Life after Lockdown: The Return of Fear
This is a call-out to Australians to keep listening to our best medical experts as our government begins to ease COVID-19 restrictions. Out of the blue, a tiny ray of hope of resuming a more normal lifestyle is emerging, miniscule but visible if you look hard enough. However, this tiny hope can just as easily be extinguished. One person’s selfish decision to attend a party when deemed unsafe can be all it takes to extinguish this hope for everyone. To stay safe, we all must take personal responsibility.
Following weeks of mind-numbing isolation, our Prime Minister has congratulated us as a nation for a job well done. We’ve acted, done the hard yards, and followed strict measures that have resulted in a relatively smooth and successful path to flatten the curve that many other countries might only hope for. Until now, we are one of few countries who appear to have successfully put into action a series of swift, strict, and preventive measures that are working to keep us safe. We’re one of the lucky countries, for our hospitals haven’t been inundated with COVID-19 cases. We don’t have overwhelming daily fatalities and if we do present with symptoms, we’re treated respectively and compassionately. I feel very thankful for this.
Yet, some people don’t appreciate the measures that have kept us safe and for which I am grateful. These people are labelling the measures as being over the top and an attempt to control and confiscate our civil liberties, our privacy and somehow take control of our lives. As far as I can see, our government is doing what’s required to keep us safe and is taking extra precautions for those of us who are more vulnerable and likely to fall victim to the pandemic.
Given our up-to-date success rate at keeping the virus at bay, we are the envy of many other countries. We are doing so well that we are turning our attention to putting the pieces of our shattered economy back together, in a manner that seems to have been carefully considered and slowly implemented. Care is being taken not to rush the process to the detriment of our ongoing health. The progression may seem arduous and long but it’s important to acknowledge that we have avoided the devastation and loss of large numbers of loved and innocent individuals experienced in other countries.
If you’ve been following my recent blogs, you’ll be familiar with the struggles home isolation has presented for me personally. The reality of what was happening hit me with force at the worst time: just as I had begun to bring myself out of an ED induced life of shame, fear, and isolation. The enforced isolation snatched away everything that had become beneficial for my fledgling physical and mental health. The integration of a more balanced way of living all but disappeared as I gained a mountain of responsibilities around the home as well as having my children at my feet, 24/7.
This sudden clampdown on lifestyle was nothing short of suffocating as I was forced back into an isolation, that I’m all too familiar with due to my eating disorder. No more trips of exploration, limited photography and blogging opportunities, and less time to focus on doing stuff to strengthen connection with my healthy self. I feel I’ve been running around like the energiser bunny for weeks and am quite exhausted. This may seem somewhat selfish, but these restrictions reminded me of my worst internal demon. To this day, isolation continues to be a distinct reminder of what life with a very loud and destructive ED has been like.
From my perspective, the easing of stage three restrictions has signified a substantial step forward. Suddenly we find ourselves free to leave the confines of our highly controlled, safe and contained ‘bubbles’ in which we’ve become accustomed to living. Now we’re free to assimilate (if we choose) back into a community that looks and feels different and for me, frightfully unsafe. The reality is that while progress has been made, we still have little knowledge about this virus and until a vaccine arrives, COVID-19 will continue to lurk, threatening our existence.
A substantial difference in perspective has developed during my eight weeks in isolation. At the beginning, if I had a crystal ball, I could guarantee you would’ve found me celebrating and jumping for joy at the easing of restrictions. I’d have been excited at the thought of life moving back to some kind of normality, the kids transitioning back to school, and more time to work on my photography and writing blogs for my website. Afterall, that’s all I’ve wanted all along, for this nightmare to go away and to have freedom for healthy Sam time. Sounds like the perfect scenario, or at least it did eight weeks ago!
However, after a few LONG weeks, stuck at home with two young kids, somehow, our current way of living has evolved to feel like a new normal (not normal as in easy and enjoyable but normal in that this is the way we do things). When I look back, all I wanted was the new life I was adapting to back ASAP! No-one could take that away from me, how dare they even try when I’d worked so tirelessly hard to grab hold of it. Deeply in denial, I didn’t want to believe the horrors which I was witnessing in other countries. That couldn’t possibly happen here, we’ll be safe. Yet, today I find myself feeling immense fear of what lurks outside, leaving me feeling reluctant to leave the safe confines of my home and the soothing sense of protection it provides. Just one day after finding out my two children will return to face to face learning in two weeks, I am suddenly inundated with a strong sense of anxiety and fear that this is not safe to do. We know that some other countries, where restrictions have been lifted, have recorded a second and more dangerous strain of the virus.
Ironically, I’m no longer sure that I’m ready to let go of this safety net. During our strictest phase of isolation, it was clear, if we followed the rules, we would remain safe and we could take comfort knowing that vulnerable members of our families would be safe from contracting this horrid virus. On the one hand, restrictions turned life upside down, to the point where I wasn’t sure how much longer I could live in such a closed-up way of life. Now my mind is spinning in confusion and unease, stay at home, stay in control of your surroundings and be safe. Or, re-engage with the world and lose all sense of control and safety while thinking about what may and may not happen. Unexpectedly, I’m filled with doubt and I become that mother saying ‘school shouldn’t be going back, it’s not safe, the kids should stay home, I don’t need any kind of interesting life’, it goes on and on. I’m sure this is my ED trying to push me down his path again, stay with him, and he will be my protector from all things threatening, including COVID-19.
To add to my already mounting feelings of doubt, I see many people relishing the thought of returning to a life of relative freedom, life as we knew it, carefree, busy and without that sense of an annoying shadow following their every move. We’ve already witnessed the scurry of people, emerging from the confines of their homes, and heading straight to shopping centres in masses, engaging in group gatherings and heading to the beach without giving a second thought to social distancing. How can I feel safe when others seem to be ignoring its importance? When I see people ignoring the potential consequences of moving too fast, I cringe and want to hide even more.
Take Home Message:
For some people, venturing into the greater community will be a welcome change and, for better or worse, they will embrace it. For others however, more freedom will trigger great anxiety of what might lie ahead, including the fear of increased outbreaks and an increased death rate. This is one of the hardest aspects to deal with; there are no answers, nobody can tell us how this will pan out and that is scary. There are extremes. Some people will consider walking along a deserted street as a health threat. I’ve received disapproving stares while out walking for exercise in the community, mindful of social distancing. How do we go about transitioning from rules in lockdown, to safely re-engaging in our community?
This is a difficult task. I have talked to others to gain insight and have reflected how best to transition myself and my family towards a life that we can all enjoy.
This is my to-do list:
- Although the government has officially begun easing restrictions, this doesn’t mean I have to run out and do everything we’re now permitted. Slow steps, easing back into a way of life where I feel comfortable will be crucial. There is no race to do anything I don’t feel comfortable doing.
- Keep my kids educated about social distancing and good hygiene.
- Stay away from places where I feel uncomfortable and unsafe. For instance, I’m happy walking along our local shopping strip which isn’t inundated with people, but when it comes to the big shopping centres, I draw the line.
- Remind myself that while the virus is still relevant, we are lucky to be in Australia where appropriate action has been taken and the fallout is minimal. Fatalities are low, most people who do contract the virus do recover, and we have a good system in place to deal with an increased demand for medical care. We have a lot to be thankful for in our country.
- Do things that I love but modify to feel safer. I’ve been researching experimental photography and last weekend I drove to Avalon Airport to shoot pictures of stranded planes. I felt safe since there was no-one around, I stayed within my comfort zone, and got some great shots. I received an internal boost of positive feelings from this outing; it was totally worth the effort; I was in my happy place.
- I am aware that my eating disorder mind is trying to make me feel like I am in control, when in fact ED is invading my mind with negative narrative about the world and my place in it. He wants the control; he wants to keep me locked up and scared. Total control is not possible, so I am focusing on relative control over what I can do, with grey areas that I need to let go of and have faith that all will be well (e.g. My kids will be safe going back to school).
We all need to get used to living with having a certain degree of COVID-19 in our communities as we do with the common flu and HIV. Unfortunately, it’s here and it’s not going away, not completely. In time, we will learn better ways to manage and prevent the spread of the virus and it won’t be such a scary phenomenon. Until this day, let’s take sensible steps forward, one day at a time.