When I thought about writing this blog, one week into lockdown, I thought it might be a means, both personally and potentially for the reader, to cohere our thoughts at a time when thoughts and feelings are a strong blend; often disparate, incoherent and stormy to navigate.
As I sit down to write, I realise that any attempt to impose order on this time is to tidy it out of recognition and to do a disservice to all of us who are trying to steer a path through waters which are calling upon all of our navigational stores of resilience, courage and strength both as individuals, communities and as a global community.
So instead of order, I thought I might share some of the images which have helped me in this last week.
I am no painter but I imagine this time pictorially and it is made of bold colours painted in thick oil: blood reds, inky darkness, crimsons, vermilions, burnished oranges and stark yellows. There seems little space for pastel watercolours in our world right now. The themes are bold and big. There is darkness, for sure, and alongside that darkness, there are the burning bright colours of our capacity for kindness, courage, resilience, connection and love.
I recently ran the Big Vitality Half Marathon for SurvivorsUK and I recall the atmosphere both on the start line and as we started. This time feels like a collective long distance challenge. We know that we are in this for the long haul and it is difficult to imagine what it’s going to feel many miles down the line, so we just focus on the next steps in front of us, look around and smile at our fellow runners. This isn’t a competition; this is a personal challenge but one we are in together.
In the same way, climbing a mountain involves holding the summit in heart and intention but focusing on the steps in front of us. I recently climbed Cadair Idris (a few feet short of a mountain) and the summit remained shrouded in cloud throughout, but I could see the path immediately ahead so that was my focus. It is impossible to know what the next few weeks might bring, let alone months and years, but we can navigate our next steps, staying steady and making sure we and our companions don’t fall.
For any challenge we need to be resourced, both internally and externally. For any endurance event I need the right kit and I need to be fit. This is a good time to check our resources: who and what resources us in our lives? And what internal resources can we draw on at this time?
All of the above is true for all of us but what does it mean to love and survive as a survivor in the time of Covid-19?
We are currently living at a time of collective trauma and this is both an echo and also radically different from the trauma of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is a trauma which we experience alone, which disconnects us from others, which is shrouded in secrecy and often in a sense of shame. The collective – global – trauma of Covid-19 is one which we are navigating together and this we know is a potent defence against the lasting impact of post traumatic stress disorder. However, it is also a trauma which involves us being disconnected from others through social distancing and self isolation and these can bring their very real challenges to us as survivors. We are also in the position where the person (or people) in authority are telling us what to do, specifically that we can’t get away, and this may again echo past trauma.
One thing I have been struck by is how a history of trauma can both resource and strengthen us and present us with our vulnerabilities in the face of present challenges. As survivors we already know how to navigate uncertainty, fear and challenge. We know what it is to feel alone, we know what it is to have our lives or bodily integrity threatened. In some ways the fact we are already survivors resources us to survive this. At the same time, we may already be feeling battle weary and injured, and that this latest challenge may feel overwhelming or threatening to our already fragile mental and emotional wellbeing. Let us acknowledge and honour our wounds and scars, giving them extra care at this time of additional challenge, whilst at the same time acknowledging and honouring the fact that we are already samurai masters in the art of survival.
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’