An open letter to anyone who wants to understand why I feel better prepared for this than most.
Image below of my 3 year old dressed for nursery today in hat, scarf and gloves.
That sounds way more confident than it really is but as I sit here today on the 20th March facing the current world situation I feel oddly prepared- not in a way I would want to be but because I had no choice.
We all want to feel prepared- the picture above is my three year old getting ready this morning I am not sure whether she thinks COVID-19 is going to bring a snowstorm but I have no doubt she was putting on an extra layer as an emotional response to this stuff- this is totally out of character and random. I guess this just sums up the futility of some of our attempts, of panic buying, of being angry at people, of being unkind.
Many of the people reading this will know our families story but for those who don’t my eldest was diagnosed in November 2018 with a rare and aggressive form of Leukaemia and as a family our worlds turned upside down. We tried to cope and manage using the skills, tools and emotional resilience that had always worked and for a short period this worked- we functioned, got on, managed to do everything. I slept in hospitals and got up to get a train to London leaving him alone before his Nannie came to sit with him- I worried constantly- about him, about the other children (2 & 7). I managed 100 things at one convinced that I had to do this in order for us to cope, to be strong, to be enough. We had some time off work and were supported amazingly by our employers but in the main we wanted to be productive and to be in work. Our journey was hard but I saw others with harder so minimised ours and applied the same standards and expectations to myself which I had always had I didn’t alter them to reflect the situation. I see this a lot right now today. I carried on doing this from November 2018 until November 2019 when a year after his diagnosis and six months out of treatment I had a breakdown- a full on noises in my head, probably close to losing my mind, crumpled in a heap, breakdown. I had to take time out from work, from everything, I had to re establish my roles as my professional self, as a mum, as a wife, as a daughter, as a friend. I am not there yet but I am in one of the best places I have probably ever been- I am on medication to manage the level of anxiety in my head and I have had amazing help from a therapist and I have spent time understanding me, how I work and how I ended up this way and I think I get it. I have learnt that if I don’t Look after me I am no use to anyone else and I learnt it through mistakes so I share in case it’s helpful to even one person. This is a mix of professional and personal learning and it’s impossible for me to not intertwine them so sorry ifs it a bit muddled.
I beg anyone who can to stop and for every single thing they do they ask themselves honestly if it’s important- not WAS it important but right now at this point in time is it important in this context. And if it isn’t don’t do it and don’t worry about it- managing the things that are will take all our energy in the coming months. It may become important but just not today right now. Stopping when things are in crisis is incredibly hard but so important. Communication is tested to its limits as are relationships and they need to be strong enough to get through this for the long term not just this week- this applies to professional and personal relationships. Honesty is also really important with yourself and others- ask for help, only offer help if you can.
In any crisis of this enormity everything is critical so you have to be able to segment that by immediacy and impact. We have to manage the desire to respond on an emotional level and provide fixes when that’s not possible as we don’t know what is going to happen next. We have to try and teach others to sit with this uncertainty and find the things they can be clear on no matter how big or small and to define these and talk about them.
As a parent this is especially important as I thought we kept our children safe by protecting them and shielding them from the darker things in our world- maintaining normality. I have heard that a lot this week. Well when my big little girls brother got cancer I got it really wrong- after us both having a fair amount of CBT and lots of patience and self discovery I know that by trying to seek normality and shielding them or worse still placating them we make them feel less safe. Sophie was left feeling like she was the only one who felt scared, who felt angry, didn’t understand why we didn’t hurt, that she was weak. I role modelled appallingly- I don’t judge myself for that it’s just a fact as it generally how we parent and until a child faces trauma it doesn’t matter as much. So for your kids in this right now hold them close be honest and talk to them in an age appropriate way about what is happening, acknowledge their feelings- this is not normal
So why pretend to apply the same standards and expectations. Work out with them and from what you know what they need but don’t be driven by the desire to fix this. My daughter will need some structure or she will unravel but I need to focus on not over complicating that and checking whether I am snowballing into things which feel safe and productive to avoid the hard stuff. Make a worry jar, help them to develop real resilience not just the ability to do lots. This situation can’t be fixed in its entirety but it can be made better by small actions from us all every minute of everyday. Show your humanity. Say sorry. Be clear on what you need from others. Probably more than anything be kind.
This was a very long read so if you got to the end well done and I hope it helped somehow. If it did pass it on share it, help someone. If it didn’t find your own way to help someone.
Stop and breathe.
You can only control how you feel and how you choose to respond. This is not normal and probably never will be again.