Managing the fear of ‘not knowing’ in the mists of Covid-19

Is everything feeling surreal to you? I have this feeling of uneasiness and I sense a palpable fear, mine and everyone else’s. It has been a week of non-stop media interviews, helping individuals and families adapt to working from home, being schooled from home and living in close confines in a marinade of fear – the fear that comes from not knowing what is going to happen next and what the future may look like when we come out of this.

Ten days ago I penned a prophetic comment on Facebook, “Learn to appreciate and enjoy what is in front of you because you never know what’s around the corner.” We had an inkling that something was coming but not how quickly our lives were going to change or that this could be one of those turning points in history that could define a generation. That this may become a ‘before this’ and ‘after this’ moment in time, has triggered something deep within in me because that is exactly how it felt for me when my husband was murdered in late 2017. Life was divided into two parts, before this and after this, and nothing would ever be the same again.

The night before I wrote that my little message about appreciating what is in front of you, I was driving back from Pietermaritzburg to Hilton at nine o’clock at night after presenting an evening workshop when I hit a bank of thick mist. I was driving up the hill on the old road and suddenly I could see nothing but white. I was in a hired car and couldn’t find any fog lights. I found myself driving off the road which had no shoulder. I decided it would be safer to pull over and stop with my hazard lights on. There was no way I could continue as this road and area were unfamiliar to me. A couple of minutes later a car pulled up in front of me and put their hazards on. As the driver got out, I recognised her as the organiser of the event I had just spoken at. She didn’t normally drive this road and she had recognised my car! She said she would guide me back to my B ‘n B. I cannot tell you how relieved I was to have someone to follow, she was my angel. I would never have found my way home without her!Mist

As we pulled off to continue driving up the hill in the thick mist, a huge sob caught in my throat and I started to cry, hard. Driving into a wall of white, not knowing what was in front of me, had triggered feelings from two years before when we were attacked in our home and I had locked myself in the bathroom while we were under siege. I didn’t know what was going on outside, how many intruders were in our home, what they were doing to my husband and my son, what they might do to me if they got to me, and how this would play out. I felt lost, frightened and out of control, and this is exactly how my journey into the mist made me feel too.

So, I get it if you are feeling scared right now, I really do. Our lives are being disrupted by something we cannot even see, and our lives are going to be forever changed by this. There will be no going back to normal, but rather to a ‘new normal’. There will be collateral damage on many different levels. The picture we have of life as we know it has been broken and we will have to create a new picture after this. As with my husband’s death, this is a loss. Currently, it is very much about the loss of the freedom to move about and connect with other human beings as we’re used to. For some, it is already a loss of their health, while for others, it is a loss of their wealth or their livelihoods.

In South Africa, we are only on day 4 of the shutdown necessitated by being in a national state of disaster, like many other countries around the world. For the first time in history, all of mankind are facing the same enemy. We are all on the same side. In all the shock of shifting to working from home, for many people, and schools shutting down for all children, we have been in a frenzy to find overnight solutions. We currently find ourselves on a very wobbly emotional treadmill of hacks and quick fixes. I find myself mentally and emotionally quite fatigued from the barrage of 247 constant news updates on the movement and impact of the virus across the world and in our own country, and the constant niggles of fear that invade even my most positive, proactive brain.

Many of us who are self-employed have had our cash-flow disrupted as our bookings and orders have been cancelled or postponed until further notice. Overnight, we are burning the midnight oil innovating to come up with solutions that will both serve others and provide us with an income. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and that sure is the case, if we can get beyond our fear and engage our curiosity for the journey ahead.

So, why do I say that I think we find ourselves in a wobbly, unstable space? It is because everything is happening so quickly and we feel the need to respond immediately because we are working on the basis of an initial time horizon of 4 – 6 weeks of shutdown. The reality is that this situation is a moving target and may continue for many, many more months than that, requiring us to prepare ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally for a marathon, not a sprint. It is a very different approach. While we are adapting to the practicalities of living and working within the confines of our homes, we also need to be aware of the need to prepare our minds for the long haul of disruption and continuing to drive into the mist of not knowing. We need to manage our adrenal response or we will wobble out of control quickly.

I had to rein myself in this weekend and withdraw from the media interviews I was fielding and from being bombarded by updates on the situation. I pulled in and took some time out with my phone off for a few hours here and there. I had to work out what I needed to do to ground and center myself in order to be able to fill my own cup so that I can keep on giving and supporting others through this crisis. Have you taken a moment to stop and breathe yet, or do you still feel like you are being chased up a hill by a lion? Maybe it’s time to find a cave and hide for an hour or two to breathe, to meditate and in all this frenzied time of doing, to do nothing.  I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but I think it’s very necessary. If you have young children around you constantly, you may need to do this very early in the morning before they wake, or at night when they are asleep. But do it.

The value of finding your center goes beyond keeping yourself calm and keeping everything in perspective. It’s even more important if you have children because they feed off you and they are incredibly perceptive. It’s not that you must completely protect them from your fear and what’s going on, but you need the energy reserves to create a ‘container’ to hold them over this time so that, while things are constantly changing, they feel a sense of safety and security because you are grounded and not hysterical. Your energy and emotional resilience is the container. That’s where you need to dig really deep foundations right now.

Pause. Slow down. Breathe. Stop. It’s time to settle into unpredictability as this perfect storm of disruption swirls around us. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the world is going to go back to normal because it won’t. I have spent the best part of the past two years waking up everyday feeling like I am living in a different world due to shock and loss and learning how to absorb so much change – a refugee in my own life. It has been difficult and challenging and, at times, frightening. However, at the same time, my curiosity has overcome my fear as I have woken up each day wondering how I might be surprised, as I have never been ‘here’ before. I wonder if you can see your way to cultivating an intense curiosity about where this is all going for us as we navigate our way through the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. Can I suggest that you wake up each morning with this question, “I wonder how today might surprise me?” and end off each day with, “How did today surprise?” It’s a very positive way of reframing how out of control you might feel right now as being on an adventure of epic proportions. And perhaps keep a journal of what you discover about yourself in the process. This will be a time of enormous reinvention and innovation on every level.

This open-minded and brave approach puts you in the position of explorer versus defending warrior. That mindset alone will provide you with a different kind of energy that is more sustainable than being in a constant state of war, trying to change the things you cannot change, and losing energy wishing you could. Do what you need to do to keep you and your family as safe and healthy as possible while continuing to educate your children and keep your income flowing – this is no small feat on its own, I know, I’m there too. But don’t neglect your emotions and your attitude.

Go and have a good cry or beat a pillow in frustration or fear. Acknowledge it. Get it out of your system. And then take control of your attitude and your choices at each moment, for that is all you ‘own’. The next choice in the next minute is where your personal power lies. If you need a coach or counsellor, get one (virtually). If you need a guide, there are many out there who can help you with advice and ideas for the challenges you are going to face over this time and how to deal with them in a healthy way rather in a state of panic and constant fear. Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Dig deep for the long haul.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage and curiosity.” Nikki Bush (adapted from Anais Nin)

Stay safe. Much love.

Nikki Bush

 

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