Formerly prisoner DO2572, United Kingdom
On 22nd December 1978, aged 18, I was in the dock at The Old Bailey, charged with arson, endangering life, and intent to kill my mother. During my early teens my behaviour had become increasingly violent, culminating in burning down the family home. I was sent to Holloway Prison and because of my volatile rages I was incarcerated in solitary confinement. Years of self-harming, a shaved head, scars from slashed wrists and a 30kg weight gain had transformed me into ‘a monster’. Up until my early teens I had been part of a loving family and was a talented dancer who used to do part-time modelling to earn a bit of cash.
My parents couldn’t understand what had triggered their gentle eldest daughter to suddenly appear violent, irrational and without self-control. They decided to invite eight of the UK’s most well-respected psychiatrists to examine me in Holloway Prison.
Their reports were chilling, left no hope for my recovery, and described me as ‘…incurably insane’, ‘…a danger to society’, and ‘…a maniacal psychopath’. They collectively recommended that I serve a life sentence in Broadmoor, the hospital for the criminally insane. When the prison governor at Holloway told me about the application for me to go to Broadmoor, I felt the tiny flicker of light within me extinguish. My cell was tiny. For some reason I was kept in darkness. My prison dress was made from indestructible material so I couldn’t rip it up and hang myself. I was given a mattress to sleep on, but no blanket, and I was fed through a hatch in the door twice a day. I was held in this darkness for several months, only being allowed out once a week so that I could write a letter home. I stopped being Nicola Jane Owen and became Prisoner DO2572.
Reflecting on those months in that dark, tiny prison cell has helped me to see that what I experienced then, all those years ago, is something that many of the population are feeling right now as the prospect of a national lockdown becomes more real.
As the world experiences a catastrophic shake up, people are at different stages of coming to terms with their new reality. As the panic fuelled by the media rises its ugly head, I am mindful of the stark contrasts that we are seeing. People who have saved hard all their life watch helplessly as their savings and investments disappear. Brave individuals who provide vital services, such as supermarket staff and medical teams are knowingly placing themselves at risk every time they show up for work. Panic buyers, whose trolleys are laden with toilet rolls and pastas, march past the bewildered elderly who stare at the empty shelves. People whose livelihoods have been destroyed in days, small businesses that were started with such hope and optimism and even people who others may perceive as ‘sitting pretty’ feeling broken as economic markets plunge in the face of an unprecedented global crisis.
Fear causes you to close down and lock yourself away from the danger that you perceive is ‘out there’. The more scared you feel, the more you bury yourself into the dark depths of your unconscious mind. You are effectively incarcerating yourself in a dark place. After a while you adjust to where you are. The longer you stay in that dark place, the more you normalise that state – which is not your innate natural state at all! So, the real lockdown is not the constraint of civil liberties but the fear you create inside your head that causes this sense of isolation.
When you work too hard, your body indicates that it wants to rest. If you ignore the cries from your body, you’ll experience an increase in your suffering. This imbalance is not a problem if it is experienced for a day or so, but if your life is out of balance over a longer period, your natural equilibrium is thrown into disarray. Your inner imbalance creates tension that causes you to ‘fight the flow of life’. Your inner balance creates an ease that allows you to ‘go with the flow of life’. As the Beatles famously sang: Let it Be.
The transition from frantic busy lives to nothing much to do is a huge adjustment. The best way to deal with self-isolation and lockdown is accepting that it is, for the foreseeable future, part of your daily routine. True liberation is not physical anyway, because your mind and your imagination are only constrained by the thoughts you choose to think in any given moment. Rather than looking at what you can’t do anymore, focus on what you can do. This enforced pause holds a powerful opportunity to create something that you did not previously have time to do. Whether it’s embracing meditation, writing that book you’ve always promised to write or learning how to cook. This is a moment that offers the chance for deep self-reflection as you receive the gift of time.
From my cell in Holloway prison I discovered that nothing is permanent. As I learned to quieten my own mind, I recalled wonderful memories when I was blissfully happy. The darkness showed me that the key to freedom is accessible in each of us. No warden, no wall, no locked door could stop me from feeling uplifted and inspired. Incarceration is a choice, how you choose to perceive this situation will either lock up your thinking or expand your passion for life itself.
In the midst of the chaos and uncertainty, what can you do to help you to manage these difficult times?
Recognise that no matter how scared you feel, fear does not help you in any way. It lowers your immune system, stops you from thinking clearly and creates a resistance to noticing that which is positive in your life. The media spews reports on reasons to be scared and this relentless point of focus generates an increased fear within us. As we feed this fear it gathers a momentum, like an express train building up speed. There comes a point when the momentum of fear is so great that it’s almost impossible to stop.
The knack is to prevent your own express train of fear gathering any speed. To do this requires you to change what you’re paying attention to. When you change the way you look at things, those things you look at change. Imagine looking down at a fish swimming in a pond and ask yourself how differently is the fish’s perspective of the world? Ultimately the only thing that is real is the perspective you hold inside your mind. This perspective is always inaccurate and incomplete because your mind can never process everything that is really going on.
Right now, many of you are transmitting on the fear frequency that means you can only receive those things on the frequency of fear. You do have the power to change your frequency and this decision can stop the express train of fear right now. Change how you feel and you change what you notice out there in the world.
Find reasons to feel good right now. Make friends with the situation right now. Look for reasons to feel grateful right now. Whether you meditate, follow Wim Hof’s breathwork, practice yoga, write, read or home-school your kids, do anything that feels good and notice the speed with which your life can change. When you start each day with a focus on what’s good then your express train of fear never gets to leave the station.
As Rudyard Kipling famously wrote in his inspiring poem; “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” One day you and I will look back on this historic moment and we will see that everything we experienced now gave us the opportunity to define the person we are destined to become.
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