Back in March, when we were all coming to terms with the first lock down, I wrote some pieces trying to describe some mental health survival techniques that might help us navigate what we termed ‘The Great Silence’. It seemed right to revisit some of these themes and ideas, because in many ways, the world seems different now.
Perhaps for some, it feels even bleaker at present. What started out back in March as a hill we had to climb tgether, or a period we had to survive before we rediscovered normal, has now become something else.
Technology, in the form of healthcare and vaccines, has not yet saved us.
Scientists seem uncertain, or perhaps are just ignored.
Politicians seem unable to break out of the old paradigm into the new, (at least here and in the US.) Populism has failed and is thrashing around for someone else to blame.
Meanwhile, there are enough signs around to suggest that much of what we used to accept as unchanging normality is at a pivot point like a slowing spinning plate. We have no idea which ones will fall, but when they do, almost certainly those who will suffer most will be those who always suffer- those already poor and vulnerable.
Some have even started to talk about the first lockdown with a kind of nostalgia, a bit like the phoney war in 1939, when the sun shone and the looming distaster seemed distant and mostly theoretical. Now, the winter is coming and things seem all the harsher for it…
As I look around, responses to the ongoing virus seem to be fracturing into different camps.
- Those who deny and minimise. I don’t mean the conspiracy theorists – those who cry ‘Plandemic’ – rather I mean the large section of the population who are not really following any kind of strict social distancing rules, at least not totally. Perhaps they feel invulnerable due to their youth and disconnection from people who are vulnerable.
- Those who live in fear. Many people have very good reason to fear, either for themselves or for others they love. People are worried too for their livelihoods and their jobs/homes. But fear is rarely a healthy place to stay. It has consequences for our mental health and physical health.
- Those who are getting on with it. The key workers. Many are working harder than ever. Some feel fortunate to be in work at all, and this too imposes a pressure.
- Those fortunate enough to live lives insulated from the press of people and problems.
- The rest of us. Wearied by all the mixed messages, and wondering how this all ends. Distracting ourselves and looking for signs of hope.
At the same time, political leadership is also bringing confusion. Our Prime Minister has squandered the trust he had over the Cummins affair, and has been ideologically incapable of building partnerships with either the opposition, or more crucially, local authority politicians and local public health structures. It is hard to escape the feeling that our government is making it up as they go along, lurching from one failed plan to another, pulled apart by its own competing priorities, which have always been skewed towards the protection of economics over people. As a result, there is no political consensus, no coming together over political divides for the sake of the nation. There is no Churchill, just a collection of Chamberlains.
So, how might we navigate this uncertain landscape we are forced to still travel through?
Like I know. Like any of us do.
And that is the point we have to start, right? We have to accept that we can not know. The illusion of certainty and control has been revaled for what it always was- an illusion. That may sound fatalistic, but stay with me for a moment. If this was never really true, then what might this mean? Perhaps we were always more reactive and adaptable than we ever thought we were. Perhaps change, even when enforced, is something we are more than capable of seeing through.
Some of it might be hard.
Some of it might bring good things in to our lives – things we could never expect. I’m really sorry if this lands on you like a trite platitude, but it is one that I think is true, even though I don’t know what you are going through right now.
Perhaps though, your circumstance has become an oppressive dictator. You can’t wish this kind of monster away with platitudes – not on your own, certainly.
There might be something you can do, with the help of people who you trust. to change your posture towards that circumstance though, which is what I am trying to describe here.
Posture is everything, when faced with fear and uncertainty. You know this. Sometimes it is not possible to do anything than just let it overwhelm you for a while, but opportunities will come to reframe, and remember that at the end of everything, goodness counts. Love counts, beauty and truth matter.
In my post back in March, I made a list of things that I thought might be helpful. Most of them still seem to apply, but I would add a few more.
1, Immerse yourselve in wild things when you can. Stand in the autumn trees and remember that the noble oaks and sycamores will remember all this long after we are gone. Stand on beaches and remember that the water molecules before you have been passing through the water cycle since the dawn of time. So this not to feel insignificant but in order to remember your own connection. You are made of the same stuff.
2. Stay connected, but limit social media time. Write letters, make phone calls. When you can, wrap up warm and sit around fires, blinking back smoke with your friends. In contrast, you social media feeds will probably be full of fear and scandal.
3. Focus your day on small, but important things. Find a rhythm to your day around some tasks that are creative and constructive, then once these are progressed, forgive yourself for the periods when you are not productive and seek distraction- we are all the same. Netflix and the iplayer are essential opium for all of us.
6. Winter. Perhaps, like me, this season is always hard, and if so, you will fear this one all the more. Michaela suggests the following; look for beauty in the winter. The loss of light means the visibility of the candle flame. The cold means the lighting of fires. The falling leaves means winter tracery and the rain flurries make us appreciate the window panes.
7. Thankfulness. The Psalmist calls us to enter the presence of God with thanksgiving on our hearts. I think this is not because God needs our gratitude, but because it creates joy in us. Joy is fleeting, but it lights up the love inside us like a firework lights the night sky.
8. Journal. Write something each day, even if just one word. Some of you might prefer to draw or paint. For me, it is poetry. In particular, remember thankfulness.
9. Kindness. Nothing restores the soul like kindness, and that is even more true when we are the giver, not the recipient.
I am not expert in your life, nor do I have my own problems all defeated, but this too will pass.
May you find blessing.