Our world is facing a health challenge unprecedented in most of our lifetimes. COVID-19, which developed late last year in China, is now reaching all corners of the world with far reaching impact, and scientists and researchers are scrambling to understand this new form of coronavirus and create a vaccine to guard against it.
For now, we all need to face an adjustment in how we go about our daily lives, and in living with uncertainty – we all have many questions, including how long will this virus last, and how bad will it be?
As I write this message, Italy and Spain are facing enormous challenges in meeting the needs of their people who have fallen ill with COVID-19.
Some readers of this column live in these countries and my heart goes out to you especially at this extraordinarily difficult time. I hope and pray that countries around the world will take the steps that need to be taken to limit the impact and to keep their populations safe.
Your Government and Health Authorities will be guiding you in how to manage this sudden life challenge.
I thought I would share with you how I am planning to manage my own self until this event passes, as it will, and life will go on. And I invite you to write to me, and share how you are managing, too.
I am in the age bracket which is termed ‘elderly’. I do not feel ‘old’, but the reality is that older people are more prone to developing serious problems with COVID-19. I cannot alter my age, so what can I do to help my chances of survival?
My main aim is to stay healthy and not need to be admitted to hospital. I want to stay at home, and even though, as far as I know, I have not been in close proximity with anyone who has the virus, I am happy to immediately structure my life along the lines of the “self-isolation” strategy that is recommended for people who have been in touch with people with the virus.
Perhaps I am fortunate in that being a writer, I am accustomed to being solitary, being with my own company for long periods of time. I am happy at home with my dog Maisie and two cats, Benji and Fizzie.
My mother, who died in 2009, would not have coped well with self-isolation. She lived on a farm and needed social interaction and connection with others almost every day – through activities of the garden club, the Country Women’s Association, the bowls club, the card group, the church auxiliary, the senior citizens’ outings. She would also be baking casseroles and cakes and delivering them to sick friends in the local community, and of course she was forever helping with the grandchildren. Such connection was important for my mother’s health and wellbeing. My mother did not like sitting still; she was always helping other people. I’m sure that such connection helped my mother to feel purposeful, validated and eased her anxiety.
I feel for you if you are like my mother, and need a high level of social engagement, to maintain your sense of connection and wellbeing with the world. I hope you will find some coping ideas here.
So, what does my plan look like? Well, this is what it looks like today, and of course it may change any day, depending on circumstances beyond my control:
- Sleep well, eat well, exercise well.
- Get some sunshine and fresh air each day – taking my English Staffordshire Terrier, Maisie, for a walk by the sea is a perfect way to achieve this. Currently, Maisie and I go for three walks most days. We usually interact with another dog owner or two but are always metres apart.
- Avoid being in large groups – as I write this, groups of more than 500 people are banned in Australia, but this may change at any moment. My major concern right now is whether the Academy for Eating Disorders Conference, due to be held in Sydney in June, will proceed. I hope so but time will tell.
- Avoid public transport – this is a major change for me, as I do like to travel on the train when visiting my nearest capital city of Melbourne.
- Stock my pantry– with dried fruit and nuts, tinned fish, tinned vegetables and fruit, pasta and pasta sauce, rice, eggs, cheese, yoghurt, dry biscuits and even some Long-Life milk. Oh, and some Cadbury’s chocolate. I’ve filled the freezer with some frozen vegetables but mostly pet food for Maisie. Arrange, through online shopping, food supplies and medications for all of my pets.
- Arrange my medical prescriptions at the local pharmacy –for some weeks in advance.
- Bathroom items, including handwash, toothpaste and toilet paper – enough for several weeks (not months or years, as some people have set out to do).
- Buy and plant out seedlings including silver beet, spinach, cauliflowers and cabbage, for fresh green produce – homegrown produce gives a nurturing feeling in the growing as well as the eating. I am like a caterpillar when it comes to eating fresh fruit and vegetables and fortunately right now plentiful supplies are stocked at my local supermarket. If these supplies dry up, I will turn to the dried and canned fruit and vegetables, and homegrown produce.
- Books! I can go online and choose books to collect at the local library to read! I like to have at least six books on loan at any one time. Detective series are a favorite. Books are a great escape and diversion!
- Sudoku puzzles! I am only at ‘moderate’ standard but do feel jubilant when I manage to fill all the squares correctly! I download the puzzles daily, from my online newspaper subscription.
- Cuddle my two cats, cuddle and play games with Maisie.
- Watch television – romantic comedies, game shows and some reality TV shows are my favorites for chilling out.
- Use the Internet – a lot! Keep in touch with family, friends, work colleagues, clients, health support team, even my local supermarket (who will deliver to my door).
- Work out how to express my love to my grandchildren, without hugging and kissing. I’m sure we will come up with a fun, meaningful way to do this – suggestions welcome!
- Write in my diary! Several times a day most days! My diary is a repository for feelings, thoughts and conversations with self. It is always a comfort.
As you can see, there is really no time to feel lonely! I am sure you have many of your own strategies in place and I look forward to hearing about them.
A few tips to consider in making the most of this enforced downtime from your usual activities:
- This is a good time to ask, ‘What CAN I do?’ Focusing on what you can do, is empowering. Focusing on what you cannot do, is debilitating.
- This is a good time to get to know yourself intimately and build your inner strength. A good way to do this is through writing your diary or journal. Writing about going about your daily life in line the restrictions imposed by your Government and Health Authorities, will create a special record of your experience with COVID-19 as time goes on.
- Share fears and concerns, hopes and jokes (we need humor too!) within a safe and supportive online environment, as well as in your diary or journal. We can help each other get through this challenging time.
- Now also is a good time to start writing your memoir. For mentoring support and guidance in writing your story, write to me at: email@example.com
I do hope you do not catch this virus – but if you do, I wish you the best of care and a speedy recovery. Know that this difficult time will pass. Other tough times have come and gone in our history and COVID-19 will eventually lose its zap too. Until it does, let’s stay in touch.
I have written nine books about eating disorders since my recovery (my “reconnection with true self”) from anorexia nervosa and other long term mental health challenges in 2006. In 2017, I graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy (Creative Writing). My contribution to the eating disorder field was recognised at the 2016 Academy for Eating Disorders International Conference in San Francisco where I was awarded the Meehan/Hartley Award for Public Service and Advocacy. I am currently a co-chair of the NEDC Steering Committee Evidence of Experience Group, a foundation steering committee member of the annual World Eating Disorders Action Day, and an Advisory Panel member for F.E.A.S.T.