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The gifts of coronavirus

Posted at 17:56 on 9 Apr 2020 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: ableism, COVID-19, gratitude, health, mental health, pandemic, Patreon, politics, self-care, social justice

As this pandemic drags on, we are all experiencing something of an emotional rollercoaster. Grief, fear, frustration, loss, anxiety and exhaustion and perhaps even traumatic triggers are wearing us down. Now more than ever it's important for us to look after ourselves.

For me, part of looking after myself is practising gratitude. Especially when things are tough, gratitude is a mental health practice for me. It's important to lift our spirits, nurture our compassion, and if we are fortunate, to help avoid entitlement. So I thought I'd share some things I'm grateful for in this crisis. Partly for my own benefit, and partly in the hope that they might help you see some of the opportunities and the hopes of the situation, as well as the things that are scary and sad.

I've recently been listening to the Meg-John and Justin podcast . They've published several episodes on the pandemic lately, and some of those ideas have inspired this post. In Sickness and Consent they talk about the impact of the pandemic on our collective behaviour, and how that intersects with consent and individualism. In Stress and Coronavirus they talk about how to look after ourselves during this worrying time. It's solid gold from start to finish, and I share some of my favourite ideas below. If you haven’t listened to the Meg-John and Justin podcast before, they cover topics like sex, gender, relationships as well as mental health and consent. And they're on Patreon, where supporters get exclusive access to every other show.

So apart from some brilliant podcast episodes, what gifts is coronavirus giving me? 

1. More family time 

It’s lovely to spend so much time with my partner and child. We've been without childcare support since 9 March, so for a month now. We've been both supporting each other to work as much as we can, and around childcare and housework that adds up to about 16-17 hours per week each, Even though it's frustrating not to be able to work much on my projects, my kid is amazing and it's wonderful to spend time with them. Right now they're 9 months old and growing so quickly, learning how to crawl, pulling themself up on furnture, and developing object permanence. It really is marvellous to witness the development of their brain. They've learned that when I go away, I'll come back - which means an end to separation anxiety (hurrah!). It also means that they're ridiculously excited to see me again - one of many lovely moments I'm lucky to experience.

I don't want to be too "Blitz spirit" about this as I think that's inappropriate under the present circumstances. But I will admit that being under lockdown has transformed my attitude to waste. We've set ourselves up for quite hardcore social distancing to minimize our risk exposure, and haven’t been to the shops in 3 weeks. So I know that for now, what we've got is what we've got. I've been more mindful with portion sizes, especially for the baby, who is doing baby-led weaning and plays with their food as much as they eat it. So now I put things out for them in stages to gauge their interest and avoid throwing so much away. We made a list on our fridge with all the Best Before dates on, so we know what needs to be eaten first and can be intentional about using fresh produce before it goes off.  

Since any packages we get delivered have to be disinfected, it's encouraging me to mend things rather than replace them. I recently hand-sewed my eye mask back together when the seams came apart. It's satisfying! 

I've seen far more friends on social media posting about sowing and gardening than usual.  Seed retailers are totally inundated with orders, indicating that lots of people have the same idea. I've weeded the containers in our small back yard and have ordered some seeds of my own - I'm hoping they'll arrive in time to plant them. Growing food helps the planet, and it feels great. It's an activity that brings me pleasure and joy. I recommend it. It's even possible to grow food in pots in a sunny spot indoors; you don't need a lot of outdoor space. 

In the episode on Sickness and Consent, Meg-John and Justin talk about ableism. When we assume that everyone is able to attend an event in person, or wouldn't mind if we went along while coughing and sneezing, we are being ableist. We never know someone else’s health status, if they are immunocompromised or have another health condition. 

With COVID-19, we are all being forced to take these issues seriously. We should have taken them seriously all along. Perhaps now that it's affecting everyone, we will all become a more aware of why it's a good idea to support people to work remotely or cancel events for health reasons. All this experience video conferencing will hopefully stand us in good stead for making our projects more accessible when the current crisis is over. 

Coronavirus has given all of us collective permission to cancel things. Where before cancelling an event to protect our health might have been a cause of shame or guilt, now it's understood that it's a wise and responsible thing to do. This is a gift. It creates space for all of us to be in better consent with ourselves, and helps us to avoid traumatising our bodies by pushing through when we feel unwell, and instead give ourselves space to rest. 

Now that we have a glimpse into what it's like to be stuck at home and isolated for health reasons, let's build on that shared experience to increase our empathy for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. We've been doing this for a few weeks, but this is normal life for millions of people this is their lives. Let's take the opportunity to reflect on how we can use the lessons learned from the pandemic to be more compassionate to chronically ill people, and make our events and workplaces more accessible.  

5. Practicing kindness

I loved this piece Meg-John shared from the Stress and Coronavirus episode. They identify three types of kindness: self-kindness, sharing kindness, and giving kindness. All three are necessary, and are appropriate in different situations.

When we are stressed, traumatised or sick with no spare capacity, the best we can do is self-kindness. It's like the idea of putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others. Meet yourself with kindness, and find out what you need to recharge and recover.

When we're rubbing along with others, cohabiting or both struggling at the same time, then it's about sharing kindness. Neither of us might feel we have much to give, but we can be kind to each other, and collaborate to get all our needs met. 

When we feel stronger and have spare strength, that's when we can think of how we might give kindness and contribute to other people. 

Self-kindness has to come first. If we exhaust ourselves trying to be kind to other people when we aren't being kind to ourselves, that's not very consensual. The person we are trying to help don't want us to martyr ourselves.

I loved this idea. It also made me think. My initial reaction was that, as a parent, self-kindness is very hard to prioritise. It often feels like it isn't an option, when all I really feel I need is a break, but my child needs something from me. So first of all I thought hang on! This doesn't really apply to me, or to parents generally. But as I reflected on it, I realised that while I am committed to give kindness to my child, I always have choices about how I do it. I don't have to deprive myself or bully myself. I can look for creative ways to practise more self-kindness even while looking after my kid. 

Maybe when they're sitting by themself and playing with their toys, I could do a few minutes of stretching to ease my aches and pains. Maybe my partner and I could take turns to have half an hour of dedicated self-care time a day, where we don't work or do chores, but take the time to meditate, do Tai Chi, nap, read a book, have a bath or whatever else nourishes our body and soul. While I'm looking after the munchkin, I might weave in things that lift my spirits, like video calls with friends and family, putting music or podcasts I want to listen to on the stereo, or slinging them on my back while I tend my plants.

6. Embracing uncertainty

This whole pandemic is a teachable moment for me. None of us know what's going to happen. We can study charts and models as much as we like, but we can't predict which of our loved ones will get sick, who might die. We can't anticipate how long it will be before we come out of lockdown, and how life will be different when it does. We can't predict the long-term, far-reaching consequences of this collective trauma, this immense social and economic disruption. 

I've been feeling this. My mood has been up and down as I dip in and out of consciousness about the scale of the horror. Sometimes I feel waves of intense fear and grief. I find myself doing maths in the middle of the night to try and calculate how many people are going to die. What if the lockdown lasts until a vaccine has been made, which will probably take 18 months?  How will it affect my baby's development to grow up under house arrest, unable to see their grandparents, visit friends or go on trips? What enrichment activities and social connections will they miss out on? 

So I really appreciated Meg-John and Justin's comments about uncertainty. They pointed out that when bad things happen, it’s always surprising. We could never have predicted the details of how it plays out. There's no point trying to anticipate the worst, as it's impossible to know how it'll feel when we get there. Even when terrible things happen, they are survivable. However horrible things are, there are always opportunities to find moments of happiness and connectedness, even in the midst of intense grief. Buddhism teaches us that everything is always uncertain, and change is inevitable. So this moment in time isn't more uncertain than any other. It's just destroyed the illusion of uncertainty. When we're aware of uncertainty, we're experiencing the world honestly.

Uncertainty means that while things might be bad, they might also be good - and we never know at the time whether a particular event will work out well for us, or not. Historians say that one of the long-term consequences of the Black Death was the end of feudalism - a positive and progressive transformation.  So many aspects of our society haven’t been working very well. As long as it is business as usual, nothing will change. Maybe this pandemic, horrific as it is, might be a transformative moment in our society. Maybe it will be the disruption that brings about the end of things that aren't working well for us. Like long commutes that exhaust workers. Poverty and the lack of a social safety net. Austerity policies that de-fund our public services. Under-paying and under-appreciating key workers. Over-consumption and high emissions. Border controls and nationalistic sentiments.

Maybe this pandemic will leads to a different attitude towards work, consumption and travel, and better funding and support for our public services. Maybe this will be the catalyst that prompts us to provide all citizens with universal basic income, and to start cooperating internationally with a global perspective. Maybe we will learn skills of organising collectively which will help us fight the next big global crisis: climate change. 

Well, that's my hope. And that's some of the things I'm grateful for, and some of the things I've learned so far as I've tried to get my head around it all.

How about you? What's been on your mind as you've tried to adjust to this strange new reality? What are you learning, what are you grateful for - and what do you hope?

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