Somebody sent me a message this morning. It read: “Oh you’ll be an expert on self-isolating after the past four months”.
It made me wonder. What had I learned from going through chemotherapy treatment that may be relevant to lockdown, now all the Channel Islands are in the same boat?
For much of those four months, I was either housebound or hospital bed-bound, and aside of the odd hospital visitor or very occasional home visitor, it was just me and my husband together.
There’s lots I learned along the way - some of it stuff that may well stand me in good stead now, some of it may not. But, given what my friend said in that message, I thought it would do no harm to share with you now.
Firstly, cut yourself some slack. Accepting these are weird times and that the old ‘normal’ has gone is important. It’s almost a grieving process you need to go through, to be honest enough to admit life has changed and that you’re not as in control of events as you used to be.
Being kind to yourself, and not mentally beating yourself up about that fact matters.
I also found routine helped greatly. By structuring your day, whether that was around mealtimes or your favourite daytime TV shows, or knowing you’ll read a newspaper at x o’clock and do the washing up at z o’clock; you’re introducing moments into your day around which the rest can revolve. Just allowing it all to happen around you goes back to that sense of a loss of control, so implement at least some structure.
Make the most of technology. Whether it’s a phone call or a video call, use this time to speak to people near and far who you may not have previously kept in touch with as regularly. They’re suddenly in the same boat as you and they’ll value that act of friendship on your part. There are loads of apps doing the rounds that can make these things even more sociable, but I’ve found a call or a WhatsApp video does the trick for me.
Accept there will be tensions. My husband and I have never had a proper argument. Hard to believe, but it’s true. However, there were moments during my chemotherapy where we clearly got on each others’ nerves. Answers to questions got a bit spikier. That’s fine. That’s normal. Our solution was to accept that we each need our own space. If there’s the physical space in your home for a bit of lone “me time”, that’s great, but space can also mean sitting at one end of the sofa and losing yourself in a book, or popping on some headphones and listening to music or a podcast.
Mealtimes also matter. Try and use them as “check in” points for the day to see how others in your household are. Throughout my chemo, my husband was home (or hospital bedside) working, so those natural breaks in the day allowed us to have the usual conversations about how his day was going. It’s odd, but it really helps to go through those mundane motions in even the weirdest of times.
And my final thought, for now, is to remind you that you are allowed to cry. Indeed, I personally recommend it. It’s like taking the weight off a pressure cooker lid. During my chemo the reasons for crying were many and obvious, but during this pandemic the enormity of what’s happening to the world has got to me a number of times. Last week’s set me off, watching Saturday Night Takeaway with no studio audience set me off, every time Mary Nightingale ends the Evening News with “stay safe, stay well” sets me off. Let it out… it’s better than bottling it up.
I am sure there are a thousand more little thoughts, but those are the immediate ones that jump to mind. As much as it’s a time to be kind to others, during lockdown please also remember to be kind to yourself.