Let me start by saying that I am not seeking sympathy with this post, nor do I believe my situation to be any harder or worse than anyone else’s.
I write primarily because getting my thoughts onto paper or this blog helps me to rationalise my emotions, reflect and let go.
I share in the hope that it helps someone else to see they are not alone and that it’s OK to feel whatever it is you are feeling.
March 13th, 2020. This date marks exactly 1 year since my husband and I made the decision to isolate ourselves from everyone outside of our home in order to keep him safe.
In 2015, at 32 years old, my fit and healthy husband suffered two massive heart attacks while out running in the peaks district and after 2 weeks in Manchester hospital, left with a defibrillator in his chest and a newly diagnosed genetic condition called dilated cardiomyopathy.
Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs when the left ventricle of your heart becomes enlarged and weak, causing blood to pump inefficiently.
It causes dizziness, palpitations, fatigue, shortness of breath, and irregular arrhythmias – or tachycardia where the heart beats at over 100 beats per minute stopping the flow of blood and needs to be shocked back into normal function.
Left unregulated, it can cause a stroke, heart failure, and sudden death. At some point in his future, he will most likely need a replacement heart.
Initially, he was told he could never participate in sports again, but after a few weeks in a re-adaptation clinic, he is allowed to exercise (not run) as long as he keeps his heart rate under 135bpm. Any more than this will only cause damage.
It’s a delicate balancing act but one he achieves with amazing patience and resilience.
Although he keeps himself in very good health, we were advised early on by our cardiac specialist that should he contract Covid-19, it would be severe. Early research also indicated that Covid-19 causes similar heart myopathies and, lasting damage to one of our most precious organs.
The decision to completely isolate ourselves was easy, but in practice, not without its challenges.
For him, the response is clear cut – no socialising, no shopping, N95 mask at all times when outside of our home, and strict adherence of 2m distance between him and others in all circumstances.
For me, no socialising in enclosed spaces, 2m distance in outside spaces, supermarket shopping only during off-peak times while wearing an N95 mask, and strict hygiene practices.
In the beginning
In the beginning, like most of the Western world, we didn’t really realise the gravitas of the situation with Covid-19.
Having travelled through Japan for 2 weeks just as Wuhan started its 76-day lock-down, we were acutely aware that there was ‘a virus’ circulating, similar to MERS and SARS, but assumed it was an issue for the East to deal with.
Returning to France in mid-Feb, we quickly forgot about the increase in mask-wearing and the signs in our hotel reception in Japan that read “we are wearing masks for your protection”.
And even as Italy moved into its first lock-down on March 9th, I made a joke on my side project, the Chamonix Snow Report that Italians should escape and come and hang out in our bubble.
As the private message of despair poured in, I realised it was not a laughing matter.
Watching the news, the World Health Organisation updates and scanning expedited scientific papers reporting on the virus in real-time, I was driven to change my view and act.
I was so shocked by the peer-reviewed results from scientific research that I wrote this article on March 11th encouraging everyone to self-isolate immediately to stop Covid-19.
It was already too late.
Within 24 hours the President of France, Emmanuel Macron announced lock-down was imminent.
During the first few weeks of lock-down, I was consumed with studying data, the history of SARS and MERS, and comparing the quick, aggressive actions of the East to the slower response of the West.
Knowledge is power, as they say, and researching the ‘facts’ helped me to feel in control.
Whilst countries like NZ had the luxury to “Go hard” to stop the virus before it took hold, in Europe and America the numbers were already starting to swell.
It was now all about strategy, a balancing act between human health, overwhelming the healthcare system, and protecting the economy with each country making a choice to stand and fight or beat a hasty retreat and live to fight another day.
Reading back over my article from April 4th, I’m glad to see the years of studying biological science at University taught me well and most of my early predictions rang true.
Even if my dreams of hope and peace in the world seem like an impossibility.
Hope and positivity
Initially, the first lockdown gave me a great sense of calm. The sun was shining and it felt like the world stood still for a moment.
There was no rushing from place to place, no requirement to be anywhere or do anything, no push to find a job or purpose to my life. For the first time in a very long time, I felt like I could breathe.
In the 3 years prior to Covid-19, I had suffered quite badly from depression following a few traumatic events. Depression is, what lock-down isolation feels like and secretly I felt a little grateful that perhaps others would develop an understanding of that feeling.
That’s not to say I wish the feelings of desolation or hopelessness on anyone, but it was nice to feel like I was no longer alone. Overcoming depression is one of the hardest challenges of my life, but it also helps me to grow and learn so much about myself.
And so I resolved to try and help others to do the same, starting with a 6-week reset challenge. The challenge was a reminder for myself, as much as it was for anyone else, and making it public held me accountable.
I threw myself wholeheartedly into trying to help anyone around me who was struggling. I called friends, sent postcards, and shared the lessons I’d learned about self-care and improving our mental health in the kindest ways I could find.
I worked on remaining positive and sharing the information I’d found about how we could navigate ourselves out of this pandemic.
For the first month, everything was great, I was super motivated and spent a lot of time writing and relaxing. But as lockdown drew towards its end, fear and the feelings of loneliness I’d suffered from in the past began to creep back in and I started questioning my worth.
Throughout my life, when things are not going well I always have this overwhelming feeling that no-one cares about me. It makes me feel so very sad and alone and my first reaction is always to shut myself away and hide and feel angry at the world for not caring.
Over the past few years, I’ve worked really hard on trying to understand and find love for myself and as a result of this, I’ve learned a lot about my past experiences, why I behave in the ways that I do and how I can learn to control my irrational responses.
In a conversation with my Mum one day (as part of the Depak Chopra Abundance Meditation Challenge), she told me that when I was about 3 years old, life changed for me. I went from being a very cute little kid that everyone wanted to coo over and play with, to just any other little kid.
Three-year-old me was devastated. I didn’t understand why people didn’t make a fuss over me anymore and, in my mum’s words, I decided that if they didn’t care about me, then I didn’t care about them.
SLAM. Door closed.
It’s funny how 3 year old me still affects 42 year old me.
Fear & Isolation
Once lock-down ended, it seemed like it was business as usual for everyone around me. Meanwhile, just the act of buying groceries made my palms sweat.
Every moment around other people was terrifying – what if I contract Covid, take it back into my home and kill my husband?
With all the care and concern I put out into the world, I hoped that others would be aware and understanding of our plight, but the social feeds told me differently – lunches, birthday parties, adventures – my fear pushed me to tears so many times and then – anger.
Anger that others would behave in a way that I perceive to be reckless. That they would willingly act in a way that put others’ lives at risk.
Don’t they know there is a global pandemic? Don’t they care?
I became the judge, jury, and executioner – judging people by their online actions, lashing out, labeling them as evil, and swiftly removing them from my view.
Forced to quit my summer job with Happy Tracks, social media became my reality.
I felt alone, really really alone.
Every joyous social post felt like a direct attack. So I cut myself off, blocking anyone who was ‘living their best life’ from my view.
I focused on my new job, self-care, writing, and remaining positive. My stress levels were at an all-time high in the first few months of summer, but by October, Toby and I managed to get away to Italy for a week and it was joyous.
Sitting on a deserted beach, walking down deserted streets, taking private wine tours and eating in Michelin recommended restaurants that would usually require reservations weeks in advance.
I was reminded that life is what we make of it and Covid or no Covid, we control our own happiness.
Returning to Chamonix, I decided to organise an outdoor tea party with 6 of my most trusted friends for my birthday. I so desperately wanted to reconnect with people and enjoy their company.
Two days later one of my guests called to tell me that she had contracted Covid from a large indoor birthday party she had been to the night before coming to mine.
A week later I went hiking with two friends in Le Tour, 5 days later one called me to let me know she had Covid despite only being around myself and one other person in the 10 days before.
Our friend who was with Toby when he had his heart attack and his girlfriend contracted it while out at a local restaurant.
And Toby’s flatmate in Geneva felt ill just before he was due to arrive testing positive within 24 hours, followed by hospitalisation and a diagnosis of long Covid.
Covid was circling our front door like a buzzard over a dead body and we realised we couldn’t trust anyone.
When the 2nd lock-down was announced on October 28th, we were relieved. Finally, a level of protection and safety.
In Chamonix at least, the 2nd lockdown felt very different to the first.
Whereas before the streets were quiet and everyone stayed in their homes, in the second lock-down, it felt like nothing changed.
A friend called to ask for advice on how they could get around the Covid rules to gather 15 people for a photoshoot and I was invited to a birthday celebration in a chalet.
Whilst normally, being included in such things would bring me joy, just reading the social discussions triggered rage.
DON’T THEY KNOW THERE IS A GLOBAL PANDEMIC!?
DON’T THEY CARE!!!!????
For my own sanity I have had to close so many doors and greatly reduce my view of the outside world.
While it’s easy to look at social media and make assumptions on others’ actions and beliefs, it is not reality and by looking at and reacting to others’ behaviours in a negative way, I am only hurting myself.
Perception vs Reality
More often than not, our perceptions of others and the world around us are not reality.
Lately, I’ve been doing an online course with Yale University, called The Science of Well-being and it turns out, our minds lie to us and social media is a major contributing factor to our feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness.
The truth is, the things we think will make us happy – a good job, high income, awesome stuff, the perfect body, and good grades actually don’t and our mind has a tendency to imagine a negative outcome to be much worse than it really is.
Our minds are fooling us into believing we want or need more (a phenomenon called miswanting), because they are constantly exposed to unrealistic points of reference, that inform our own.
From the neighbour down the street who has a better car to the employee at work who is earning more than you. By comparing ourselves to these reference points, we insight envy, jealousy, and low self-esteem in ourselves.
Throughout the entire last year of isolation, I have experienced so much anger and rage at the behaviours of others that I have observed via social media, that at times it has driven me insane.
At times I have become so focused on what I perceive others to be doing – partying, socialising, and continuing on with life as normal – that I spend hours thinking about what I want to say and stopping myself from sending angry texts.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. In relation to Covid-19 we are already past the point of no return. Even if everyone were to obey the rules to the letter, the only way to end our current trajectory is with vaccines.
And in the meantime, I need to protect myself and my happiness with one of the most useful skills I’ve learnt in the last 12 months – setting boundaries.
About mid-way through the first lock-down, I had a total panic attack. I was out walking the dogs and all of a sudden my chest felt tight, I couldn’t breathe. The panic continued to increase and by the time I got the river, I was hysterically crying.
Proper, loud, ugly, hysterical crying. I needed help.
My husband was at work and I racked my brains to think of who I could call to ask for help. I have never asked for help before and as I went through a mental list of people in my head, I came back with nothing.
No one needs to hear my problems and anyway, what can they do. At that moment I signed up to an online app called Better Help and while in the end the service didn’t really work for me due to constant cancellations by my therapist, she did introduce me to one extremely valuable technique – setting boundaries.
Now I know some of you are going to read this and laugh, but at 41 years of age, I had no idea about boundaries and when I first heard about this concept, I laughed out loud. How did I not know about this?
At first I thought I needed to set boundaries against other people’s behaviours, and then I realised, I needed to set them against my own.
They started out very rigid:
- I will only use or post on social media if there is a purpose i.e. selling something. I will not use it as a platform to vent or overshare.
- I will only say yes to helping someone if I have no other personal plans, it won’t cost me any money or is time well spent with someone I care about.
- I will only offer emotional help and support to others if I am asked.
- I will be more careful about who I trust and not trust everyone from first contact.
More recently, I’ve learned that boundaries don’t need to be so rigid and they should be more based on how I’m feeling – if a situation or action of another insights negative emotions such as fear, anger or anxiety – it needs a boundary.
If you want to learn more about it, this video came to me this week in a web search and it is very apt to my current situation (funny how that happens).
At the moment I’m working on making sure my boundaries are not negative and don’t cross other people’s boundaries. Negative boundaries are the ones where we judge others for their behaviours and react.
My hope for the future is that I can learn to let go of my feelings of inadequacy, isolation and abandonment, find complete happiness, be true to myself and let go of all judgement towards others with love and kindness.
Simply knowing is not half the battle, we need to do the work.
Wish me luck!
If this resonated with you and you would like to know more about the path I am taking to self-awareness and happiness, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via my instagram account or WhatsApp.
Here are my current influences towards a better self:
- The science of well-being – online course with Yale University
- Teal Swan – spiritual teacher
- Personality isn’t permanent – by Dr Benjamin Hardy
- Synctuition – daily meditation
My husband, Toby for his unwavering love and support. Cherie, Jane & Jenny for their calm and positive influence in my life – you motivate me every day to be better. Thank you.