This must have been the longest I have gone without writing a blog. These are unusual times.
Last year I managed to write my way through cancer diagnosis, treatment and operations. Then a pandemic hits, and I found myself unable to find the words. I was aware of a great quell of voices shouting to share their experience and I felt like I had nothing of value to contribute. To be honest, I’m still not sure if I have anything of value to add, but I wanted to share my experience: I wanted to try and make sense of it all.
Can A Pandemic Ever Be Unifying?
We are told that this is pandemic is a unifying experience. That we are all in it together. I don’t believe that. I understand the well-meaning thought behind the expression, but ultimately this isn’t something that equalises and unites us. If anything, this pandemic brutally highlights the inequality in our society. Someone dealing with lockdown in a palatial mansion with acres of grounds might find it easier than someone living in a small flat with no outside space. Conversely, someone who is living in a loving relationship is going to find the lockdown easier compared to someone who is living in an unhappy relationship. The list goes on. This is not something that makes us all equal. We all bring our own experiences, our own expectations and our own baggage.
It’s Okay To Admit It’s Hard
It is hammered home constantly that we shouldn’t be struggling during this time. There are memes that tell us that Terry Waite was kept in captivity and he survived, so shut up and put up. We are reminded that the oldest in our society lived through the Second World War and they did it with a stiff upper lip. What do we have to complain about? Well, this might not compare to captivity and we might not have bombs falling around our ears but it’s still bloody weird and tough. The world feels topsy turvy and it’s natural for us to feel a bit strange as a result. Forcing someone to feel like they have to be positive all the time is toxic. People will all deal with this lockdown and pandemic differently and from their own unique perspective.
For me, this just feels like an extension of last year in many ways. Albeit, slightly easier as I don’t have the dreadful chemo side effects to contend with. It is a lot like Groundhog Day, and I do keep half-expecting Bill Murray to jump up from behind a bush. On the other hand, it also feels like I am trapped in some disaster movie. A badly written disaster movie. The type where you want to scream at the telly because there is no way that would happen in real life. As if the bumbling PM would advocate herd immunity and what an obvious twist when said PM then comes down with the virus and nearly dies. Oh, and let’s not forget the uplifting part of the film, where every Thursday the country unites to clap those working in the NHS and on the frontline. It all just all feels a little cheesy (and lovely) but there is that niggling voice that says the film director has been pretty superficial as the clapping doesn’t really solve anything. You are pretty sure that instead of all the clapping, the NHS would just like it if they had more PPE and more money.
It isn’t a film though: it’s real life, and every week we are clapping which is lovely because it shows our appreciation, but what does it really mean? Nurses, doctors and health workers are putting their own lives at risk. Clapping feels far from enough. Then every single day we watch as the death toll climbs ever higher. So many people who are now just another number, another life claimed by the virus.
I find myself approaching this pandemic much like I approached last year. The same can probably be said for the rest of my family, which stirs up all sorts of uncomfortable feelings of guilt. Last year was pretty rubbish for them and now they are living through this. There have been some tricky moments where the girls have been upset by the pandemic. Again, they are being nagged to wash their hands carefully and again they ask me when will all this be over, I can’t answer them. They don’t worry about themselves getting it, but they seem convinced that this virus could kill me. Gee, thanks girls. I think I’m seen as the weakest link, so to speak. I like to haughtily point out to them that I am probably the fittest in the family and remind them that I can outrun all of them. But still they are very protective of me and that’s very sweet of them.
Like Phyllis, the bowel tumour, this pandemic is also invisible on the surface. We can’t see it, but we know it’s there and that it could kill us. That is a lot to deal with and can be emotionally exhausting. However, I think going through chemo means that I’m more prepared for going through this pandemic.
How Am I Dealing With It?
Firstly, this is a shit situation we all find ourselves in and I really believe that we should be allowed to express that. Now more than ever we need to be kind and not beat ourselves up when we are struggling. However, we must try and look for that glimmer of hope in every single day; the one moment that reassures and reminds us we are going to be okay. We have to take each day as it comes and accept that we can’t rush it, that we can’t plan for it.
Secondly, going through chemo means I am quite the expert at social distancing and social isolation 😉. I found that talking (at a distance) really helps; sending emails, messages and talking to family and friends on the phone helps you feel connected and lifts the spirits.
Thirdly, when I was going through chemo I found I couldn’t handle anything that was heavy going when it came to films or books. I found my brain was already on high alert and if anything I needed to soothe it with nice gentle books and films. The same can be said for now. I can recommend The Salt Path by Raynor Winn as a book that will nourish your soul.
Finally, going through chemo meant I baked a lot and again I’m doing that now. That might be a lockdown cliché but there is a reason why so many people are doing it. It’s something that you can control and the act of baking feels comforting. Plus, banana bread is very easy to make and good for using those overripe bananas. So, don’t go hating those of us who are making banana bread.
These are such extreme times and I could continue to share what works for me but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for you. We are unique and we need to find our own ways for coping and surviving this weird time. Some of us are juggling working from home with childcare, some of us are living on our own, there is no one size fits all.
Just know that you can do this. It might feel unbearably hard some days but the next day will be a bit better. We just need to hang on tight, do as we are told, find what helps us. We just need to get through it.
We can do this.