I have seen a quote doing the rounds on social media that seems apposite during present events: “If you can’t go outside, go inside.” I cannot find the original author of the quote – perhaps it belongs to an ancient sage, or perhaps it was a random tweet that went viral in the last few weeks. Either way, for me it sums up a helpful way through the health crisis that we are facing.
Coping during lockdown
As I write, a third of the world’s population is on ‘lockdown’, meaning severely restricted movement outside of the home. In the UK, if you display any of the known symptoms of covid-19 you are required to stay indoors for seven days, while members of your household are to stay in for fourteen. Everyone should be limiting their trips outside to the bare essentials. Workers not considered ‘essential’ to the national effort are asked not to go to work; social gatherings of more than two people are subject to a blanket ban. Everyone is affected by this, everyone’s way of life has changed dramatically in the last two weeks. Most of us will need to get used to spending a lot of time indoors, which is where that quote becomes relevant, as we close our doors and get better acquainted with our own interior lives.
For me, ‘going inside’ means sitting with myself and focusing on what is going on internally. Of course it might mean completely different things to different people. Having been forced to spend a significant amount of time indoors, I find myself increasingly drawn to the idea of exploring my internal reactions to what’s going on.
The coronavirus crisis is being called a once in a century event, and it’s easy to concur with that description. The only similar event in living memory for us Brits will be the blackouts of the second world war. Perhaps the most alarming thing about this experience is how out of the blue it was, as well as how quickly it escalated. In January when I first heard about this mysterious virus that was claiming hundreds of lives in China, like most of us I couldn’t imagine the same thing ever happening here. Yet as I write today I sit at home in quarantine, having developed the symptoms of that very virus last week. It’s just been announced that the Prime Minister and the heir to the throne have the virus too. It seems no one will escape the fallout.
I wasn’t expecting self isolation to be fun, and it hasn’t been. For a few days last week I was very unwell, suffering from the worst case of flu I’d ever had. This week I’ve experienced a slow but steady recovery. I gather from official government advice that I should have stopped being contagious a few days ago, and so I am once more able to venture to the shops to meet my basic needs. But I wouldn’t say I am 100% back to normal health. I am lucky to be relatively young and fit, so I’ve had nothing more than a bad case of the flu, where many others will endure far worse. My thoughts during this time have frequently turned to the countless people who won’t survive this awful illness, and to the brave healthcare workers who will look after them.
It has been a shock to the system, on both a personal and a national level. I rarely ever get ill, and I don’t like it when I do. Remaining indoors for seven days gets exhausting – having infinite choice when it comes to streamable films and TV shows is more of a curse than a blessing.
Finding some peace
Quite apart from the ongoing economic fallout, I’ve been stunned to observe the impact on the once busy streets of my home city, which for the first time in my life could be described as ‘quiet’. The significant fall in traffic is already being said to correlate with much cleaner air in our skies. Luckily my infrequent trips to the shop this week have been peaceful, my fellow shoppers always standing a polite two metres apart, smiling and nodding as I get in line behind them. The good will that we’re expressing towards our healthcare workers and towards each other is one of the heartening aspects of all of this.
Having to spend so much time inside has taught me that I need to find better solutions to boredom. Online TV bingeing has been my go to antidote to lethargy, and after a solid week of it I can confirm that it makes the problem worse.
At the start of all this, naturally I pledged to be good and accomplish all the things I wouldn’t normally have time to do, such as daily meditating. As the lockdown continues I find these tasks to be more and more vital to my wellbeing. While I can’t go outside I really have no option other than to ‘go inside’, where I stand a chance of assuaging my innate anxiety. At first, having all this time to meditate makes me oddly resistant to it, which tells me that I must persevere. When I focus on my breathing and on what’s going on in my body at the present moment, I can’t get caught up in worrying about the future and what’s going to happen with this virus. Unlike Netflix and the 24 hour news channels, practising mindfulness doesn’t leave me feeling frustrated or triggered or fatigued. It is a source of replenishment that sees me through to the next day.