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Layers of Complexity | V. Abson | #LetsResetNormal

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Birmingham, United Kingdom

I run a small business and have been listening avidly to the news about the coronavirus over recent weeks.   My initial thoughts were about ‘What would this mean for me and my clients’.  How can I support them?  How can I transition my work to an online service?  Then I had another thought… how can I also support my elderly mother who has complex health needs during this time?  

She lives in a retirement home and I saw increasing panic as the implications of ‘social isolating’ began to dawn on us both. She was getting increasingly anxious and afraid of the prospect of being on her own over the next 3 months. When I heard the announcement of the nation’s lockdown on 23rd March, I realised that I had to go and collect her for her own sanity, health and wellbeing. I mounted a rescue mission and brought her to live with me. This impacted a significant change on me – instead of being her carer visiting regularly, she was going to be with me full time for the next 3 months. I would be with her 27/7 and I hadn’t made any adjustments.  I had already been having difficulties doing shopping for her as the shops grew increasingly empty, and there was a growing pressure of not being able to shop nor sustain her living independently, so she was going to be more reliant upon me. This has obviously impacted on my work and my life, as I live in a two bedroom flat and there are also many logistical and practical challenges.

Our wider family unit live in other parts of UK and Switzerland so helping my mother has rested mainly on me. When I collected her on Monday she was very distressed and worked up (and nearly had an angina attack).  She slept for the next two days which I think was her body’s way of dealing with the situation, a post traumatic recovery. I am now looking after my mother in my home for the next 3 months and also trying to manage my business online.  I had been watching the news and hearing about the challenges for us as a country; considering the increasing demands of social distancing, social isolation for the vulnerable, lack of food in supermarkets etc. – and now my life has fundamentally changed. My sister who lives in Switzerland had also been telling me how they are dealing with it as a country and how they view the UK’s slow response to containment (not initially in line with the WHO guidelines), and the likely impacts the delay in testing is likely to cause, so this has also added to the sense of urgency and need to take control.

Part of my response was putting my mother’s needs first and providing a sense of safety and security for her in my home. I am trying to encourage a level of independence by establishing her own space and providing structured activities so she is less reliant upon me through the day. What can we do together and what can I get her to do for herself? There are psychological challenges, physical challenges in keeping healthy and in the redefining our relationship and boundaries.  My mother needs attention and patience, and I am supporting her care and wellbeing at the same time as running my business.

I have health challenges myself so this has also shifted my response to coronavirus. I need to think how I can also manage my own health and mental wellbeing during this extended time period.  I have to reach out and connect with other people, share that sense of confinement and find humour where I can; keep active, keep busy and mentally alert. In some ways if I was self isolating alone, it would have been an ideal opportunity to take time out do all the stuff that I haven’t been able to do for ages. I even looked forward to the idea of working from home and being able to use the extra time to catch up on my admin, do the spring cleaning and clear things out.  

I have been noticing just how quickly my world has changed on a week by week, day by day, even hour by hour basis and how quickly I have to adapt and change. I am connecting with people and finding new ways to maintain relationships and doing things differently – such as online singing to music with the choir I am a member of, zoom calls with professional groups and finding new ways to connect both professionally and personally.  I am not a big user of social media but am now using technology to reconnect with friends I haven’t spoken to for a long time. 

I have become more present focused; reaching out to others for help and support, noticing my own vulnerability and loss of control over the situation, reflections and curiosity about ‘What is important, what I can do and how I can help others?’ I am keeping positive and focused and also trying to respond well to the changes around me.   

When this first happened, my focus was very much about my clients and what I could do to help them, but now I am realising I am having to put my own oxygen mask on first, then my mother’s, then I can re-engage with what is important in my business and work.  Priorities have been re-ordered; I have changed my goals and am changing my life and work situation given the new reality.  

Three weeks ago I was a professional business woman, engaging freely in the world around me and suddenly it has all changed – it is about me, my mum and our wider family, all living and working in a different situation and experiencing a ‘new normal’ life.   

When you hear about someone you know in your own network who has coronavirus it also brings home the risk.  It makes you recognise it is an invisible killer and it is also a mental wellbeing challenge for us all which will last for a while.  The risks will be going on for months, and it may be a year before we get a vaccine, and then there is also the risk that the virus will come around again.  We don’t know how the world will change so we all have to dig deep, make sacrifices and pull together. My reflections about what will help? – develop our resilience, focus our energies, be mindful, think about the positives, develop strategies to adapt and live well through uncertainty, manage other people’s expectations and create new support systems around us.  People on their own will have challenges of not being connected, so we should try and reach out to support them where we can. There are layers and layers of complexity involved in this situation, so I believe knowing what is important and taking control of what we can is a good start. Being mindful too that there are people living in worse conditions so let’s stay as positive, appreciate what we have and be kind to ourselves and others and I believe we can get through this together.

I will continue to sing online, connect with professional groups and friends online, have lots of Facetime and zoom calls, catch up on programmes and self-care.   There is a parallel here between coronavirus and climate change in the environment – the earth has become polluted and we need to take time out and think about how we can live differently.  Every cloud has a silver lining, so maybe this is the time for us to slow down, connect and show we care, work as a community and engage with people differently. Take time to listen to others, listen deeply to understand what is going on for them and to help them feel supported, but most importantly take time for ourselves to be better human beings.

We can develop the way we relate to each other; and through our sense of social responsibility and by our actions we show our humanity. I believe this crisis has lessons for us all and I hope that with time it will renew and replenish our lives, our country and how we live together on this planet.

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Layers of Complexity | V. Abson | #LetsResetNormal

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