So I think it goes without saying that it feels like Coronavirus (or Covid-19 to give it its Sunday name) has taken over our world, countries, cities, towns and villages to the extent that our heads are filled with the daily updates from politicians and the instant news feeds that give us a constant flow of extremely harrowing pictures and stories of the dead and the dying. I like most of us, have never experienced anything like this nor could I have ever truly imagined the impact of one person sneezing or coughing (in a place that most of us will never have heard of before) could result in so many people around the world losing their lives before their time.
Unfortunately, we know that negative headlines have more hits than positive feel good stories. So much of what we are being exposed to doesn’t in my opinion give a balanced account of the vast majority of people who have been told that it is ‘likely’ they have had or have the virus and go on to make a full recovery.
I am one of those people and this is an overview of my experience. My 14 days of self-isolation ended yesterday and started with a dry and persistent cough. Initially I thought I had a cold, even though I am not prone to catching a cold and don’t think I have ever had the flu. I wasn’t in denial I just didn’t see that it might be the virus as it was still ‘out there’ and no one else I know had or appeared to have any symptoms.
I followed the government guidance and settled myself in for my 7 days of self-isolation. During this time the cough persisted and by day 4 or 5 I was experiencing fatigue, back pain and a dreadful headache. It was only when family and friends started to comment and suggest that it could be more than a cough and cold that my thinking changed. I accepted it was more than a cold by about day 8, I self-diagnosed that I had a chest infection. Again, I don’t think I was in denial, the absence of a fever or difficulties in breathing, convinced me that because I wasn’t ticking all the boxes, then it I didn’t have the virus. Oh, and loss of appetite, the one symptom that I would have welcomed with open arms, was definitely nowhere to be seen nor was there a glimpse of it out there wating to pounce on me.
The awful stories about the rising death tolls in Italy, Spain and the UK meant we had come to believe that coronavirus = death and the last thing I wanted to do was to scare my family by agreeing that I might have become infected. I had also spent the previous weekend prior to the start of the cough with friends and I was concerned about them.
In as much as I felt really unwell, I instinctively knew I wasn’t seriously ill, but after another sleepless night with constant coughing and at the insistence of my daughters, I gave in and called my GP surgery and asked for a telephone consultation. When he called me back, I started the conversation with ‘I do not think I have the virus, I do however think I might have a chest infection’. He proceeded to ask me a series of questions after which he informed me that ‘you either have or have had Covid19’.
Shocked is putting it mildly, my survival brain kicked in, I probably lost much of what he said after this. I do recall him saying ‘so if you develop a fever or breathing difficulties then you need to call immediately and you will be referred to an assessment centre’.
Once the call ended, I took time to process what he had said, did this now mean that I was now one of the vulnerable? The lid that had done a great job of keeping fear at bay started to creep open and visions of ventilators, hospitals and hazmat suits raced through my mind. Prior to this, one of my cousins on our family chat had said that if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds then you’re ok. I checked my breathing, that seemed fine but made a mental note that it would be a good idea to check regular and often and have the phone ready to make that call if I didn’t manage the 10 second target.
Temperature, I knew I had seen one of my grandson’s old thermometers somewhere in a drawer so went on the hunt for that. Started to fret when it was nowhere to be found….then thought it’s ok I can buy a new one….followed by OMG I actually can’t because I actually can’t leave the house!!…. reminded myself to check my breathing…. did the 10 second test….still ok….relaxed when I realised that of course I could ask one of my daughters to buy me one and drop it off (obviously observing the social distancing rule)…. then immediately panicked again when I thought I can’t because then how would I explain to them why I wanted one….really worried…. I googled ‘how can you tell if you have a fever if you don’t have a thermometer’…….
Did I mention I am a mindfulness practitioner?
Anyway, there’s me in a state of panic, survival brain now fully engaged, visualising nothing but the worst and taking the 10 second test at least every 20 seconds, I think it might be when I thought about my own funeral that I realised what was happening to me. Instead of the 10 second test, I did the 5,4,3,2,1 exercise, 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch,3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste, this helped to ground me and bring me back to the here and now. My thinking brain was then able to re-engage and I was able to regain a calmer perspective on my situation.
My GP’s diagnoses did not make me any more unwell nor did it mean that I would become so, I was also able to recall his words that ‘the vast majority of people who become infected will manage this at home’. I decided I would be one of those people, that is until the early hours of the following morning. As usual my sleep was interrupted by my overwhelming need to cough. I realised my pj’s were damp and my body was drenched in sweat.
Panic…survival brain re-engaged….did the 10 second test….tried to work out when my GP said ‘call immediately’ did he mean during daylight hours or did this new symptom mean ‘immediately’, like right now at 3 in the morning….berated myself for not asking the right questions….did the 10 second test again and then had another panic….did 10 seconds mean 18.104.22.168.5 etc….or did 10 seconds mean 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi (for fellow ‘Friends’ fans out there!) of course I could have used the timer on my phone but at that moment all logic had escaped me.
Did I mention I am a mindfulness practitioner…….
Fortunately, there was just about enough thinking brain cells around to enable me to stop and breath, long and slow breaths that filled my lungs with the much-needed oxygen I had been depriving myself of with my overuse of my 10 second testing analysis. It felt good to feel calm overtake the panic and for the rational to overtake the irrational. The cough never gave up but I gave up on letting fear take over and made a conscious decision to ditch the 10 second tests and visualising the worst and to do what I train others to do, breath, stay grounded and find your calm.
I did call my GP at 8 o’clock in the following morning and was duly referred to an assessment centre where I was looked after by a team of our incredible NHS workers, (huge thanks and appreciation to them and our NHS) The doctor I saw confirmed that I did not have a chest infection, also that only people who end up in hospital are tested, she reiterated that the vast majority of people who are infected by Covid-19 will manage their symptoms at home. Thankfully I did not need to go to hospital, in as much as a chest infection is not something I covet, I think I would have been happier to have been diagnosed with one, better the devil you know as they say………
Update, I have been told that I am likely to have the cough for several weeks but because I have not developed any further symptoms or become more unwell then I am fine to follow the government guidelines without fear of infecting anyone else. I am also very aware that the ‘other side’ of the virus is as yet very unknown and there is much debate about the possibility of becoming infected again and until testing is made available to us all, I shall proceed with a high level of cautiousness in case I pass anything on to others.
If the headlines are right, then I am one of the lucky ones and my prayers are for those whose lives have been devastated by the impact of the virus. If the 2 doctors who advised me are right, then I am only one of many who will be kept under the radar because only people who are in hospital are being tested and are included in the statistics, (unless of course you are one of the important people like a prince of prime minister)
What did I learn from this experience?
Not sure if I mentioned that I am a mindfulness practitioner.
My colleague Shary and I run a social enterprise call ‘Gie’s Peace’ and we offer training to adults who work with children and young people who have had adverse early life experiences using a ‘Mindful Approach’. (more information is available on our website, www.giespeace.co.uk )
I have also recently finished an 8-week course in Mindful Self Compassion run by the amazing Stella and Cat, which is in my opinion, the jewel in the mindfulness crown and I would highly recommend to anyone who is looking for that next step.
I mention this because I consider myself to be an able practitioner of mindfulness, I am also a great believer in acknowledging gratitude’s, I start my day each morning by listing what and who I am grateful for, family, health, friends, my grandchildren (James, Riley, Teddy and Winnie) just visualising their wee faces makes me smile, fills my heart with the love I have for them and sets me up for the day.
Looking back, I realised that whilst I was unwell, I wasn’t practising mindfulness or acknowledging my gratitudes and this is turn resulted in a reduced state of emotional and mental resilience. It surprised me to realise that when I needed it most, I stopped practising it, possibly because my sense of fear was far greater than my sense of calm. Did I think this would happen to me? Definitely not! but lesson learned, pride can definitely come before a fall! The good news was that once I started practicing again, I felt almost instantly better, maybe not physically but I noticed my mood changed, I felt more positive and my outlook improved.
I guess my coronavirus experience is actually more a reflection on how important mindfulness has become in my everyday life. It goes without saying that this virus has devastated our world as we know it and as the scientist and politicians debate how best to fight it, we can find our own protection and stay as resilient as possible by taking some time out each day to practice mindfulness and self-care.
There will of course likely be many theories and conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus and we might never know the true extent of how many people have or will become infected, however what we absolutely know if that if we look after ourselves then we are able to better look after others and as the need for us all to become teachers to our children, cares to our neighbours, nurses to the sick in our homes etc then self-care has never been more needed.
Please visit our website to find some examples off how this can be achieved, from a couple of minutes each day to longer periods. If we are able to see that the extra time we are all finding ourselves with during this lockdown period as a gift’ then we can use it to really look after ourselves and introduce self-care into our lives. you can also find us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Finally, we all say ‘take care’ to others on a regular basis and often without real meaning. However, this could not be more meaningful now, so take care you and those around you and remember when the going gets tough the tough get mindful and practice self-care!
Bernadette – Gie’s Peace