So we’ve been self-isolating.
As I write this, the UK has yet to go into anything like lockdown, so my family has done this by choice. My mum, who is 85, is in hospital recovering from surgery for a breathing problem. We’re all fine. We just want to make absolutely sure that we can visit her as soon as we’re allowed, without taking her — or anyone else — the gift of COVID-19.
For me, it’s not been a huge lifestyle shift. I already work from home. I’m a life coach who works by phone and video conferencing, and a writer — which has always been a solo activity. (I’m just not doing it in cafes at the moment.)
We’re also lucky. We have a garden, and we live in a small town on the south coast of England, where it’s easy to walk along wide seafront promenade at night without coming anywhere near other people.
Obviously, I’m worried about my mum. And I’m missing being with friends. But I’m still talking to them all.
I really think the term ‘social distancing’ is the wrong one to use, for the current crisis. We need to keep physical distance from each other, for sure. But we need our communities and friends more than ever.
Here’s the good news
It’s 2020. The vast majority of us have the technology to connect, without being in the same physical space. Tonight, I’m opening a bottle of wine, and I’m getting together with friends in a virtual pub (we’re calling it The Hub). We’re all meeting on the House Party app to have a catch-up and a drink together, without leaving our own homes. I’m looking forward to hearing how everyone is doing, comforting each other, and laughing together.
Theatres, galleries and cinemas may have closed, but we can still enjoy culture. My regular book group is meeting next week as usual, via Zoom. We’re discussing Patti Smith’s M Train this month. Yesterday, I watched a ramshackle live gig by the brilliant Will Varley, streamed from his home via his phone. The day before, my friend Jack Randle – a lounge singer/Sinatra tribute act – did his Human Jukebox show live from his flat in Milton Keynes, taking requests and streaming via Facebook Live. I’m even joining an online pub quiz, next week.
This is a challenging time for all of us.
The situation is changing fast, so please don’t rely on blogs like this for up-to-date information. But right now in the UK the elderly and vulnerable have been instructed to self-isolate, without any real support in place. Parents are struggling with children at home all day. Teenagers whose exams have been cancelled are stressed about what that means for the future (while also being a little relieved that the last-minute revision can end).
Many of us have been laid off from jobs without pay. The creative industries — where most of my clients work — have ground to a halt, and many freelancers are getting little or no new work. And when it comes to financial help, the UK government seems to have conveniently forgotten the huge numbers of us who are self-employed.
So what do we do, if our income has vanished?
Pivot, if you can. Take your business online, or use your creativity to explore new income streams.
Even if you can’t find a way of earning right now, this is a good time for building new systems for your business, decluttering the house or doing repairs, learning new skills, getting on top of admin and accounts. And for experimenting, planning, reading and dreaming.
“This is the wrong time for marketing,” a client said to me yesterday. And I agreed. In her particular business, it is. (She’s a set designer, and all of her projects this year have been postponed, or cancelled.)
But it’s a perfect time for writing pitches, networking in online groups, updating your website, researching new contacts, and doing all of the tasks that will make selling your services easier when everything gets going again.
Dealing with anxiety
This will be a tough time for many, and we need to help whoever we can. Reach out to anyone you know or live close to who is alone, and especially the elderly and vulnerable, and see if there’s anything they need. A friendly phone chat might mean a lot, right now. It will also help you feel more in control.
It’s also important to take a little time out to feel whatever you’re feeling. Many of us are experiencing high levels of anxiety, anger, fear. Suppress such emotions, push them down and ignore them, and they’ll re-emerge later as depression, chronic anxiety, over-reactions to circumstances — even physical health issues.
Often, if we sit quietly and examine our emotions in an open and curious way, those feelings pass or become much easier to deal with. It can also help to put on some music and dance it out. Punch a pillow or have a good scream (a rolled-up towel will absorb the noise!). Go out for a run, or do an energetic home workout.
Writing down your fears
I like to write my worries down, by hand, in my journal. As I put my fears onto the page, solutions come for some of them, and others start to seem dramatic and over-blown. It helps to get it out of my head, and get clear on what I can affect, and what is out of my control.
There is nothing I can do to change what will happen to my mum in the next few weeks, for instance. But it has helped enormously to write about how I’m feeling. It’s also made me see what I can do. So the guest room is spotless and ready in case she is able to stay with us, there’s petrol in the car, and a bag packed if I’m suddenly needed.
We’re all of us facing a period of unprecedented uncertainty.
We need to take extra good care of ourselves, doing everything we can to stay fit and healthy. And then look after each other. Far from social distancing, we should all reach out and connect in any safe way we can. We need each other.
I’ve spent a lot of time, this weekend, thinking how I can help, in this strangest of times. During the crisis I’ve decided to offer what I’m calling The Little Call of Calm: a one-off, 90-minute coaching session giving you some tools to deal with anxiety and stress, and some space to work out some strategies to help you get through this, whatever your situation.
I’m charging a lot less than I usually do for a session like this, because I want it to be accessible. At the moment, it’s £75: contact me if you’re interested.
All I can add is a reminder to stay safe, take care – and be kind. This too will pass. But it will be easier if we all try to get through it together.