Coronavirus: A Nightmare Worth Remembering
‘Coronavirus: A Nightmare Worth Remembering..?’
A guest blog by the one and only @badlands_mama, Isobel Hohler
Isobel Hohler is a writer, a mother, and a lover of nature. We asked her to share her lockdown experiences with us as an individual, as an earth child, as a part of our community, and as a mother of a vulnerable child. This blog takes us on a journey through her anxieties and fears, which many of us have shared, through to her hopes and reflections for the future.
If a global pandemic has taught me anything…‘Coronavirus is my worst nightmare…’ Dr Anthony Fauci
I think when I write that my anxiety hit its zenith around a month into lockdown, I am not alone. As a mother who has had to shield her 3 year old daughter- not once, bit twice in her short life, I peddled into lockdown with a rather different attitude than most, I suppose. I live in the country, I have family close by, I am BLESSED with these two aspects, and lockdown was no stranger darkening my doorway. In some ways, I welcomed it, and could feel the ebb of motherhood pressures sloughing away: no nursery runs, no playdates, no expensive coffees, no refused debit card at the petrol pump, just hours and days of watchin spring unfurl in our garden. Three days in, and I realised I was no longer match fit for quarantine. I was restless- yes- but anxious, more so. As the pandemic unfolded, and the UK government rinsed its hands in hubris-scented hand sanitiser and began flip-flopping around, issuing advice on how to wash our hands to ‘happy birthday’ and not really seeming to anticipate the breadth and severity of the problem, or learn with from its neighbours, my phone rang and buzzed increasingly. ‘Are you worried / nervous / anxious / locked down / out of nursery / ok / happy / sad…’ was the general gist of the 367 messages I’d receive daily. As the mother of a tiny seed who’d undergone a liver transplant at 10 months old, I was indeed, becoming nervous. At the daily warchests and as the death tolls scrolled across our screens, always punctuated with ‘we don’t know enough about this…we don’t have enough evidence…’ I noticed my resting heart rate on my wrist antagonist (apple watch) was reading higher and higher each day. Advice peeled out of our medical teams, but always underscored by the lack of evidence-based anything. And then the dreams began; I’d touched someone or breathed the same air as a dog or driven my car past a line of parked cars and I woke up feeling infected and sullied and like I had brought the crisis to my own door, to my own family, to my own vulnerable daughter. I realised lockdown- which for us- unequivocally, no arguments- was going to be at least three months- was going to be a dark age.
It is now mid-June. I feel like Robinson Crusoe. Or Tom Hanks on his island talking to a coconut. I look like him too. My roots have been referred to by the three year old as a ‘snail trail’. My husband is prowling like a caged baboon and nature has fluttered her hands, sun and rain, over the garden and made it look beautiful. And as I sit- still not quite out of shielding, but three months in- and reflect, I realise what a rollercoaster this time has been. It has been a personal journey and an enormous social journey- an awakening of sorts- as well.
I think this pandemic has created such hyper-anxiety that for some of us (me) that anxiety has peaked and erupted and is now almost a zen-like perma hum. A buzzing mantra of submission. Coronavirus – Covid 19- a havoc wrought so definitely, and with such unprecedented wrath and devastation, we cannot fight it. And I certainly have moved from severe anxiety that saw me popping beta blockers like haribo sours at one point, to a sort of powerless calm. And with’ calm’ comes reflection. People are extraordinary. In this, we truly have seen some of the greatest acts of heroic love. We have seen the cross stitching of communities to weave tapestries of help, support, kindness. We have seen that although physically distanced, the small acts matter so much- and dont always require contact: the cooking of a meal, the dropping of meds to someone’s house, the sharing of a shopping slot, the guts and bravery of delivery drivers, postal workers, carers, frontline staff, the list is endless- and of course- the brilliance of spirit of our NHS. The brightest light in the murk of this heartbreaking and desolate time has been the courage and beauty of so very many people.
Around the start of the virus reaching the soils of the UK and USA, there was a Bill Gates fake news letter doing the rounds. It wasn’t written by him- but the message remains: is our universe, a higher power, pushing the pause button on the cosmic remote control to really make us all sit back on our haunches and take stock? So overtaken with our needs, our desires for more stuff, more money, more power, more everything have we become that we have lost sight of what really matters: each other AND the world in which we live, which we have so badly bullied and pillaged. For the pain and grief coronavirus has caused, there is, I feel, a silver lining, and the appreciation of that silver lining lies in our ability to reflect on the good that has emerged from this time. Hard. Even harder if you have lost a loved one, lost a job, faced financial uncertainty and had to deal with the consequences, both physically and emotionally, of coronavirus. I am aware that there are too many of us maybe proselytising about the positives, while seemingly ignoring all the awful shit, because, well, we – I- am, for now, in a bubble. But we are hopeful creatures, and forwards and upwards we must look for the exit light.
I realise that in me, a change has truly happened. This is the change of community- of the sense of ‘we are all in this together’. This isn’t me plus family against the world; this is all of us plus all of us against something we cannot see, but while we are trying to see it, let’s look at ourselves more carefully, and at one another. And what do we see? I realised I had stopped seeing- and therefore taking pleasures in the things right in front of me: my child’s really very funny emerging personality, a conversation with my mother, a really good book. A walk and the full lungfuls of fresh air pressed into me as I ran through woodland. I realise that happiness is not to be found in my leggings or the bag that I carry. That happiness cannot be achieved by how we sell ourselves to the outside world- as the image we project. That happiness feels like something that should be our birthright but that actually is a quest and the answer to which often lies within ourselves, not in our search histories or our browsers or our shopping carts. Our corona-pause has certainly given some of us space to really dig into that internal storm and pull out what matters: what else can we do? Our freedom has been curtailed: there is little else to do but look inwards and learn.
But also, corona has taught many of us to look upwards and outwards. I live in the middle of nowhere: and the stars on a clear night have always been available to me like solar powered bulbs lighting up the nightfall. Our night skies have been dotted even more brightly and the winking lights moving across the heavens are satellites, not planes. Our blue skies have not been criss-crossed with the vapour trails of a million aeroplanes and to me, it seems the bird song has been a little louder and more diverse, the grass a little greener, the trees a little more thankful. As collectively, we sit still and wait it out, nature exhales and blooms even more: she reminds me of a yogi achieving the extra depth in the posture through her breath. I pray that one of the takeaways from this time is to honour and allow nature to take many more deep breaths: a pandemic should not be the catalyst for this. I think as we move out of this, the evidence we have seen of much diminished pollution and emissions – pictorially and literally- rather than just as tough science talk- will inform us all about making better choices with regards to how we move about this planet, how we consume and how we live.
We are approaching Midsummer. I can access something that for ages I have not been able to: slowness. Stillness. Breath. Reflection. The elderflower is in flower and as the wind blows through its branches, I breathe in and out with that sway, and feel deep, deep within me sadness, sacrifice, the bigger picture. Rather than sitting here and thinking and wanting stuff, I am leaning into a different perspective: Other people. And really, truly caring about the lives and commitments that others make. In these few months, we have seen our nation come together and applaud- finally- the NHS and the care workers and all the people that give, endlessly, in high stakes jobs, which previously I think we have taken for granted. I hope this incredible and huge group of people continue to be honoured, respected, PAID MORE- and that clapping on a Thursday doesn’t just fade into the background of Corona-markers as we emerge from this period. We are also putting our toes on the line of what is being called ‘the greatest civil rights movement in history’, and as Black lives matter gains traction, I hope that finally we do start to learn, to LISTEN, to speak out, to support, to lift each other. I wonder whether collectively our ears and hearts may respond more powerfully and urgently to this now as we are emotionally more sensitised to one another at this point: I wonder if now we are truly able to be agents of change, rather than passivity. With the inevitable change in the pace of living in the last few months, and with less time consuming, more time reflecting and thinking and slowing down, we are able to now do more than simply hear, and listen, and learn. We have the power now to action our thoughts and our feelings: teach our kids about diversity; lobby our local government on how they instill diversity into schools etc; sign petitions; be as active as we can about appreciating the beauty, power, kindness and diversity of human life. Maybe this pandemic is not simply about letting nature breath again- but about buying us some time and space to realise where and how we are going wrong- and to try and change it.
So what have I learnt during this enforced pause? I have learnt to sit with my anxiety. It is real, and painful and disabling- and it can consume us, as we wake and as we sleep. However, often what makes us most uncomfortable needs examining and I’ve allowed it its ebb and flow and I’ve acknowledged that it will always be both my day partner and bed fellow, but that’s ok. The other big one for me, other than PEOPLE, is STUFF. As a rampant consumer and internet shopper, as a buster of credit limits and credit files, as a veteran of debt and sinking into a pile of my own internet waste, I have CEASED. No. I have not ceased, I have started to build in much greater mindfulness about what I am clicking on, and what is turning up with the postman. As nature exhales gratefully, I feel a terrible sense of guilt at the stream of packages containing plastic packaging, plastic kids toys, fast fashion, anything that’s been mass produced in sweatshops and where workers are the last in the long list of considerations. I am genuinely frightened by the impact of my – our- consumerism. I am mindful of the toxicity each of our lives creates: of the plastic, yes, but also of the detergents washed down our drains, of the chemicals we slather on our skins and saturate our bodies in, of a soil that is depleting. The louder I hear the voice of nature, the deeper my search goes into being mindful about what I eat, wear, use and consume. To make healthy AND sustainable choices. As one wise sister said to me: ‘avoid having anything in any of your cupboards that has ingredients your grandmother wouldn’t recognise’.
So, I think this pandemic has opened a wound in each of us. The nature of a wound is painful, but equally, it heals. And so to us: we must explore the pain in our own situations but also to carefully examine our choices, our behaviours, what we consume, and most importantly, the well-being of those both close to us, and further afield- because they are the true heroes- and need recognising as such. As I send this blog off to its final destination, the clocks have restarted, it seems. Not literally, but in our world, the finger has been lifted off the pause button and our insular life as shield maidens, for now, is almost over. And several thoughts percolate. One is this: as a hospital mum, I read a lot of medical reports and journals and at this moment, ‘they’ seem to think children are no longer the vectors in infection risk that they were initially thought to be. And I think this: is our universe handing the baton onto this glittering jewel of the future? Is our universe saying: ‘children, take this and RUN with it? Your forebears have made a big mess- but you guys- carry on with your beautiful thinking and your promise and your commitment to tomorrow and another tomorrow?’ The other point is: at the start of all of this, a family member said- you know, you might never hug your father again. He might be right, but as our shield is lifted, I am running to distance hug right away. Because if this has taught ME anything- its to not leave a single thing unsaid, undone. I pledge this: from now on, we make it our responsibility to- annually- remember this lockdown period. Remember those who have lost their lives, those who have lost loved ones. To remember the commitment others have made to keep us safe. To really dig deep into our own behaviours: are they sustainable, better for the universe, healthier for us- emotionally, mentally and physically? And to remember what all this means to us: go slow, think, reflect, be kind, and motherfucking LOVE.
Just like Isobel, all of us here at PUNK ROCK HEALTH are thinking long and hard about how the Covid-19 pandemic, and lockdown, has affected us. We became inspired to start a petition for an annual day to remember the people we have lost, the bravery of our key workers, and the changes to our world and ourselves.
Click this link to sign the petition:
Create a day to remember those we lost and the lessons we learnt during Covid-19
I propose a national Covid-19 remembrance day; a no travel day where we remember those we lost, give thanks to our key workers and reflect on this time that changed the world and ourselves. This period of lockdown has been filled with loss, but also lessons, and none of this should be forgotten.
We should take a day annually to remember those we lost, the dedication of our key workers, and the things we learnt about ourselves when the world had to slow down. We should remember how we missed hugging our loved ones and how our priorities changed. We should remember how we stepped up to care for the vulnerable people in our community. We should remember how the skies were clearer and the birds were louder when we travelled less. There is so much to remember.