In this reflective piece, Cohort 3 BGFer Taryn shares her experiences with Coronavirus over the past few months and the coping strategies she has put in place to look after herself during these difficult times.
Well, there’s no denying it: we are living in very strange times. Everything feels more than a little surreal.
The UK has finally pretty much gone into lock down. I first heard about the novel coronavirus at the end of January, when one of my Facebook friends who was living in a neighbouring province of Wuhan made a post about it. I was concerned for them, but nothing more – after all, that’s something that happens over there. Not here. We’re the UK; we’re invincible. Right?
Over the following weeks, it was spreading and people were starting to take notice. The newspapers jumped on it, and I rolled my eyes at all this ‘media hype’. It’s just a flu, I thought, even if I do get it, I’ll be fine. I’m young and healthy. People are panicking over nothing.
Then a friend started making a point of not giving hugs–this guy was seriously worried about the situation–and so I fell to researching. It was all a lot more serious than I had realised. Normally a very tactile person, I stopped all physical contact, awkwardly refusing hugs when people initiated them.
Even at this point, when I started following all the guidance issued about hand-washing and distance, I didn’t really expect things to escalate. Then Italy went into lockdown. Italy, a country with a robust healthcare system, was struggling to cope. Suddenly, my country didn’t feel so untouchable.
Over the next few days, I learned new terms: ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolation’, and ‘flattening the curve’. The advice was to stay home. I was young, yes, and healthy, sure, and if I did catch it, it was unlikely to kill me.
But then I realised that this isn’t about me.
It’s about protecting the vulnerable – the elderly, those with weaker immune systems. If too many people get hospitalised at once, our NHS will be overwhelmed, and that’s when people start dying unnecessarily. The resources stretch too thin, then they end up unable to receive the care they need. I’m not okay with that. Their lives matter.
Social media soon became flooded with coronavirus posts. People were waking up, beginning to self-isolate even before it was enforced. But now almost every Facebook post, every Tweet, every news article I encounter is somehow related to it. It feels impossible to avoid. Maybe because it’s all we’re thinking about right now, and to talk about anything else feels strange.
For the first few days, I didn’t handle things well. I wasn’t really sure how to react: this is something that nobody in living memory has experienced. So I plunged into sadness and worry, overwhelmed by it all. All the things that I had been doing – activism, songwriting, photography – all felt meaningless and unimportant in the face of this global crisis. I felt completely powerless, completely out of control, unable to do anything to change the situation. Everything is uncertain and uncertainty is scary. I don’t know what the world will look like after this. I don’t know how long it will be until ‘after this’. Nobody does.
That’s not something I can control.
However, to a certain extent, I can control my attitude and my reaction to what’s happening. And what that looks like will be different for everyone.
To start with, I gave myself time. I took the pressure off. I let myself grieve for normality, to feel sad about cancelled gigs, to miss my friends, to acknowledge that this period is going to be challenging. For many of us, we’ve lost what we’ve been told is our purpose – our studies and our work. Now that’s been taken away, we have to re-calibrate, get our balance back, and find something new to focus on. A purpose that we decide. Think of that freedom!
Deciding on a routine has been a game changer. I’ve set myself a bed-time and a wake-up time, and I stick to it as best I can. With this complete freedom over how I plan my day, I’ve found that rising early and sleeping early works best for me; I use the morning to work on redrafting a novel I’ve been working on for a few years with another author, spending three hours solidly focused. This gives me a sense of purpose, and I know that whatever I decide to do with the rest of my day, I’ll feel like I’ve achieved something.
Then I give the rest of my time over to other projects and hobbies. I’ve been writing songs, teaching myself how to play guitar better, reading for pleasure and learning, editing a backlog of films and photos. I’ve improved my relationship with Mum – we’ve started jogging together, and it’s been a really brilliant way for us to bond and get exercise at the same time.
I’ve also spent time just doing nothing. No phone, no music, no distractions. Just my own thoughts. And that, I feel, is incredibly valuable.
Loneliness is something that is going to hit a lot of us quite hard; we’re naturally social beings. So we need to take care of each other. It’s important to check in regularly with friends and family – schedule video calls with people! Social distancing and self-isolation should only be physical – we are fortunate to have technology that allows us to communicate with our loved ones. With my time, I’ve been reconnecting with old friends, making a point of catching up with people that I’ve met on my travels, and speaking to family more often.
But I’m still learning how to cope with this. You probably are too. And that’s very okay. It’s new.
Take it all at your own pace.
You’re allowed to not be productive.
You’re allowed to feel sad, or anxious, or overwhelmed.
You’re allowed to have good days and bad days.
Just be there for each other. And be there for yourself.
This, too, shall pass.
This piece was originally published on the Catalyse Change blog. Catalyse Change is a Bristol-based social enterprise supporting girls and young women to develop sustainability skills and knowledge. Read more about them on their website, Instagram (@catalysechange), or Twitter (@CatalyseCh).
Check out Taryn's work @taryneverdeenphotography.