Well, it happened. It got me. And along my Covid travels it seems that many are feeling the same – when’s it gonna get me?!
Working in the area of mindset, I’ve found it rather fascinating the different mindsets and perspectives that the prospect of Covid has fuelled in many. For some, the reality of having Covid turns out to be quite the relief that they weren’t expecting – “Well I’ve had it now, so it’s out of the way” to “Oh shit, it’s coming to get me” like it’s this big bad monster that is out to get us.
In my own experience, having lived with illness previously, I can’t deny there was an element of apprehension about facing this much talked about virus head on. Anecdotally, I would say around 70% of the work that I do is with Long Covid and having lived with illness in the past I’m certainly keen not to go back there again.
But as with all life experiences, every encounter provides an opportunity – and in this case, I had a rather wonderful opportunity to explore the psychology of life in Covid isolation.
What came out of it, is the following breakdown of the various thought patterns that can rear their heads when struck with illness, and some perhaps more useful thoughts to ‘don’ instead. So if you yourself are living in Covid isolation right now, or it is something you find yourself fearing, this one may be for you…
Who did it? Who gave it to me?
Ahhh… the perpetual loop of trying to figure out where it came from. This is similar in some ways to the psychology of other chronic issues I work with where people find themselves revisiting the origins of the trauma time and time again in the expectation that it will somehow get them one step closer to a solution. Slightly different in this respect but the process itself is equally pointless.
A question we often ask when it comes to getting the changes we desire in our lives, is “Is this useful?” “Is this thought enhancing my life in any way?” If you put the question to this pattern of behaviour, what do you think the answer is? Hopefully it is a resounding no.
Identifying who gave you the virus in the first place is not going to help you move past it. What exactly are you planning to do with that information? If you knew who you got it from would you blame them or resent them? Yes we may need to ‘track and trace’ but there are measures in place for that – so spending our days trying to figure out the impossible is futile.
What if I gave it to people? Oh my god, the shame, I feel so bad… etc etc
Now this is an interesting one. And this is a big one for many people – the prospect of giving or having given Covid to someone, is one that can yield a great amount of shame and self-judgement. But hello? Do you have a radar above your head that identifies every risk you come across? Equally, does your body have an alarm system that says ‘Covid alert!’ steer clear!? Nope.
You may have developed symptoms and not realised it, but give yourself a break, you are human, just like I am a human (phew), which means we are all fallible and capable of missing things.
Covid has caused enough strife in this world without the futile pursuit of beating ourselves up for things that may or may not have been avoided. Ultimately, every encounter is a chance and if people choose to be in your company they have made a choice to take that chance.
Have I made my point clear enough?!
OMG, this feels like it is never going to go away
Ah the wonderful all-consuming immersion in symptomatic fear. Now having lived with illness in a past life, and working with others to help them get over theirs, there are a couple of key points here.
First of all, just because you have experienced illness before does not mean your body is going to experience it again. But the brain has a beautiful way of interpreting current events based on past experiences, and will assign a whole bunch of unuseful catastrophising meanings if you let it.
When I talk to clients who have gone through illness and are fearful of getting stuck in it again, I always, always labour the point – you are not the same person now. You have a different set of tools and ways of thinking now, and you know exactly how to move past illness – give yourself credit for what you are capable of. So for you lovely reader, if you relate, consider the things in your life that you have overcome and recognise that this is no different. You will move past this, and more specifically, you can give your body credit for what it is capable of.
Having excelled in health anxiety in the past, my own encounter with Covid this time around was, to an extent, rather refreshing. Because this time around, I was able to recognise my body for the marvel it really it is. It’s a bit like being there with your own best friend- you know that one friend who has your back and is looking out for you at every corner? Ultimately, it’s knowing that your body is the expert in healing so you can just kick back and let it do it’s thing.
I don’t like this (aka resistance to the unpleasant feelings)
Let me tell you now – there is no good that can come from resistance. Because when you resist, you contract and that is not conducive to healing and letting things go. Ultimately, it’s okay to feel shit – but there is a way of relating to that that will help you.
The first tip is to imagine you are holding that crappy feeling in your arms. Allow it to be there. You can even talk to it, by saying, “It’s okay, you’re allowed to be here.” Whilst this may seem a little strange(!), in doing so, you are training your brain to see it as separate to you, rather than part of you. Which leads nicely onto the next point…
In the past, as someone who has previously struggled with difficult feelings, I would have felt all consumed by it, and paradoxically in turn, spent my days fighting its presence. This time however, I really just saw the expression of that symptom as part of the process of moving through a virus response. It wasn’t a part of me, it was an external process that my body was running rather than something that was ingrained in me.
Now this is a BIGGIE. Because in all the work that I do, when we get stuck with illness, there is usually a belief that this thing is a part of us. It is something we are lumped with and cannot change. But when you can detach from it in this way, and see it as a fluid process that is simply going through the motions with a clear lifespan, that is when you can allow yourself to accept that process which then paradoxically enables you to let it go much more quickly and easily.
Oh no, I’ve got to spend a week alone with myself
Notice the word alone here. If you’re with ‘yourself’ are you really alone?
This is something I’ve done a lot of work on myself but I’m not gonna lie – it’s a journey and there is always more that can be done. As someone who considers themselves an extrovert, I have the remnants of a perhaps rather unhelpful belief that I need to be surrounded by people to feel fulfilled and happy in my life.
Of course, on the one hand, we are social creatures so it is only natural that we want to be around other humans. And it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge, that for many out there, this isolation is a daily living reality. So if you have experienced Covid isolation and felt the effects of it, perhaps use this as an opportunity to build on that empathetic mindset towards those who face this reality day in day out. Ask yourself, “What you can do to support those going through it?” If there is anyone you know living with chronic illness who you don’t see so much anymore because of their restrictions, what is one small thing you could do to support their need for human contact and connection?
Bringing it back to the shorter-term experience of Covid isolation, we do need to remember that living life from a place that depends on the presence of others is not useful.
What would it be like to connect with a feeling of being your own best friend? When I went into isolation – it gave me the opportunity to really put this into practice and to really practice what I preach. And since coming out of isolation I have maintained my emphasis on this by having a weekly ‘date night with Lauren’ – a night where I spend it in my own company doing things that nourish and nurture me and most importantly, really ENJOYING the time I spend with myself. It’s as if Lauren is sat there with me, by my side, keeping me company.
I’m so bored, but I don’t feel well enough to do anything
Okay. Let yourself be bored. Because, this, is most likely a much needed lesson in presence and simply ‘being.’ In today’s society, we are driven by this incessant need to achieve, perform and ‘do.’ But, sometimes you just gotta slow the f*** down and chill.
Now, I don’t do NY resolutions as such, but I do like to have a focus or a theme if you like. And as I was laying there during the isolation pondering this concept of ‘do, do, do,’ I decided there and then that for 2022, I was going to channel all my attention outside of work to having absolutely no purpose. That’s right. A purpose to have no purpose.
If you’re sitting there thinking WTF, just think about it this way. What if, for every life experience outside of work, you could simply dedicate your time purely to the sake of doing something for ‘doing it’s’ sake? No attachment to outcome. Doing things purely for the sake of fun as opposed to achieving some end goal.
The paradox is that the less purpose you give yourself, the more you can be fulfilled by, and get more out of each moment, as opposed to life becoming a box ticking exercise (again, a classic for many of my lovely clients).
This is miserable
Well of course it is. But fixation on the shitness of the moment is not going to help. Let me demonstrate…
Just for a moment, think about something really crappy that has happened in your life – really think about it. Notice how that feels to think about this thing. THEN – shake that shit off, and think about something that you are really excited about. Something coming up in your future that you are looking forward to. How different does that feel a) in your mind and b) in your body? Neurologically speaking, when you access positive memories and future ‘memories’ you’re doing your brain and nervous system a massive favour, because you will be triggering a lovely cocktail of health enhancing neurotransmitters and hormones.
In all the work I do with stuckness, a key feature of this is driven by the brain getting stuck in negative thought patterns. Now when Covid hits, if you find yourself feeling bogged down by the shitness of day to day existence, or dare I say it, dipping into catastrophising territory of wondering when these issues will disappear, you need to airlift your brain out of that space and direct it into a much more useful direction.
So when I was laying in bed with my old pal Corona, I started to think about all the exciting things I had coming up for the year. The gigs I had planned, the holidays I wanted to embark upon, the friends I would be seeing, the family events in the diary and yes, it was a rather wonderful place to be. It brought colour and lightness into the mental landscape of my mind, which was a lot more than could be said for the four walls of my room.
I’ve got too much to do… money to earn… etc etc
Basically, you just gotta let that shit go. Back in the glory days (not so much) when I first got ill, I remember having a particular attitude to ‘taking time out for illness.’ Specifically, I didn’t have time for it. I pushed through. Never mind the fact that I had gone through stomach bleeding and a hip operation, in my mind, work was number one and avoiding the catastrophe of missing out on deadlines and duties took precedent over my health and my body.
Needless to say I paid the price. The reality is, there will always be shit to do. There will always be the risk of catastrophe and chaos. That’s life. We live in this false illusion of security but nothing is secure. And the best you can do to counter that is tune into your own inner resource of trust.
When I got Covid, I had a week and a half’s worth of client sessions that I had to move. I had a backlog of work that needed to be dealt with and low income from the previous month meant I wasn’t in a particularly secure space. But freaking out about that wasn’t going to help me. The thing that did help me? Reminding myself of all the other times in my life where things had been uncertain and it had all worked out okay in the end.
Everything in life is figureoutable (thanks Marie Forleo for that lovely concept) and whatever comes up, you WILL find a solution, It may not always be the solution you want, but you are far more resourceful than you give yourself credit for. And besides, what choice do you have? You can catastrophise or you can trust. I know which I’d rather.