We have a bigger problem than COVID-19
It’s 2am. And I’ve awoken with the sharp realisation that Corona is perhaps no longer our biggest global fight and focus. Instead, (lack of) (physical) Connection is.
Last night, announcements were made in the Netherlands, and worldwide, of lockdowns. Not of days or weeks – but months. The emotions this has stirred in me, and around me, is extreme and explosive.
I cannot yet comprehend that flying to see my family in Australia, teaching my class of Master’s students, group hugs with friends, coffee in a cafe just are not a possibility in the near future. Yes, I understand this is a crisis. I am highly empathetic and care deeply for others and truly want to do all I can to help. I am learning lately it’s crucial that I also care for myself. Part of that is trying to simply to speak up about what is happening from my own perspective, and this blog post is part of processing that.
What are the real risks?
As of now, I believe our real risk categories are much broader than we realise. I do not mean to spread more panic and fear – but to see the truth.
I believe we need to acknowledge that every single one of us is at risk, and not just from Corona.
In Europe, this pandemic comes at the end of a long dark winter, right at a time when most people who have only just made it through a winter depression desperately soak up the sunshine. They delight in the daffodils and ducklings. Like the “koeiendans” in the Netherlands, where the cows are let outside after months of winter indoors, who spring into the fields in a gorgeous group.
The behaviour of many, including myself, when the sunshine finally came in the last few days, was to flock outdoors with our children and loved ones – to parks, to beaches, to forests. Yes, we knew there was a global pandemic on the rise, and yes we took precautions. Still we were harshly judged by the government and others – and rightly so. This is now not encouraged through until at least 1 June.
Not selfishness but survival
However here is the other side. I will stay home. But I’m finding that incredibly overwhelming to process just now. This is not just selfishness. This is survival. As all of us are dealing with more under the surface than even we and certainly others are aware of.
Freedom, fresh air, and human contact are basic human needs. Taking these from people is being presented as a solution to solve a global pandemic. In just the first days of social distancing, I believe it is creating or perhaps uncovering and triggering another even greater crisis – lack of connection.
Please, please understand that I genuinely and deeply care for the elderly and vulnerable these measures are meant to protect from Corona. My parents in Australia, and I myself am listed as “risk category” – them for their age and me with asthma. I fully support the governments measures for social distancing and believe they are doing the best they can in a crisis. I understand we need to take drastic measures to ensure the health system can cope and the minimal number of people die who could be saved.
Selfishness is not straightforward
I feel we need to acknowledge that it’s really not as simple as asking people to not be selfish and sit on their sofa, as one social media post has been circulating. What scares me is I am one of the strongest people I know. Yet right now, even before Corona, I am at the weakest I have ever been. For most of my life, I have put others first. However I, and now many many others, are currently not very strong, not through any fault of our own. Sitting on my sofa does not feel like an option right now. It may have to be and I am doing that – but meanwhile I need to speak up about that – and do not believe I should be immediately labeled selfish if I do so. This “others are selfish idiots” attitutde I’m seeing so regularly is distressing – and making things worse.
My personal story – not for pity but perspective
I have been dealing with things I do not wish to share, but also something I can – I broke my ankle. For two months, I was trapped in my house, literally going crazy. I discovered I had something called “cast claustrophobia”. Weird but very “real”. My own brain and body betrayed me. I got by – and managed those two months – with only with a little (no a LOT) of help from my friends. And amazing hospital staff. Five months later I’m still in recovery – which is now going backwards as I can no longer see my physio.
Alongside this I was also diagnosed with anxiety and depression and prescribed medication. At the time I only took it for a few days. Instead, I turned to an even more effective recovery plan – people. Though I’m a social media trainer and better than the majority at connecting online – not having face to face contact with pretty much anyone else but my immediate family right now is just – I don’t even have words yet.
Now this is not a pity story for me – it’s just a personal example of what I know is going to be a huge global pandemic even bigger than COVID-19. I now have the strength to speak up but many don’t. Millions are now literally (almost) locked in their homes. They are stressed and struggling. Many are already shutting down and behaving in ways that I have never seen. I am also absolutely “not myself”. I am generally far from selfish – but right now am in survival mode. Labelling myself or others as selfish will not solve any problems – it is likely to create even more.
Who is vulnerable and at risk? And alone?
Yes, these government measures may be keeping the vulnerable safe from COVID-19 but the questions that keep coming to me are – who really are the vulnerable? And who wants to be sick or even die alone? For the healthy – I worry they will not stay that way long. Not just from the threat of Corona. Mental illness is a serious issue that I feel has not yet been discussed nearly enough in this situation.
Applause for the healthcare and other essential services
A point to remember is part of these measures are to stop the healthcare systems and staff being overwhelmed. Here in The Netherlands recently at a certain time, the whole country was encouraged to applaud them. And this should not stop. Thank you, thank you, thank you. For you, I will stay home…but first need to figure out how to actually process this possibility.
Staying home is a process before it’s accepted as a possibility.
We are “allowed out” for the shopping. I never looked forward to grocery shopping, now it’s going to be my daily lifeline! What I’m having the most trouble with is not having countless others close as part of my day. Even in wartime, people coped by connecting with people. Yes then – the risk of dying may have been higher and for a broader category of society. However many found solace literally in the arms of others. Yes – we can still do this with those in our household – if you don’t live alone. Extra cuddles with my daughters have been a blessing in these last few days. But talks of upcoming birthday parties not happening, not being able to even see neighbourhood children and so many other things is just near impossible to truly process right now. This is not being selfish and there is a true need for courage and kindness while we accept this.
Here is just a small sample of what many of us are dealing with right now. Is it as “bad” as Corona? Perhaps, or perhaps not, but we MUST be talking about this and not just in memes.
- People who are vulnerable and sick and at the highest risk of Corona
- People who are terrified of losing loved ones – and not able to be with them
- People of all ages who live alone and are already extremely lonely after just days
- People who are fearful of being able to meet even their very basic daily needs
- People who have suddenly lost purpose and a clear future in their careers
- People who are a huge help to society such as medical staff – but under huge strain
- Young people whose brains literally cannot process the seriousness of these regulations
- International students and travellers stranded far from family
- Children who desperately miss their routine and friends
- Children who are stressed about schoolwork and exams
- Parents who are dealing with financial strain unlike ever before
- Families who are usually strong but not when they are trapped in one house for an extended period of time
- Families that were not strong before this.
- Add yourself and your friends and your family to this list…
What are your skills and strengths?
Every single human is dealing with this as best they can – and suddenly without their usual coping mechanisms. The beauty of our uniqueness is we all have different skills and strengths. For example, introverts will cope slightly better. Briefly at least. Some of our personal past training may suddenly become much more relevant – I, for example, am an Edtech, online education and digital communications expert. For years, I’ve been encouraging people to learn and connect online and now COVID-19 is making crucial what before was simply interesting. My suggestion is that we all start literally listing out our skills and strengths.
I admit that I’m struggling
Sadly, even with my own skills and strengths, I’m struggling. For the last week, I have almost shut down with anxiety, where all I feel my brain, and the world, was shouting about were problems. “WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE, OR AT LEAST MANY OF THOSE YOU LOVE DEARLY” are what fear has been telling me in my head, and what I’m literally reading online.
Sure, I know this is not completely true – already there have been fabulous displays of creativity, courage and compassion. However this can be just way too much to process in the time frame we have been dealing with. Being told by social media I’m selfish if I feel I can’t just sit on my sofa for 2 months is making this worse.
Admitting anxiety – and potential selfishness – out loud – first to friends, then to my psychologist, then in an email to colleagues, now in this blog post – has helped me process this and start to move past it.
So what IS or ARE the actual problems?
First I believe we need to more clearly define the problems beyond COVID-19 that are becoming just as acute – NOW. Here’s a few of my suggestions and no doubt you could add more:
- Selfishness (yes – it’s a problem – as survival mode can trigger this)
- Pre existing medical conditions
- New medical conditions not related to COVID-19
- Financial security
- Flexible access to personalised education
- A calm and safe home environment for all
- Identify and add your own problem to this list
As someone who has struggled with most of the above all my life, I can tell you – all of these defy logic. They also often require superhuman strength just to cope with what used to be daily life.
Coping mechanisms not currently possible
Here’s just some of the coping mechanisms I would personally use up until recently, which I no longer can:
- Hugs from friends
- Boxing class at the gym
- Movie at the cinema
- Walk in the forest
- Trip to the beach
- Finding purpose in my work
- Feeling financially stable
- A good nights sleep
- A face to face appointment with my psychologist or physio
So now what? The best way is to find new coping mechanisms and solutions that are ok while also assisting in flattening the curve and curbing COVID19 such as:
- Cuddles with those in your house
- Digital conversations with friends and family worldwide
- Online Education
- Board games
- Organising (digital) photos
- Writing your life story or that of your family
- Creativity – drawing
- Phone call with psychologist
- Indoor exercises
We are all part of the problem – and solution
However first – before we are actually able to work our way through this list above and make any kind of plan – my call is to all of us to acknowledge this: We are ALL vulnerable, we are ALL at risk and we are ALL part of both the problem – and the solution.
Choose Connection, Courage, Creativity and Kindness
Now that the world is already on its knees – now we have a choice. Stay there, or rise. If you need to – stay there a while. But then – get up. Ask for help if you need to. And consciously choose connection, courage and kindness. Digitally for now. Message a friend. Check on colleagues. Message me. Find ways to get stronger and express your courage creativity. Only YOU know what works for YOU. Perhaps your values are different. Add these too.
What Next? How? A plan and a path.
My own initial brainstorm to create a plan and path is as follows:
- #keepconnecting – we all need other humans, online or offline
- Express love and patience to my family and friends every day
- Laugh every day – the creativity and humour online is impressive
- Communicate daily with as many people as I can
- Educate others in the skills I have (and identify first what these are)
- Acknowledge this is incredibly intense and absolutely unprecedented
- Allow myself and others some fear – this truly is a terrifying situation
- Consciously choose courage and kindness in every single moment
- Accept and support the government guidelines – they are trying to protect us all
- Remind myself that this is a matter of months – I’ve done this before and can again
- Reserve my judgement and opinions until I have had some time to process them
- Find passion and purpose each day
- Limit my exposure to any kind of media and conversations that make me feel bad
- Care for myself and others – eat, exercise, sleep and breathe as best I can
- Find and follow others who inspire me (Brene Brown, Oprah, Russell Brand…)
- Creatively express myself in ways that work – write, draw, blog
- And again – #keepconnecting
Face the fear and process it first
Today it’s all about feeling the fear, and processing it. This post has been part of that. How will you face your fear and process it today?
Tomorrow – let’s make an action plan
Tomorrow, I’ll create a step by step action plan to make the next few months feel less overwhelming.
And every day, I’ll continue to choose connection, kindness, creativity and courage.
Sending love and strength to all who need it, including myself.