They say hindsight has 20:20 vision.
It’s often difficult to make sense of what’s going on – when you are in the middle of it.
Unfortunately, though – we haven’t got 20:20 vision about 2020 yet.
2021 is like 2020 – series 2 – ‘freezing your nuts off’ edition.
We are not out the other side.
Weirdly (or not-weirdly if you are a conspiracy theorist)
The Lancet published a review from 24 different studies about lockdowns JUST before Covid struck.
The lockdowns were because of other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, and also Ebola.
Leaving the physical differences aside,
let’s focus on the psychological effects they reported:
– low mood,
– emotional exhaustion,
– alcohol abuse
– depression and
– post-traumatic stress symptoms.
The most common (and it was REALLY common) was low mood and irritability.
For parents, it was even worse.
For people in poverty, it was even worse.
For healthcare professionals – it was even worse than that.
A chilling statistic is that 28% of people in these very large studies,
suffered so badly that they could be diagnosed with a
‘trauma-related mental health disorder’.
Not to put too fine a point on it – that’s some heavy sh^t.
Sorry, that’s not a very cheery read – but I don’t expect that’s a surprise.
You’ve probably felt some of these things too.
I am not going to sugar-coat any of that,
and I am not a medical professional,
but I do know about my life, and what helped me.
An attitude I genuinely think makes the difference between life and death.
This is why.
Among other dramatic sounding things,
you may know that in 2016 I was diagnosed with something called Tumefactive Multiple Sclerosis.
If you like the ghoulish details – here’s
Wikipedias info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tumefactive_multiple_sclerosis
Even by Tumefactive MS standards – mine was pretty extreme.
I’ve told you before – I’m quite competitive.
I totally won worst brain scan.
The things that make this particular diagnosis (and MS generally) is uncertainty.
There could be all kinds of symptoms; blindness, spasticity (nice word, right), chronic fatigue,
weakness, paralysis, severe pain, loss of motor skills, loss of bowel and bladder control, loss of memory, confusion, mood swings… death.
It could advance very quickly.
Or hardly at all.
While it is literally in your head – how you deal with it, I believe is what makes the difference between life and death.
How you help yourself and do everything possible to slow the thing down.
This isn’t just a chance to bust out my story (another one of them),
I passionately believe this relates to your experience of lockdown now.
That big list at the top is almost exactly the list of psychological reactions that people have, to being diagnosed with a progressive incurable disease.
The first (and with hindsight worst) thing I did was read everything.
Join ALL the Facebook groups on the subject (that was hard as it is rare and lots of people had already died).
I even set up a bloody Google alert for some reason.
I became aware.
I surrounded myself with a barrage of information about this terrible condition – and of course, my brain latched onto the worst of them.
Harrowing undignified videos of people dying a painful death.
The people in the groups talking about this or that symptom, and others joining in – competing to be the illest.
Some of them getting less and less legible as they progressed.
I found myself feeling worse… starting to notice the same kind of symptoms.
It was only for a short time, but I was spending all of it locked into this panicky, miserable drama.
I was getting sucked in.
And then I thought about it.
THIS is what was making me feel worse.
Uncertainty makes you feel worse and surrounding yourself with nothing but bad news – makes you feel worse.
Nothing had ACTUALLY changed.
None of those things had actually happened.
I made a decision.
Am I going to descend into a slow painful death from an incurable condition?
Can I be very clear that some people’s illness progress
and there is nothing whatever they can do about it.
It’s luck or bad luck of the draw – and I am not saying that it is anything other than that.
I only know about me.
And it still might get worse.
I am very very lucky.
The MS nurses (who 4 years on I would class as friends now) agree.
The ones who ‘lean in’ to their illness, who surround themselves with it and use it as their main ‘identity’ do worse.
They tell me that attitude is everything.
The brain is a wildly powerful tool for health and ill-health.
All these things are shown to help, but very few people actually keep them up, I’m told.
I left all the groups and literally chose not to identify with the condition.
Rarely to even mention it unless I had to.
That’s not burying my head in the sand, that’s taking control of the controllables.
And I think this applies to you.
That list at the start is very real and very serious.
We have entered the psychological part of a disaster (in our case lockdown), that the experts call the ‘disillusionment’ phase.
It’s beyond novelty, panic – there’s even a honeymoon phase… but when it goes on it’s something darker and wearier.
That’s a dangerous phase – and one that many of the chronically ill people in the MS groups had got to.
It’s the loss of hope.
No end in sight.
A feeling that no one is coming to save you.
Having run a marathon and being told to run another.
And then another.
Too many stress hormones coursing around the bloodstream for too long.
Could I offer you some advice?
You can decide whether or not to take it.
Having the news on 24/7 with harrowing statistics of death and illness.
Grieving for the places you can’t go and things you can’t do.
Pining for people you can’t see.
I know it’s harsh.
But it doesn’t help you.
But like the people in the groups who became even more unwell
(I believe, and so do the professionals) from hyperawareness –
you don’t have to go there.
It needs discipline and self-control, but I promise it works.
I don’t apologise for using those words, because they were the literal ones that changed things.
I invite you to join me in a chorus of what I shouted at the sea one day:
4 1/2 years on, I am fitter, stronger, sharper and more ‘well’ than I think I have ever been.
I focussed on all the things that were supposed to help.
Being Vegan, training hard every day, prioritising sleep, drinking lots of water, meditating, doing brain training exercises.
Turn off the negative stuff.
Tune it out.
FLOOD it out.
Don’t get drawn in.
Literally only find out what you absolutely need to know.
Listen to beautiful music.
Talk to friends.
Play daft games.
Sort out the garden.
Focus on your health.
Don’t spend your evenings getting smashed
(that will make it so much worse)
Find some exercise you like – do that.
Get out in nature.
Make a list of the things that make you happy,
that you CAN do – and do them.
This isn’t burying your head – this is taking control.
This WILL pass.
It will – everything does, in time.
But how you choose to be as it does, is going to be the difference
between you making it out relatively unscathed
or with worse problems than before.
You may think that sounds wafty new-age nonsense,
but I genuinely believe it’s the difference between life and death.
And you can change this today.
As I said, I don’t talk about all this much,
but I am today because I think it’s important
and I hope it helps you make some different decisions.
You are highly likely to continue being OK.
You’ve probably got a roof over your head, food in your fridge,
a comfy sofa and bed and there aren’t zombies or aliens in the street (at least not yet).
There’s more right than there is wrong.
Let’s keep it like that.
Flip the switch – which is very different from positive thinking.
It’s positive action.
And I promise to go back to the funny stuff tomorrow.
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