If this is hard for you, imagine surrendering just a tiny 5% to what’s occurring.
If you did so, how would you experience this situation differently?
I find that the more I’ve learnt to surrender and stayed home, without attempting to run out the door like I used to, the more I’ve realised that perhaps leaving the house to find a measure of peace meant I was showing that peace resides in another location rather than within me.
I explored whether I can also write an article sitting home with my homemade hot drink in hand, not just in a trendy coffee shop lined with colourful sofas, rustic vibe and soft music radiating around me. And I’m surprised to realise that I can; this article is proof of this.
It’s totally possible that we can find a way to exist and even thrive without needing to leave our front door.
That we can create our own normal whilst we continue to be on lockdown, and this in itself is totally freeing, it means that you can create the conditions by which normality emerges. Even within the four walls of your home.
4) Our busy lives have been replaced by endless hours sitting home.
Busyness has become one of the biggest drugs of choice in this century. A medal of honour showing success and worthiness.
All the things we used as an avoidance technique have crept out the back door. As we have been forced to stay home, in its place we stare at the biggest vacuum of silence that we have ever had to face in our lives.
It’s a new situation and no one has yet written a book or created an online programme about how to mentally survive this. No ‘6 weeks to freedom from lockdown’ retreat (no doubt this will exist by the time this ends).
This is something we have never navigated before, we have no rule book and no instruction manual.
The rules of the game are changing day by day whilst we watch from the sidelines awaiting the next instruction or (even worse) the last countdown of the casualties that this virus has taken down.
This is what you can do instead.
To start with, cut yourself some slack. You have never been through this before and therefore you’re needing to adjust to this new world you have been forced into.
Even computers need time to download a programme onto their system.
Give yourself time and don’t be so hard on yourself, be compassionate with yourself and others. We’re all doing as best as we can with the current situation. If you’re the head of your household, ask your kids to be patient whilst you also adjust to what’s happening.
Don’t expect too much too soon, just take it hour by hour and if possible, day by day. Just focus on getting through that day, and doing what needs to be done.
I remember the first day we went on lockdown in the UK, I remember how overwhelmed I felt, yet almost a week on, and I’m slowly accepting that for now, this will be our lives.
If you’ve been living life in fast forward, now is the time to take it day by day. If you keep on practising living in this way, when this is all over, you will be far more present and more focused on enjoying the moment than you have ever been.
5) We don’t have our normal routine to anchor us.
We all thrive on routine, and currently, all that was anchoring us in the life we had, has been swiftly thrown out, and for good measure, we haven’t found a replacement.
The routine that you might have had before, which perhaps involved school runs, rushing to work and social activities with friends have now been put on hold. Schedules have been shelved for now and this leaves us bereft of the mundane routine we complained about for many years. This was the security that kept our daily lives glued together.
This is what you can do instead.
Part of surrendering to the new normal is to begin to accept the situation, however much you hate it and want it to end.
It won’t do so by you getting angry at it, although it’s healthy to lash out at coronavirus every so often. This will end when it’s ready to and each moment that you’re staying home is saving peoples lives, think of it this way. We are benefitting the health services and the general public when we do so.
So set yourself a new routine.
However basic this looks, this will really help to re-frame your time at home. Building a new schedule into your home life will mean that you’re now creating a different narrative to live by, it might only be temporary but you can do it.
Hoping and wishing you could still have the life you had previous to the virus is going to keep you stuck, resistant and facing this like a petulant child.
What you want is to find a way of keeping sane and with a good frame of mind throughout. Of course, we can have a variety of wobbles and meltdowns along the way, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule.
We are wonderfully versatile and can endure more than we think we can.
If we look back six months ago and imagine our lives on lockdown, we would not believe we could get through it, but we are.
It just shows how quickly we can incorporate new routines and adjust when need be, we are just never forced to push ourselves beyond what we’re used to. We see things as having a limit, but there are no limits, you can see that now as you navigate through this.
Your own personal limitations have probably been pushed quite substantially, and you’re still here. We are slowly adapting to the new situation, and as time goes on, we’re becoming more malleable, and that’s the best that we can hope for.
Keeping our mental health through crisis simply means keeping our wits when everything else seems fractured and incoherent with our perception of reality. It requires finding anchors that can keep us grounded through this turbulent time, and knowing that when we come out of this, we will be far better equipped for whatever else life chooses to throw at us.