As an asthmatic single mother who has also been side-tracked by dystopian imaginings due to China’s social credit system, I have gone through a range of these fears. The words to note there are “gone through”. For, although we remain in lockdown and still have no idea when or how this will end, I currently reside in a state of equilibrium and remain informed by new developments without feeling emotionally swayed by them. That does not mean the fear will not arise again, but that I can take joy in the moments of taking pause and noticing that – right here, right now – all is fine. There is food in the shops, the children are playing, the earth keeps spinning, and – if you’re reading this – here you are blessed with another day in this crazy world.
Anyway, I hoped to share with you a few of the ways I’m staying calm and collected during this global crisis. These will not be right for or applicable to everyone, but if just a few of those who need these ideas find them, my job here is done.
I write this from the perspective of an ‘unsupported’ lone parent to four children, the eldest of whom is autistic and the youngest breastfeeding. By ‘unsupported’, I do not deny that I have some incredible friends who step up to help me when they know I need it, but that on a day-to-day basis I cannot assume help from anyone. I am self-sufficient to a fault, but this has also made for some pragmatic and philosophical crutches that I share below.
1. Compile your hospital / grab bags
My main fear as a lone parent – even before Covid-19 – is that I will become severely ill and have to figure out at what point I call for help. I long ago reached the conclusion that “Who would have the children?” is a pointless worry – if I’m that ill, I’d shed my pride to call friends, or social services would deal with them.
So, apart from that, experience tells me that when I or one of my children has had to be admitted to hospital in the past, I have been let down by my lack of preparation for unforeseen circumstances. If there is one lesson we perhaps all learnt from the panic-buying just a few weeks ago, it is that it pays to be physically prepared in advance of a crisis hitting.
Something that puts my mind at rest with regards to the scenario of being rushed into hospital is that both myself and each of my children has a bag prepared for a sudden change of scene. There is nothing worse than being told you have to immediately leave your home yet having a mad scramble for all the things you might need whilst simultaneously feeling emotionally charged – I know this due to being evacuated from my home due to a sinkhole scare when my youngest was just 10 days old.
What people put in their grab bags is unique to them, but there are some obvious necessities: a change of clothes, basic toiletries, any regular medication, a notebook and pen, important personal documents, non-perishable snacks, a bottle of water, a little cash, and something to keep you occupied.
With regards to the children’s bags (and taking this preparedness task beyond this pandemic), you will want to factor in an annual refresh for age-appropriate needs, correctly-sized clothing, and to ensure that snacks are replenished for those with a longer shelf-life.
This simple task can go a long way towards maintaining peace of mind despite an unknown, unpredictable future.
2. Know your support networks
Admittedly, at the best of times I’m not great at making the most of the support on offer to me. ‘Official’ support services have often seemed patronising and perfunctory, and the selfless support of friends leaves me feeling indebted, however much they protest that I needn’t feel that way.
But times have changed and we all need to be helping and accepting help at every opportunity – building connections and community even while we can’t socialise (especially while we can’t socialise).
When we went into this crisis, I dropped into worst-case scenario thoughts. I imagined civil unrest and extreme isolation. I became anxious about the authoritarian policies we would be living under. I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen to those people already suffering from mental health problems or trapped in abusive relationships. I projected my worries of a future not yet here right into my present reality of peace and plenty. I had to allow these thoughts full expression in order to relinquish them and move into a more mentally-healthy state.
An important part of letting go of unconstructive thoughts is to recognise what is actually happening in your immediate here and now. For me, that was seeing all the helpers appearing, even if just through the window of social media. There have been so many people offering friendship and support to one another, so many willing to step up and help people they have never met before, so many friends checking in and sending love, so many local initiatives arising to fill the gaps that neoliberalism has created in our communities.
There is so much order arising out of what could have been disorder. It fills me with hope that, whatever happens, people will come together to look after one another. And it makes me realise that, however unsupported I have felt as a single mother in the past, I am currently recognising and appreciating all the options I currently have to seek support should I need it. And there is such freedom from fear in that.
3. Relax about ‘schooling’
As an ex-home educator, I really must make the distinction between ‘education’ and ‘schooling’. Between ‘learning’ and ‘curricula’. It has saddened me to see how many parents are struggling to adjust to lockdown, not only because they are suddenly yanked from their own routines, not only because their children are suddenly yanked from their routines, not only because the whole family are suddenly foist together 24/7 without a their usual breaks or freedoms – but on top of that they feel pressured to replicate school at home and ‘keep up’ with schoolwork.
For some children, continuing with the routines, schedules, and activities of school will be their sense of normality amidst this chaos. If both parent and child are able to work together with that, that’s great. But for many children and parents, this time at home with family will be a precious breather from the pressures of school and after-school activities. It is a chance to step back and appreciate the moments we may usually have to rush through.
This is a chance to create a rhythm tailored to your own family. To focus on creating a nest of love, safety, and security. To witness that which truly lights up your children and allow them freedom to explore those things while the demands of school don’t call. And you will find that – amidst the lie-ins or late nights, the lack of interest in reading or writing, the ridiculous amount of screentime, the times when you worry that the kids “aren’t doing enough” – there is learning, there is connection, there are realisations, there is growth.
Children are ‘learning all the time’ (that is also the title of an appropriate and inspiring book by the educationalist John Holt). Please don’t worry about them ‘falling behind’ or ‘missing out’ – the priority right now is our health, both physical and mental. The most valuable things we can teach our children right now are equanimity, resilience, and refuge in the face of struggles. And that love is always the answer to the most important questions.
4. Recognise your simple pleasures and mini freedoms
While here in the UK we are currently allowed our daily fresh air to get our exercise, I am well aware that this isn’t true for countries in strict lockdown and that stricter restrictions may be coming here. In light of this, I have already started planning for the things I will do or notice to secure my little freedoms during lockdown.
We have communal outdoor space here, and I will be cherishing the sunny days that I can go and put my washing to dry on the washing lines, even if that is a mere 5 minutes of outdoor time. I love springtime laundry airing most years, but this year it has a bittersweet poignancy from which a keen appreciation arises.
I will also be giving thanks for the simple pleasures that we so often take for granted. The whole-hearted hugs of my children. The sloppy kisses of my 2-year-old. The fresh fruit and vegetables provided by local businesses. The private messages to and from friends that have taken on such significance in this physically-disconnected yet emotionally-connected crisis. The running water, electricity, and emails of reassurance from food stockists, that tell us that we are safe and abundant – times are strange but the infrastructure on which we rely for survival is still ticking over.
This is, relatively speaking, a comfortable crisis for most people in the Western world. While it is usually considered crude to pull the cards of having it better than people in warzones or famines or shanty towns because it diminishes our valid concerns about the difficulties of those who are vulnerable in our own locales, I think there is no better time to be grateful for the basic necessities of life than during a global crisis. Our true needs are brought into stark relief.
I do appreciate that not everyone is as privileged as I am to have a comfortable life in the UK, and that many people are in less than ideal domestic situations. However, if you have your own home to sit in, with food in the fridge, energy and water on demand, people to love and be loved by (whether near or far), and something to entertain you, you are doing pretty well in the grand scheme of crises.
5. Develop and cherish your intellectual and spiritual freedom
It’s ok if you’re not interested in the positive psychology of ‘self-development’ and would rather watch your favourite TV series, play games, and enjoy goal-less chill out sessions with a beverage. The self-development industry has a lot to answer for in rallying people to thrive despite their outer circumstances – we’re not all in the financial or psychological position to do that, and spiritual ‘quick fixes’ are rarely quick for those new to such mindsets.
However, I will say that – when physical and external circumstances are beyond our control – having the time and space to think for ourselves is where our true freedom lies. Whatever the media narrative or mainstream social discourse, ultimately only you can control what you think. We might be stuck within the walls of our homes, but mind, imagination, and spirit have no such restrictions. Be free!
This is the perfect time for the realisation of those oft-quoted ‘spiritual truths’ that tell us our only boundary to inner peace and enlightenment is the monkey mind. We can rail against the practical and mental frustrations of social distancing and self-isolation, but where does it get us? It is evidence that, so often, our felt ‘reality’ is not about our physical circumstances but how we conceptualise those circumstances.
Above all, you didn’t choose this. There is no part of this for which you can turn the blame on yourself, as we are apt to do when our lives don’t go according to plan. This awareness of our lack of control is a wonderful portal into the spiritual or philosophical equanimity this situation can afford us. If we can let go of what April 2020 was ‘supposed’ to be, we can be present and loving with what actually is.