Covid-19: How to weather the silent storm

How are you doing, lovely friends?

It seems the only right question to ask at the moment. No doubt you’ve noticed emails coming in with ‘Hope you’re safe and well?’, before getting down to business.

It seems like aeons ago when ‘I hope this finds you well’ was a cliché – a meme, almost. But now we actually mean it, much in the same way as our ancestors did. Medical science didn’t have the cure for many ills, lives were taken by the most innocuous sneeze or scratch – and now we’re experiencing the same level of threat.

Still, in the current climate of confusion, it’s reassuring to know that some things never change. Like the narcissists on social who simply can’t help themselves:

And the self-appointed thought leaders continuing to peddle the same old bullying, ‘motivational’ horse manure. As if everyone isn’t buffeted enough by straitened circumstances, apparently we’re all epic losers for failing to squeeze the last drop of self-actualisation out of lockdown:

I’m writing this on a Saturday. Have you noticed how your sense of time has evaporated? It’s stretching, surreally elastic, a Dali clock melting over a wall.

Waves of sadness are permeating daily life too. Part of this is what psychologists call ‘anticipatory grief’, but it’s mostly a genuine reaction in the moment to a loss of collective normalcy: a new, mindbending reality to compute.

At the moment I’m still working, helping authors to develop their books. I’ve got more webinars and Zoom meetings blocked out on my calendar than you can shake a virtual stick at. Networking with colleagues and coffee with friends have been replaced by a computer screen and the now-obligatory bookshelf in the background; some have even started playing ‘Zoom bingo’.

I’m also doing CPD, via a weekly storywriting masterclass to help me examine my authors’ non-fiction creative writing. To that extent, on the face of it, life is ‘normal’, if replaced by obvious constriction and online presence.

But the fact remains: the sadness isn’t going anywhere. It’s creeping under the surface, emerging occasionally like a wounded beast, only to crumple impotently at the sun outside and the isolation and how truly flipping frightening things are.

What’s difficult is trying to manage the uncertainty of a situation that feels like it’s never going to end. It’s a period of subterranean, pervading anxiety – if not about our businesses, then our ability to stay alive.

Regardless, it’s important to keep going – to stay connected, attend to self-care, go back to basics: eat and sleep properly, be vigilant of our mental well-being, as well as of those we love.

It also goes without saying that there’s a place for motivation in a usual business situation. I’ve nothing against that, and I certainly don’t have a problem with the idea of focus, structure and discipline to get stuff done.

But what we’re experiencing now is extraordinary. There is no correlation. And I’m here to call out unhelpful, alpha bullshit. The type of hectoring, hyper-positivity operating from a position of luxury, that lockdown demands we extend ourselves. And that if we don’t, we ‘lack commitment’.

Apart from exhibiting denial and a serious need to check its privilege, it makes others feel even worse about the fact that they’re already in a less-than-good place.

I say ‘No’ to this staggering lack of compassion and empathy. (I would say something stronger, but this is a professional blog. Ask me in real life, and I’ll be more than happy to season this view with salty Anglo-Saxon.)

We already know that applying our minds to the task in hand can be challenging when life turns rough. As I’ve written before, it’s only natural for creative flow to be negatively affected when our thoughts are trammelled up.

How about this for a motivational manifesto?

We don’t have to be okay at a time like this.

We don’t have to push ourselves hard to achieve.

We don’t have to have 50 different projects lined up.

And we certainly don’t have to high-five our egos for smashing a laundry list of goals while the world’s toppling off its axis. That’s just empty posturing.

Sometimes, quiet, mindful survival – maintaining equilibrium – is achievement in itself. Sometimes, it’s enough just to get up each day, do what we need to, and try to cover ground.

As creative people, if we are able to seek solace in making, whether that’s music, art, writing, craft or other form of engagement, great. We’re all about community, so if we can find a way to connect, share and support, that can only be a good thing.

Some of us may find it useful to channel our response, express it through our medium of choice. But if not, that’s perfectly fine too.

No one should be beating themselves up right now about the fact their head’s in a weird place, or they’re not feeling 100 per cent.

As the kids say: ‘You do you.’

Whatever gets you through the day is more than good enough for now.

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