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And we’re still adjusting

My last post was all about the chaos the world has been beset by, under the spread of COVID-19. While the death toll continues to rise, and the number of cases increases by the minute, we still seem powerless to this awful virus. Yet an odd sense of calm appears to have settled in as we begin to adjust to the new normal.

There is no denying that life has changed. Almost beyond recognition. All over the world, people are coming to terms with altered and cancelled plans for Passover, Easter, birthdays, weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and christenings. Businesses have shut down and huge events are being cancelled left, right and centre. Teenagers are adjusting to the idea of not sitting the external exams they’ve been working towards. Children face a potential six months out of school. Streets are papered with signs about social distancing, shop shutters are down, pharmacists serve behind a plastic screen wearing masks and gloves. People queue for the supermarket, standing between makeshift barriers. I can’t help but notice the resemblance to the ordered lines for rides I first saw at Euro Disney in the early 90s – only without the joy and frivolity. The world is a different place.

For some people, it will never be the same again. Each day, we see new stories make the headlines. Although the media is keeping a tally, each new loss to COVID-19 is more than a number. It is a parent, child, sibling, partner, friend – everyone is a loved one to someone. There is no escaping the unspeakable sorrow of not being able to kiss that person goodbye or be there in their final moments. People who have lost relatives not to COVID-19 are also prevented from commemorating life or death with funerals due to the rules of lockdown.

To those who say this is just the flu, I would urge you to open your eyes and look around. Never in my lifetime have countries across the globe ground to a simultaneous halt in such a way as this. There is no denying it – this is big.

A moment to reflect

As the country nears the end of its second week of official lockdown, myself and my hubby are hurtling through our third week of isolation. It is fair to say that time has become something of an abstract concept. Even more so than usual.

It seems to go quickly and slowly simultaneously. It also seems to mean less than it did a month ago. What difference does it make what day it is right now? Or what time?

Just a minute…

The clocks went forwards at the weekend and the internet was awash with silly memes and reminders. People were keen to point out the urgency not to be late to sit in our living rooms and do sweet FA.

So, we lost an hour. Or we gained one. (I never really know which.) Either way, it has never seemed less relevant.

Don’t get me wrong, the hours and minutes are just as precious as they always have been. We still value the out of office time we are spending together. Mealtimes continue to be shared time and coffee breaks are now being streamed with people outside our four walls. That said, it is the experiences that hold worth, not the passage of time itself.

I suppose this was always the case. Moments carry value rather than minutes; memories rather than times of day. Maybe it is just that I suddenly find myself with an abundance of hours, minutes and moments for reflection. Everything blurs into an extension of the same.

Fear

If I’m honest, I think I have always been a little bit scared of the idea of having too much time. Given how busy I usually am, that probably seems like a ridiculous notion to anyone who knows me. Ordinarily, my grumble would be that there are simply not enough hours in the day for all the tasks I have to complete.

My default pace is full pelt. No pauses, no breathers, no breaks. That’s how I’ve always been. At least, for as long as I can remember. That is partly due to my genetic makeup; more than likely a little bit due to my date of birth (24/7) and a lot due to my Crohn’s Disease.

Let me explain

There is a common misconception that people who live with chronic illnesses such as mine, have the power to make ourselves ill or heal ourselves simply by overdoing it or relaxing respectively. If I had a pound for every time a concerned friend had told me: ‘slow down or you’ll do yourself in’ or: ‘rest up and get yourself right again’ I would be a wealthy woman indeed.

Yet I would be no more physically healthy.

It is true that exhaustion is a symptom of chronic bowel disease. Also true, is the fact that being run down does not help an already weakened immune system. Yet it is false that rest will help cure these complaints or that being busy will exacerbate symptoms.

Keep on running

In recent years, I have come to realise that I have a developed my own coping mechanisms upon which some people would frown. I have written, before, about my need to overcompensate for my own perceived weaknesses. By doing more than most healthy people could (or would) attempt to do, I stop myself from feeling disabled. Not only that, but by being busy all the time, I am able to convince myself that I can outrun my disease.

Perhaps it is more the reverse – subconsciously, I fear that if I stop, it will catch up with me. You all know the scenario of the healthy person, who spends weeks dodging the common cold doing the rounds at the office, only to be struck down by it on day one of their holiday. When we relax and slow down, our bodies produce less adrenalin – a hormone crucial to fighting infection.

My body is constantly doing battle with itself anyway. When I slow down and reduce my ability even to fight myself effectively, the villain wins. The disease. The illness. Crohn’s.

Brave soldier

As a child, I used to tell mum and my sisters about ‘the Crohn’s in my tummythat were hurting me. They swear my description made it sound as though I pictured Crohn’s as little soldiers at war with my insides. Maybe I did. Maybe I still do.

Being busy and living as normal a life as I can, despite my inner warriors, actually helps me to function. Rightly or wrongly, running on adrenalin helps me stay as physically and mentally strong as I can.

If I am in pain and dosed up on medication, I might as well have the distraction of working while my body gets on with it. If I am going to be exhausted from the moment I wake up, I would rather do something constructive, to help me feel as though I’ve earned the right to be tired.

Suddenly, being plunged into a period of indefinite inactivity is, therefore, a little frightening.

Or it was

What will I fill my days with? How will I earn any money? How long before cabin fever sets in? Will we drive each other round the bend? Where will we both work?

Being self-employed, the money worry is still real. The rest of those concerns, however, are no longer nagging. To be completely honest, I don’t think we ever thought we’d get on each other’s nerves. Some might say it’s the newlywed glow. We think it’s just the way we are. Either way, we know how lucky it makes us.

For us, lockdown is being spent as part of a loving partnership and in a very happy home. Once upon a time, though, that wouldn’t have been my truth. Had the number after COVID been something lower than 19, I would be living a very different experience right now.

I am well aware of the difficulties and the loneliness faced by so many people; this post in no way diminishes that reality. Everyone responds differently to adversity and there is no magic fix or one size fits all solution.

From my perspective

All I can ever do, is share my experiences and tell you what life is teaching me. Let’s face it, if every day is a school day, then this is one intense lesson.

So how are we coping? Physically, I am more aware of the pain I am in and the overwhelming fatigue I experience. It seems that stopping has allowed my Crohn’s to catch up with me. That said, we are definitely settling into our new normal, which no longer seems so new. Everyone talks about sticking to routine to help promote mental wellness. I would agree that having a sense of routine, however different from our regular ones, has definitely helped us.

We wake up every morning between 6am and 7am, without the need for an alarm. Allowing ourselves to wake naturally, without fear of sleeping in, is oddly refreshing. We have found the best time for our daily dose of fresh air and exercise is first thing in the morning. The streets are quiet, the sky tends to be bright, the air is crisp and it powers us up for the day.

Then we head to the office to work. By ‘office’ I mean our dining table, where we sit face-to-face, computers out, notebooks and pens all over. We are enjoying the extra time together, and the opportunity to chat, even while we work. We eat all our meals together, we are indulging in movie marathons and boxset binges and our games cupboard is seeing more activity than it ever has. In fact, we’ve got our own Rummikub tournament going, with a game (or four) every night before bed. That’s rock n’ roll!

Filling or killing time?

It’s a fine line, and I am finding it hard to stay motivated at times, particularly as my paid work has all stalled. That said, I am trying to take advantage of the opportunity this change has afforded me for writing. I am taking great pleasure in that – doing something I love but usually struggle to find time to indulge in, and I am giving myself new projects to keep me busy.

Living in a different city from my family, mum being alone and not able to visit dad, having friends and relatives all around the globe and not even able to see the friends who live round the corner right now, I have a newfound appreciation for technology. Without it, the world would seem enormous and life so much more isolating. Of course, virtual coffee dates are no substitute for real live hugs, but they definitely help bridge the gap.

So what’s the takeaway?

I think I’m still trying to figure that out. That said, I have come to realise that it is not so much about finding a silver lining to this time of crisis, as it is about accepting that we have no control over the situation. Much like living with chronic illness. All we can do, is find the best way of coping under the circumstances.

Who knows how long this lockdown will last, or for how long the aftershock will cause ripples? Certainly for the foreseeable future, we have to accept the new normal as normal.

I know that I am trying to give myself permission to function at a slower pace. I almost believe myself when I say it is not the end of the world if I occasionally give in to the fact that I feel rubbish, because I don’t have anywhere I need to be. We are both trying to press pause every so often and just be.

Maybe we should all try and worry less about being productive and efficient and accept that life has swerved off-course, at least for the time being. Or, perhaps, we might simply acknowledge that productivity looks different against the backdrop of COVID-19. That way, we can celebrate our successes and prioritise tasks and projects the way we choose.

Even in this time of uncertainty, there are still moments of incredible comfort to be found – a person’s kindness, an inspirational story, a rainbow in a window, a national round of applause.

Whatever those split second reprieves from reality are, take the time to notice them, absorb them, appreciate them. Those are the moments which become your sunshine.

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