We have all suddenly all found ourselves sitting in a very different set of circumstances.
As Covid-19 grips the world with its own particular evolutionary prerogative, humans are equally trying to get a grip of it and for the moment it seems we have some way to go before we have the upper hand.
It has been like watching an inevitable car crash in slow motion wreak havoc whilst simultaneously recognising that everything you considered ‘normal’ is no longer even accessible anymore. Overnight the media flooded us with infection rates and death tolls, inadequacies and failings…and yet, despite this, sitting directly alongside this epidemic is another picture.
That picture has been one filled by rainbows in window-panes, clapping for the NHS, the Great British Sing-along, free music, comedy, dance and theatre events and a plethora of Zoom meetings to suit anyone’s tastes! This picture tells us how a nation, indeed a world, has been immeasurably moved by those braver and more capable than us putting themselves at risk for our recovery and protection.
Covid-19 has not only brought its immediate direct physical challenges, but we will be dealing with the financial, psychological and spiritual fallout for a long time to come. There will not be a single human unaffected and in each of our own small unique ways we have all had to struggle within our own minds to come to terms with what our future may hold for us – often in the darkest hours of the morning. We have had to give up on the things we were most looking forward to…a re-union, an important celebration, an adventure, a new job, a holiday, a new home, a new relationship, a new lover. Everything has been put on hold. We can no longer ‘predict’ ourselves into the future.
In reality, we are being faced with a cumulative effect of a profound set of losses. Along with our hopes for the future, we are experiencing the very real loss of our close-knit friendships and communities that get us through the average day, actual physical contact and non-verbal communication that no Zoom meeting could ever replace, outdoor physical movement and activity – the things in life we most often enjoy doing – shared experiences that bring context and meaning into our lives. All this has been taken away or minimised – our usual coping mechanisms for any of our daily life’s stressors has been eroded. These are all losses – a series of disappointments and let downs – and for some people it’s coupled with the devastating loss of those they love most. Sadly, this can even be more than one person in a household.
The combination of all of these stressors – physical, emotional, psychological, financial, spiritual can wreak havoc on any mind especially given that most of our normal ‘regulation activities’ have been removed. Those who are more vulnerable in any of those areas will suffer greatly.
The question in these times of international hardship becomes ‘what do we do’? It is so hard for Westerners to react in any other way. In fact, no sooner have we been isolated are we bombarded with every kind of advice telling us what more we can do with our time : Learn a new skill, a new language, a new work-out, a new book, a new course. To a kind soul, it feels like bullying. What if, just for a moment, we STOP doing, and we follow the actions of those who care. We look, we listen, we attend, and we befriend.
It is hard not to feel humbled by how committed and selfless doctors, nurses, emergency services and admin/key personnel are out there – facing enormous suffering and/or death every single moment of the day. We wonder at their calling to get up every day and leave those they love to answer the call of a greater need. The commitment to a greater act of service…to ultimately save lives and whilst doing that to offer an island of safety and hope.
In extreme adversity, it is normal for every single one of us to default into our ‘defence mechanisms’ of fight, flight or freeze. What has not been as readily available is the skill to stop and recognise what we are defaulting to and offer ourselves the regulation we may truly need.
This urgent anxiety extends culturally whilst we seek to fix the problem quickly but leave very little room for true reflection and/or critical thinking. Is the action you’re about to take good for you and just as importantly, what will the impact be on another? This extends as much to whether you decide to walk out your front door without a mask or whether you will continue to entertain a negative thought pattern that harms you.
Stephen W. Porges stated that “If you want to change the world, make one person feel safe.” People who are kind, instinctively know this to be true. It is in safety that your body can shift out of its survival mode and it is in safety that children can feel free enough to play.
Without shifting into this state of ease, your body cannot process the intense experiences of life and your internal resources become increasingly limited. We most probably all know someone who exhibits behaviour where they are ‘full up’ ‘fed up’ or just plain ‘frozen’. They exhibit a nervous system that has not been able to integrate an experience and therefore every consequent experience sits on top that until they can take no more. We certainly all know what it means to not be able ‘to take any more’ and currently, as the world tipples further and further into crisis, we will come to know these edges more.
We can no longer deny the fact that our world is in crisis and it’s here to stay for a while. We face enormous uncertainty and while we may feel utterly impotent to affect real help or change out there, we do have one last option available to us. We have to make the same commitment as our NHS staff and key-workers make daily – to keep looking at the bigger picture. To step up and to show up. We have to choose in every single moment whether we are thinking or acting in kindness or in defence to something. We have to be bold and act with intention every day and decide on which thoughts we will entertain. Do we choose to be with our own or another’s suffering or do we run, hide or deny them? And if we feel we simply cannot, do we give ourselves permission to be vulnerable, to not know and have all the answers and to stop pretending that we do. Can we be so enormously brave to give ourselves the space for being raw, scared, honest and afraid and to sit with the excruciating uncomfortability – allowing all the feelings we push away to surface – in our own safety, our own kindness, our own acceptance.
Kind people are naturally inclined to think of another before themselves and we could all learn from their example. Your action, non-action, negative or positive thought has an impact on you and everyone and everything around you. The longer we choose to deny our value in the world and ignore all the things that are in desperate need of our attention, the longer the world will be screaming at us for not paying attention. If Covid-19 has anything to show us, it’s telling us how much we impact each other…and in the briefest of seconds in time…how much our non-activity has offered the earth a slither of respite. If we had to just stop for a moment and ask the question, how could we do things differently – more kindly, caringly, respectfully, mindfully, consciously – how much we would be rewarded. Sometimes we have to get sick before the healing begins…or I’m just another person desperate to make sense of a very desperate crisis.
The truth is this is just the beginning of a very long journey toward healing, repairing, grieving and attending to the consequences of Covid-19. People in the NHS and key workers will be needing our support – and more than just a clap – long after this epidemic starts to fade. We can no longer deny that the way we do life in the world no longer serves us, our communities or the earth. This is no longer about ‘other people’, this is about us.
Today we have an opportunity to choose to be part of a solution. To make ourselves havens of safety for ourselves and then to offer that to another – to allow another to feel held, safe, un-judged and cared for. To choose, as often as we can, to hold ourselves in the same way so that we no longer poison our minds or our environment. Where we learn to regulate our bodies and anchor havens of peace inside so that we find no need to spew poison onto another and when we fail, to hold ourselves gently and return to accountability because we can recognise that we have all been there before.
It seems to me that humans face the greatest challenge of all time – that Covid-19 will push us to places we will not like. Yet, at the same time, we have never been as informed, as able, as connected, as capable. The only question that remains is whether or not it matters to you to be kind and to care.
About Mike Fisher
Mike is an esteemed therapist and author, and leading authority on Anger Management and Trauma Incident Therapy. Amongst many achievements, he is the Founder of the British Association of Anger Management and the Centre for Men’s Development in London. He is also author of ‘Beating Anger’ and ‘Mindfulness and the art of managing anger’. Appeared on various programmes including the BBC’s ‘Can’t Stop Losing My Cool’.