The global phenomenon of COVID-19 has impacted many millions of people, in many millions of ways. There are millions of stories with a myriad of changed lives; and so too, there are people whose existences have carried along, pretty much undisturbed.
If I think through my own trajectory of this time, I remember that at the beginning I was blasé about it all. It was the joke du jour amongst many people I knew that when someone would sneeze, everyone would jocularly say “Uh oh! You’ve got Coronavirus”, ha ha, hee hee…
And the news of a possible pandemic bought out anxiety for some I knew, scared of something they felt they could not control. Not me for though: I was sure that I would learn all about it, as inevitably I would have to incorporate it into my work somehow; but apart from that, everything would be fine. I had after all survived swine flu and bird flu. And I wouldn’t be ‘self isolating,’ any time soon – I had a busy life to lead. My year was all mapped out – I had holidays planned, I had weddings to go to. This COVID thing was all just news spin – a Media induced panic that would eventually blow over.
I discussed what was happening in the world with family and friends, but the turning point for me was someone explaining that self isolation, as a means to stop the spread of infection, was being mooted because it would save a critical drain on the country’s health service, which was simply not designed for such a catastrophe and did not have the resources to cope with a massive onslaught of cases. Suddenly my world view became different and I had now grasped the global gravity of the situation.
Yet still I was living a ‘normal’ life; but now it was coloured COVID and I started to feel uneasy. Like millions of others, I pried online, looking to buy gloves, masks and hand gel. I read up on infection rates and prevention techniques.
Then, one languid Sunday in March, a close friend telephoned. “Come out to lunch” she said, “it may the last time we can do this in a very long time.” So I got in my car and drove to a local pub for a roast dinner. There were 5 of us round the table – 3 generations, all of whom I regard as family. We were upbeat – all happy to be together – to chatter about and ‘chew the cud’ of our life and times. The place was quiet for a Sunday and the waitress who served us wore plastic gloves, but all else – the sights, smells and sounds, were as they had always been. Later on, when I thought of it, the memory of that day felt pre-apocalyptic…
Soon the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the lockdown gate was about to be closed and suddenly everything became serious. From being blasé, now I was anxious – it was as if my world was a triangular house built of playing cards, now collapsing and blowing away in the wind. The cards fell down one by one, starting with the social group I was an organiser for cancelling all events before I’d even managed to voice an opinion on the subject.
The week stretched on, whilst the world was shutting down. By the end of it, I was looking forward to my Friday evening ritual of going for a long swim: I swim solidly for 40 minutes, mentally working through my week and then letting it go, so I can wind down and relax into the weekend. As I left work that day, with my gym back packed, I checked my phone to find a message telling me that the Health Spa had just been closed till further notice. And that was when it all really hit home for me…
Suddenly, so many freedoms I had previously taken for granted were gone. Work became more and more frantic as all the economic and organisational ramifications hit home. All around me people were losing their livelihood; old and vulnerable people were suddenly stranded and the infrastructure that surrounded my life seemed to be crumbling. As the walls of my life closed in around me, I decided to take some decisive action.
I self-isolated. I avoided going out, even to shop, as much as possible. When I had to of necessity, I wore washable masks and gloves. These were things I had control over; yet from having felt so laisse fair at first, I now started to feel panic, breathing in the mass hysteria of a world in free fall. My mind would spin… as an asthmatic, what if I was put on a ventilator…?
In my ‘adult’ life, as a senior manager in global business, I had some empathy with the authorities, although too, they befuddled and muddled much of the messages they put out. I don’t praise or condone the actions of the UK government. But the world and I had never experienced anything like this, so from moment to moment, we largely had to make it up as we went along – cobbling together what previous experience had given us and inventing everything else from a combination of expertise and ineptitude.
As for the things I can control, I know from experience that I’m stronger when I support others, and to do that, I have to first take care of myself. Basically I had to stop panicking and make my peace with what was happening to the world, then decide how I was going to negotiate it. As such I consciously choose to control the things I could, doing my best work and ensuring my own safety and by extension – that of others.
At this time too, I made a pact with myself that if the thought of someone passed through my mind, then I would reach out to them. So it was that I messaged, emailed, texted, called and WhatsApped friends I haven’t seen for decades, Christmas Card only family members, old work colleagues and even an ex-boyfriend. Some of the responses were warm, some dismissive, some were guarded, whilst some opened up and poured out their hearts. It was a sweet and cathartic process, this reaching out and gave me a sense of doing something conscious and constructive.
Having more time to navel gaze – I navel gazed… picking up on my intermittent practise of meditation and returning regularly, to my infrequent writing of blogs and of editing my seemingly endless novel, which has been part of my life now for over 6 years.
Now that my recreational walking and swimming had been taken away from me, I had to look for new ways to maintain my physical fitness, too. Having been to group yoga classes for several years, I now moved online, practising poses and mantras on my living carpet via Zoom calls and practising workout programmes which my phone dictated to me.
But somehow it wasn’t enough. I felt I needed a challenge and so, I turned to the physical thing I hated worst of all – running. Running for me was the very antithesis of enjoyment. It’s been for most of my life an occasional, necessary evil. For decades I have taken my exercise within my own prescribed comfort and happiness zone, either doing just enough or what I loved…
But running was a stretch and it was also ‘easy’. Just pull on a pair of trainers and go… I downloaded the Couch to 5K App onto my phone, which then coached me through running for intervals of 90 seconds, until eventually I hit 20 minutes. So it was that I joined the throngs of runners, walkers and cyclists that suddenly were every where, instead of the occasional smug and svelte athletes I use to drive past with mild, seated irritation.
Despite all this exercise I was barely losing any weight. My next mission therefore was to focus on my nutrition, which was already quite healthy, but just, somehow staid. Weight loss though took its toll on my energy though, which slowed my running down to a near stop. Suddenly, having running taken from me, I decided to get educated; get all the kit; join online communities; and eat to run. As a result I devised my own running programme and gradually built my running up to 30 minutes at a time. As an asthmatic, only a few months before, running for just 90 seconds had made me feel sick and tearful. And whilst I would never claim that my running journey has been easy, it has shown me what mental mastery as well as physical training can achieve in a relatively short space of time and the sense of achievement (especially at the end of a run!) has been immense.
So, having graduated from Couch to 5K I stepped on the scales and along with everything else that I had lost in life because of Coronavirus, I had also shed a stone in weight. Having achieved that, my new challenge is now to improve my speed and distance.
And life despite lockdown, has gone on… I’ve continued to work long hours as a Human Resources Manager. My god-daughter had a baby girl. My cousin died. All things I have chronicled in other COVID blogs; all impacted by the parameters of contact and context. Yet all somehow negotiated and come to terms with, in my world.
And through all this, I realised that I had found a surprising contentment, by turning in on myself, spending time with my thoughts and working through the kinks of a strangely seminal situation. In my own sweet COVID cocoon, I felt safe and in control. As a mix of extrovert and introvert – whilst my extrovert felt stifled at first, my inner hermit was only too happy to retreat into her cool, safe cave, alone.
So at the time of writing, the lockdown gate has started to lift and with that comes the gratitude of such simple pleasures as meeting a loved one for a socially distanced walk and meaning that I was able to celebrate my birthday, in my garden, with a legal outdoor ‘gathering’ of six people…
I wonder just how long it will be before I get to take these things for granted again? I wonder too if things will ever be entirely ‘normal’ again, what ever that is. In fact I’ve already decided that the world will find its own normal again, as I will – either to be interrupted or cancelled or continuing on into infinity.
Yet part of me too wants to carry with me constantly what Coronavirus has given me, trusting that when I leave my COVID cocoon, that the positive impacts I have chronicled here, will imprint on me for ever.
From Sandra – student, jogger and believer…
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