3 Apr 2020
Sarah, an ex-patient, shares her advice for overcoming adversity during these challenging times and hopes her own experiences of recovery can help provide some comfort to those who need it most. This is a long read so why not sit down and take some time out for yourself with a cup of tea.
I want to take care in bringing this message to you. Every where you turn there is news and messages of the situation we are facing globally and it can feel overwhelming. I am writing this to encourage you through this and offer some of my experience in the hopes it may be of some help or comfort as we all adjust to this temporary new way of living.
As this has all been unfolding, I have been reminded of a lot of the emotions and worries and experiences I had when I was run over three years ago. I miraculously survived and was rescued and rushed to the nearby hospital where I was told I had broken my back and sustained a spinal cord injury. This was news you never think will happen to you. It hollowed my thoughts down a worrying narrow hallway of fear. I lay there in denial willing myself to just get up off the bed and go to work. Get my bag on and get back to normalcy. Every worry I had went through my mind. Worrying what this means. Will I survive? Will my life be forever different? Will I work again? How will I get money? How will I pay for rent? How will I get through this? It was all completely unknown and uncertain and that is certainly one of the hardest parts about a situation – what will happen? What does this mean now?
When faced with such an unimaginable situation it feels overwhelming and scary because we haven’t been faced with it before. It is easy to feel scared and let our thoughts get carried away with worry. But I am here to let you know, it doesn’t have to be a time of fear or panic. My wonderful rescuer, Frank, told me the best advice that I have carried on through my continued recovery. He said you need to scale it back to today. Take this each day and focus on the small things that you can do. This inspired me to write three things that I stuck beside my bed as I went through hospital and rehab. Those words were Honest. Calm and Day-by-Day. Here is what they meant to me.
Be honest with myself: How am I feeling? Am I coping? Be honest with others: Asking for help. Telling others if I am not coping. Telling others what I need which a lot of the time was just someone to talk to. I was so concerned with being a burden or convinced others were worse than me, but the truth is people want to help. It also helps them cope with the situation too. As we are on lockdown it can feel like we can’t help others. Firstly, by staying home, you are helping! Secondly there are many ways we can help each other. A phone or Skype call can make all the difference for some people. Perhaps you are in a position to financially share to help those struggling. Or maybe you have some tips or creative ideas to help break boredom or get our bodies moving. Think what you have to share and share it. I truly believe the most linear way to happiness is helping people. If you can help, please do. But also don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. If you are struggling, reach out.
It was a tempting to keep going down a dark route in my mind. The route of “I can’t do this now so I never will which will mean life will never be the same” which turned into panic because I couldn’t control it. Seeing the word calm reminded me to scale it back to what I could control. I tried to breathe through my thoughts and catch them if I could and remind myself – this is not forever. This is today. I can handle today. I will be ok. Maybe you feel on the edge of panic. Perhaps it comes in waves. That is normal. I often felt the fear but I didn’t let myself dwell there.
Not being able to see an end in sight, not knowing when it will all be over sounds overwhelmingly scary. I felt this sense of never ending recovery and it can feel all-encompassing. But it is not forever. If you truly try and take it day-by-day it breaks it down into something manageable. We can handle today; we can make it through. There will be an end to this. There will be a day when we all get to come out of the other side, and with taking all the suggested precautions we are all helping to bring that day soon.
After I got out of hospital I was faced with having to live my life in a brand new way. That gave me a lot of anxiety and I developed severe depression. I automatically isolated myself. Of course isolation is a place we are all having to be in now and it can be hard for our mental health. I struggled to open up and tell others I wasn’t coping. Partly because I felt if I said it out loud, it made it scarily true. It was too confronting. I also partly didn’t ask for help because I didn’t want to bother other people. But as I said before, people want to help. By letting them help, you are giving them a way to practically deal with the situation themselves.
While in isolation it can be tempting to feel so overwhelmed and helpless that we hide away even further and we stay in bed or move less and stop communicating with others. It is tempting but I urge you not to do it. Even if you are tired, get out of bed and move to the couch. Allow your brain to link your bed to sleep and rest only. Open the curtains and let the light in. This can help you feel refreshed. Get dressed, even if it’s from night pj’s to day pj’s! You need to differentiate between night and day and keep as much normalcy as you can so your body can get the rest it needs which helps our mental health. As best you can, try not to think of heavy things at night. Tell yourself, I can think about this but only in the morning, you will be surprised how much easier it is to deal with in the light of day.
Keep connected to your friends and family. Send a message. Call or skype even if just for a few minutes. Get creative – write, sing, paint, draw – anything! It can help calm our thoughts and is a pleasant distraction from the inundation of all the news. Take a break from Facebook and news reading. It is good to stay informed but it can add to our stress and panic. Take a break and do something you enjoy. If this all sounds too much, connect with friends who you can virtually do it together with. Plan times to skype or call, come up with different goals you can achieve during this time and update each other on your progress. Having a schedule, routine or even just some plans for your week can give you some control and help you feel grounded and calm.
My nieces teach me a lot of things, but one thing I have been thinking about recently is when we go swimming. My strong independent nieces love to swim and love to do it on their own. “I can do it by myself!” they’ll say. And for the most part they can. They are great swimmers. However sometimes they will with out realising it, swim into deep waters and they go to stand and get a fright when they can’t reach the bottom. That is why I am watching and go along with them slowly with my hand floating just beside them. They realise its there and will grab on until they can do it themselves again. They won’t let me hold them so I keep my hand just in view for when they need it. Sometimes we need to be like this for people in our lives. Maybe they don’t want to ask for help or maybe it’s too hard to ask but we can gently remind each other that we are here and we won’t let each other drown.
It won’t always feel like it does right now. I survived to tell you, you will survive. We will come back from this. We will come through this. As much as it doesn’t feel like it now, there will be a day where we can come out of this situation with a renewed gratitude to life and all the wonderful things about it. Hold on to that hope. Keep connected to your community. Be gentle with yourself. Be honest, be calm and take it day-by-day.
Noho ora mai,