Lessons from a personal crisis which has parallels with lockdown living.
Whilst these are unprecedented times, for me lockdown life is a déjà vu from 2008 when I was forced to spend nine months at home lying down, unable to sit or stand for longer than 30 seconds. I was struck down by this condition just six months after I’d got married. This wasn’t my vision for wedded bliss, but I developed survival techniques I’d like to share as I’m now quite sure that my isolation experience was one of the best things that ever happened in my life.
Ironically, it all started with a virus. It developed with flu-like symptoms but when I was exposed to daylight it felt like a bullet in my brain, so the doctor suspected meningitis. The only way to confirm this diagnosis was through a lumbar puncture, an injection in your spine where they take fluid to be tested. The results were negative, but I became a medical anomaly as the hole that was punctured in my spine wouldn’t heal. This meant that whenever I tried to sit or stand, spinal fluid leaked, giving me instant nausea, a splitting headache and blurred vision. I had every scan, procedure, and drug in the book, but I wasn’t getting any better. Without a definite prognosis the doctors told me I would probably get better in time, but it could take years. So, I was limited to a life at home lying on the sofa. It was actually much more restrictive and painful than daily life now but I adapted by developing survival tips that kept me going and I hope can help you.
1. Routine — No surprise that this helps our mental health. It makes us feel more in control of our lives and destiny. In my constrained existence, this consisted of things like making photo albums, organising computer files and trying new recipes (it would take me hours to attempt to make a gourmet meal for my new husband in 30 second increments and I became very acquainted with lying on the kitchen floor) but having an hour by hour breakdown and sticking to it kept me sane.
2. Get creative — During my lockdown I wrote a book about my experience as a reality T.V. producer called Reality Chick. A publisher was interested but I decided it would be too incriminating and didn’t do anything with it, but it was incredibly satisfying to write a few thousand words a day and gave me a sense of purpose. What is the creative project on your bucket list that you’ve never had time to pursue? Even if you’re working full time at home and/or juggling with kids, how about your commute time? Could that be one or two hours that you could now dedicate to a passion project, something just for you?
3. Meditate — When I was ill I already had a practise of many years and it was a total lifesaver. It kept me calm, focused and helped to disconnect me from my ailing body. Most relevant for now, the plethora of scientifically proven benefits of practising meditation include boosting immunity and reducing inflammation. Practising mindfulness to bring you into the present moment can help to reduce the anticipatory fear that so many of us are facing right now which is comparable to grief. The simplest way to do this is to take what I call a Next Step breathing space. Follow my guided version here https://www.instagram.com/p/B-Wg2f2HqA3/where I’m posting five minutes of Viral Mindfulness to help people throughout this period of lockdown.
4/ Dress for success — It was very tempting to stay in PJs for nine months but I knew I would feel more like an invalid and lacking in energy if I didn’t dress for the outside world. Right now, I’m coaching people at home in their leisure wear and encouraging them to dress for the office. It helps to switch you into work mode, even when your office is your kitchen.
5/ Institutionalization is not so bad — If you’ve ever wondered how prisoners endure a long stretch, or how long-term hospitalised patients don’t seem bored, it’s because we quickly adapt to new environments. When I was first ill, FOMO was dominant. I felt sad about losing work (my job no longer existed by the time I recovered), missing friends, social events and being disconnected from everyday life. But that changed. I became accustomed to a simpler existence at home and took comfort from smaller pleasures. Amidst these frightening times, there is an opportunity for us to reset, to recalibrate what’s really important and reignite our appreciation of the activities we can still enjoy during lockdown — our daily walk, a virtual drink with friends without having to commute, movie nights with children, dancing and singing to our favourite feel good tunes, joining live workouts with people around the world, a long bath or just an opportunity to put the brakes on our over scheduled lives.
The words of spiritual teacher and best-selling author Eckhart Tolle feel more pertinent than ever
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”
I was fortunate that nine months after I became ill I could rejoin the world fully recovered. I will never forget the appreciation I had for everyday life and hope that when this time passes, we can all collectively feel that euphoria, but in the meantime it’s worth uncovering the small pleasures of the now.