Elin Haf Davies draws on her time isolated at sea and how we should be thinking about the lockdown and our post-pandemic lives.
The world as we know it will never be the same.
The COVID-19 pandemic will change all that was familiar to us. Long standing habits and daily routines will have different meanings from now on.
As our freedom to travel was restricted, panic and fear seeped in as people struggled to know how to adjust to self-isolation and a government lockdown.
On day one of the lockdown I wrote a post on social media offering some advice on how to adapt to life in isolation based on my experience of spending a prolonged period of time in a very confined space. 77 days 7 hours and 37 minutes rowing across the Atlantic Ocean and 78 days rowing across the Indian Ocean. Those days in isolation changed me.
From my own personal experience what I can tell you is that how people adjust to their time in self-isolation and lockdown is not necessarily going to be the difficult bit, as the adrenaline and sense of excitement will help us get through that.
More importantly is how we’ll respond and recover when all of this is over, when the adrenaline has waned off and the “moral injury” of what those on the front line would have endured kicks in, and the rest of us are left to grieve for our lost loved ones.
I’m sure that many of us had long wished for a reason to escape the rat-race of life.
How we respond individually and collectively will shape the course of history, and that has frightening consequences for generations to come if we get this wrong.
Will we target anger at each other once we’ve lost our loved ones knowing that they died alone? Will we apportion blame? Will we expect reparations and become ever more polarised? Ever more unequal? Or do we use this opportunity to come together in a more collective and cohesive world.
If truth be told, I’m sure that many of us had long wished for a reason to escape the rat-race of life, where we had lost our precious commodity of time, and where we felt that we were rushing through life with an endless to-do-list without real meaning. If nothing else, COVID-19 has forced us to stop to and reflect on what’s important to us.
One of the most well-known phrases in Wales is that uttered by our patron saint, Dewi Sant (St David), shortly before his death: “Gwnewch y pethau bychain” (Do the little things), and as we recover from COVID, I hope that life will once again focus on this.
Because in reality the COVID pandemic is also a poverty and austerity issue. Social distancing is a privilege to those that live in a large house, with running water to wash hands and money to buy soap. COVID death rates is higher in our weakest members of society, the old, the frail and those with comorbidities.
So, when we look back at how the COVID crisis unfolded in the UK, I hope that our nation has a clarity of understanding and a long enough memory that extends longer than the last seven days to when the country was practically nationalised to keep us afloat.
But most importantly, I hope that the nation remembers that our outcome from this disaster was not determined by the pandemic alone, but more importantly because of the actions and decisions that dated from 10 years pre-pandemic to the 10 days before lockdown.
To learn from the Aberfan disaster, that left a scar on our nation, it was not a natural disaster of a freak storm that killed so many children. It was endless years of capitalism and cost-cutting exercises that left our citizens vulnerable to a disaster.
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The impact of 10 years of not protecting our NHS with well supported staff and resources, the endless of battering of “low-skilled staff” on zero-hours contracts and the increasing inequality gap due to austerity means that we had a higher proportion of the population in ill health, with comorbidities, living in cramped, squalid conditions means which means that we endure the outcomes that we do.
As Mahatma Ghandi said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
So, in the aftermath of the COVID crisis, we should make sure that we understand the difference between finger-pointing-blaming and holding our leaders to account. This is not about negativity or big P-politics. But, by holding our leaders to account we can make sure that those 1000s of lives are not lost in vain.
As said at the time of the Aberfan 50th anniversary, by the BBC News journalist and presenter Huw Edwards:
“What we can do, however—in this week of the 50th anniversary—is try to focus the attention of many in Britain and beyond on the lessons of Aberfan, lessons which are still of profound relevance today. They touch on issues of public accountability, responsibility, competence and transparency.”
Let’s make sure we don’t let 50 years go by before we hold our leaders accountable and responsible to standards of competence and transparency. That will be one step towards ensuring a more equal, cohesive society moving forward.
The Lockdown List
Here are some things that I learnt along the way which helped me adjust to my confinement:
- Fix a routine for yourself and stick to it. No excuses.
- Maintain your personal hygiene. On a 23ft rowing boat it was brushing my teeth daily and a weekly wash. But since we’ll all be in the comfort of our own home, I recommend a shower and getting dressed every single morning.
- Music eases the soul. Recharges the heart. Use it.
- Take regular breaks from your work (laptop) to walk around and breathe some fresh air at your front door.
- Use the opportunity to get exercise. I’m not suggesting 12 hours a day of rowing but use your allocated walk / jog / run and do it without your phone so that you have some digital down time.
- Call friends and family on a regular fixed basis. But make it part of your daily routine to avoid unrealistic expectations of others. They are not there for your amusement.
- DO NOT focus on the fact that this will be over in 21 days. If it is – brilliant. We can celebrate. But if it isn’t (which is more likely) the disappointment will be overwhelming, so best avoid it from the offset.
- Find your emotional “happy place” and spend part of your daily routine reminiscing / remembering/ imagining that one happy place that brings a smile to yourself.
- Keep a diary. It will be a cathartic way for you to process your experience.
- Accept that it will get boring. It will be tedious. Groundhog Day. But if we can’t enjoy our own company how can we expect others to enjoy ours?
- Food is a treat. Enjoy the process of making it and take the time to sit down and really enjoy it.
- The simple things really are the most important. Your world as you now know it will never be the same. Because we’ll now realise what’s important.
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