Sistine Chapel Michelangelo

Covid-19 Lockdown: how is it going?

As the Lockdown started in Switzerland in mid-March I wrote about my strategy to manage Corona times. I named 5 things that I thought might help me through this extraordinary period. So where am I now? How do I feel?

Today decisive measures will be loosened, schools, shops and restaurants will open again. Like many Swiss people I am relieved that the last two months have not been as deadly as anticipated. But I am also deeply mistrusting. Will there be a second wave? Why is it ok to open up now? Weren’t we told that there has to be widespread reliable testing first? So much is unknown and there are about as many opinions on the pandemic outcome, as there are people expressing them.

My personal expectation is that it’s going to be a long time until the health authorities tell me that I can embrace the people I love …. travel to places I long to visit….. live without fear that I may become ill, or cause harm to other people…… I’m not even sure to what extent I can make my own judgements or must abide by regulations. What is my responsibility to myself and to the society that I live in? How is the lockdown impacting my health and well-being?

So, time to revisit my intentions, examine my feelings, and consider…

How did the 5 intentions help me?

Moving my body

A trainer sent me a link to a fitness studio which was broadcasting about three daily workouts – everything from Yoga to tough Interval Training. So I’ve done a workout every morning, and it really feels terrific. Sometimes went for a run or walk instead, but mostly I was @home.

Meditating

After a shaky start, a friend told me that Jon Kabat-Zinn was broadcasting mindfulness to thousands of people every evening during the pandemic. Bless him! His talks have been a marvellously soothing and comforting way to end the day. Sometimes we break out after the meditation session into small groups on zoom and exchange ideas and experiences across continents. I’m slowly understanding what mindfulness is about.

Getting overdue tasks done

Every Sunday evening, I take a piece of paper and write on it what I want to get done the next week. Work, but also household chores, gardening, reading. Many things I enjoy, and some I don’t – like doing my tax declaration. I’ve got quite a lot done and found a good structure, but I’ve been so preoccupied with ticking things off on my list, I sometimes forgot to enjoy what I was doing.

TV before bedtime

It’s an almost morbid fascination following the world in crisis and how different leaders and cultures are managing it. I was often drawn to the News in the evening. There are also many interesting “in depth” programmes. Watching them in the evenings nevertheless made me miserable and unable to sleep. It took me a long time to stop doing this to myself.

Love and compassion

It’s been easy to remember the power of love and compassion. The wonderful gestures of love and solidarity, particularly through the work of artists and musicians on social media, or spontaneous online support groups, or neighbourhood help with shopping or singing on balconies. The marvellous dedication of front-line health workers, and essential service workers delivering our food, and generally keeping things running has been quite extraordinary. (Meanwhile many of the white-collar office community enjoyed the luxury of deceleration in lockdown and closer family life offered by home office working).

So, everything is fine?

You might think everything is ok for me. Actually, reading my journal of the last 6 weeks is quite sobering. I write about nice things I did, comforting phone calls with friends, baking tasty cakes, sunshine, making a fire in my garden in the evening, interesting podcasts, new fulfilling work, and yet … my entries are short and terse. Phrases like “I feel better now” or “I feel ok” appear frequently. Beyond the reports of my flourishing activity with the 5 tricks to fight the Coronavirus, I also read about sleepless nights, a sort of numbing dread and disbelief, loneliness and boredom.

Anybody else?

I imagine many of us feel this way. The uncertainty of the future has become threatening. Strange, when you think about it, because the future is unknown and uncertain by definition. It always will be, however much we try to plan and insure against risks.

I remember the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986, which also happened during a wonderful April. Living in the Black Forest of Southern Germany at the time, the beauty of the emerging green and the spring light was in stark contrast to the unseen threat of radioactivity that the people in Southern Germany felt was literally raining down onto them. This crisis feels similar, except the enemy hides not in the clouds, but in people and creates distrusts even amongst ourselves. People I encountered on walks near my home sometimes didn’t even look at me, let alone greet me. We were all so afraid.

How am I touched by events?

The word “touch” has become key to me during these times. I am touched by the examples of solidarity that I have seen. I am touched by beautiful expressions of humanity and creativity that artists from all walks of life and everywhere in the world – both professional and amateur – are creating and spreading freely on the internet. I am touched by the friendship that I experience from neighbours and by the new encounters with people on the internet, who I have never personally met. I am touched by the appalling suffering that I have watched on television or can imagine just by reading newspapers.

The UN reports that the number of people on earth facing “acute food shortages” will more than double this year. I am touched and horrified by the thought that actually nobody has to starve, even now. If the wealthy gave to the poor, then the millions of workers worldwide who have lost their employment and have no income wouldn’t be in danger of starving.

Many people are faced by existential crisis, and even death. The world is on an unfathomable roller-coaster of transformation. My mind and soul have been touched during this pandemic as never before. However, in all this inner chaos, my body has got left behind. I have not been touched physically: not since the beginning of the lockdown and the introduction of social distancing.

After 2 months, I am realising what this means. I acutely miss the touch of a handshake, or an embrace, a close dance or a kiss… I even miss my physiotherapist extending a joint or massaging a tense muscle. I believe that this is the source of my strange despondency and the feeling of emptiness.

By nature we are beings that need physical contact. Documentaries show primates who groom each other to reduce stress and resolve conflict. Scientific papers report about the various hormones that are produced by touching. There is even a medical term for what I am experiencing: “touch starved” — also known as skin hunger or touch deprivation. There is information on many webpages describing this phenomenon and what I have so intensely felt in recent weeks. Lockdown is opening up in many countries, but even in these places, people at risk are still being told to shield themselves and maintain the strict rules. If the post lockdown “normal” is to continue isolating people at risk, the effects of touch starvation must be addressed, because it is as important as getting food to people. People are not being nourished adequately, if we just leave a bag of groceries on their doorsteps.

Groceries delivered to people sheltering at home in the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo by Alex Alpin
Groceries delivered to the doorstop (Alex Olpin)

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