Tag Archives: pandemic

Music to die for

When the pandemic started, my greatest anxiety was that a bad choice on my part could kill someone. My decisions during lockdown and my willingness not only to follow rules, but often to go further than required, has been entirely based on the determination not to harm others. 

At the same time, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to think about what makes life worth living. A life without time spent in person with people I care about is hard to bear. A life without free access to the countryside is grim. I’m not convinced that a life without live music is worth living. The last thing I did before I went into lockdown (ahead of actual lockdown) was to go to a small, local gig.

There are important questions to ask about what we live for, and what gives joy and meaning to our lives. What value do we find in simply existing? What is it worth risking your life for? Lockdown has given us the chance to find out what really is essential. It’s raised questions about what we’re willing to put ahead of our own health, what we’re willing to risk other people’s lives over, what we can’t do without. For many, this has also been a time of finding out how a person’s economic worth relates to their social usefulness. It turns out it’s the lowest paid workers who are doing the most essential things.

With gigs cancelled, musicians struggled financially. So did all the people whose work depends on venues being open. I watched our government shaft the entire sector. 

At the weekend, I went to a gig. I reckon the venue capacity was about 250 people, and the space was well ventilated, so it wasn’t especially risky. I’m double jabbed, and like a lot of people there, I was wearing a mask. It seemed like a decent risk to take. There were a lot of older people in the audience who were taking a bigger risk than me in being there. As the music started, I wondered whether this was worth dying for. 

Yes. Yes it was. 

A life without the things that make life worth living is not a life worth living. It might be reasonable to endure that over a few months as a temporary safety measure. It’s not possible to live there. Music is essential to me, but there’s a huge difference between listening to a recording and being in a space where people are making music. Much as I love the internet, being online is not the same for me as physically being in the same space with people.

If music helped you in lockdown, please note that most musicians had a really hard time of it. Streaming music doesn’t result in musicians being paid much. If you have any resources to spare, buy a track, or an album, leave something in a tip jar or on Patreon. If we want music, we have to keep our composers and performers economically viable.

Notes on the pandemic

I’ve not talked much about covid since the beginning of the pandemic. I’m into science not conspiracy theories, and from the beginning I’ve been watching for the best information I could get in the hopes of both staying safe and not spreading infection to others. I consider myself fortunate to be double-jabbed even though I had strong adverse reactions both times.

I wear a mask as much as I can when indoors with unfamiliar people. I’m claustrophobic, I get panic attacks anyway and I find I have a small window of time before the mask becomes panic inducing. Longer distance journeys in a mask mean hours of fighting the panic. I can however usually get in and out of a shop before it all kicks off. Most of my strategy has been to stay away from crowded indoor spaces, to meet friends outside or in private spaces, and to ventilate spaces. When I’ve done events involving people, I’ve been home for days afterwards so as to be unlikely to pose a risk. So far, so good.

In the beginning I was deeply afraid of both the virus and the lockdown. I followed the rules, and I found them really hard. I did not do so out of blind obedience to the government, but out of a desire not to make anyone I care about sick. I have considerable rage where the government is concerned. By winter last year there was plenty of evidence that the virus doesn’t spread much outdoors. We should have been supported and encouraged in moving our lives outside as far as possible. The benefits to people’s livelihoods, and mental health, would have been huge. Instead we spent last winter being told we could only meet outside in pairs if we weren’t in our households.

I’m also furious about the lack of investment in education. Countless uninformed and half-arsed theories circulate out there. Where has been the counter message to explain what vaccines are and how they work? So much of the misunderstanding, and wilful misunderstanding comes from not getting how science works in the first place. Cautious language is normal for science. Theories change as more data comes in – that’s not science failing, it’s science working and yet this is being used to undermine confidence in the research being done. Nothing is a hundred percent. Masks, vaccines, ventilation, social distancing – nothing is one hundred percent guaranteed, but that doesn’t make it useless. 

I grieve the deeper divisions in an already divided country. I grieve the way even more people are being pushed deeper into poverty. I grieve the loss of freedom and the loss of life – we’re an island, if our government had reacted swiftly the suffering could have been greatly reduced. I grieve the culture of selfishness that seems to be growing and festering here. I rail against the double standards where regular people have been harassed by the police when they weren’t even breaking rules, and those in power have dramatically flouted the rules and got away with it. We deserved better and we should feel some moral obligation to do better.

Knowledge, hypervigilance and control

Knowledge is power. In some situations, knowledge can be the difference between safety and danger, life and death.  And so, like many people at the start of the pandemic, I scrolled frantically looking for any information that would help me navigate.

I’m fortunate in that I’m fairly bright and decently educated and I know how to pick out good information from dross. I know how to read scientific content – I can’t read papers but I can get through a synopsis at least. I’m not unsettled by talk of probabilities- science rarely deals in certainties. I was looking for things that would shift the odds in my favour, and I found those – masks, ventilation, meeting people outside.

However, by the time I’d found what I needed, the habit of hypervigilance was back in, and I was also struggling to sleep. Hypervigiliance is not a new issue for me.  It’s a problem common for people who have endured bullying or lived with abuse. You pay attention to all the details, looking for signs of threat. When the rules change all the time, the goalposts shift, the hazards are unpredictable, when anger and blame can result from the slightest mistake, you learn to be hypervigilant to survive. And with the covid rules changing all the time, and the science evolving, I fell back into that, and it got into other areas of my life.

I found out quite by accident that I had been running high levels of hypervigilance for months. It explains the levels of body pain and exhaustion I’ve been dealing with. Being on high alert all the time is expensive. Scrutinising every detail is hard on the brain. Never relaxing, never feeling safe… it takes a massive toll and I’ve been doing it for months. Having broken out of the space where I was doing that, I feel hopeful that I can make a recovery. I’ve done it before, but this part of the process is challenging because I feel alarmed by not sifting for data all the time.

If you’ve found the last year exhausting, it may be that you’re in a similar process – with pandemic information, work upheavals, financial pressures and home schooling all likely sources of incentives to be hypervigilant.  Not seeing friends and family may mean you’re trying to divine from facebook posts how they really are. If some of them are vulnerable, this may be really hard work. If stepping away from the information sources is also stressful and scary, that’s a strong indicator of hypervigilance. It takes time to get over it, but knowing that the initial stages of breaking away feel awful may make it easier to navigate that.

If you’re going through anything similar to me, I wish you peace and calm. If the first steps towards that are hard, don’t be daunted, this is the way out. If you feed your brain less data to obsess over, it will eventually start to calm down.

Meditation and the Pandemic

I’m seeing plenty of advice online to use meditation as a way to cope with the pandemic. This may or may not work for you. If it does – all power to you.

The fears caused by covid, the isolation of lockdown, the exhausting nature of ever-changing rules, the financial insecurities, the uncertainty – these all take a toll. These are things that take a lot of processing and that doesn’t leave a person with much concentration. You may be exhausted. You may be emotionally overwhelmed, or numb, and you may not be able to hold together a meditative practice.

Be gentle with yourself if this is the case. If you are using meditation, the whole point is to improve your quality of life, not to come up with another stick you can beat yourself with. Here are some things that might help.

Don’t worry about how long you meditate for – whatever your practice looked like before, let that go. Do what you can. If that’s just a few minutes, fine, and well done. If you can’t focus every day, that’s fine too.

Switch over to contemplation and use your meditation time for processing. Let your thoughts work themselves through and don’t try to shut down the ‘chatter’ in your mind because you may well need to give it more space, not less.

If being in your head isn’t working for you, pick meditation strategies that don’t rely entirely on personal mental discipline. Try moving meditations, contemplating cards, objects or other images. Use guided visualisation and pathworking material where you have someone else’s voice or written words providing the structure and keeping you on track.

If trying to meditate makes you feel miserable and frustrated right now, let it go. It’s not the tool for every situation. It’s not a magic cure-all. If it doesn’t work for you right now, invest your time in something else. It’s not a failing to need different tools.

Emotional processing in challenging times

I’ve spent chunks of this last year numb, and unable to engage. I’ve had weeks where crying has dominated everything. Alongside this, I’ve had more trouble sleeping than usual – and usually I have trouble sleeping. My suspicion at this point is that there’s more going on than I am able to process. It probably isn’t just me.

My personal life over the last year has been like some kind of fairground ride with the infrastructure falling apart. Emotional highs and lows that have been unusual even by my standards. That, on its own, would have taken a lot of getting to grips with. But there was also the politics, the pandemic, the isolation, the loss of key things that support my mental health, and more body pain than I am used to. Again, much of this will be true for many other people as well.

It has impacted on my concentration – everything takes longer. Ideas are harder to find, decisions are harder to make. Not being able to process what’s going on makes everything new that happens that bit harder to deal with. It is difficult to find respite through distractions because often I can’t concentrate, and I’ve spent a lot of time stuck in my own head, with my overwhelmed feelings, largely unable to do much with them.

Sleep can be a good way of processing difficult things. Insomnia doesn’t help with that. Physical movement can be a good processing tool, but pain, weariness and lack of suitable space have been issues there.  We’ve been encouraged to stay indoors, sports facilities are closed, dancing is something you can now only do privately if you have the space.

Without any tools to use, the processing takes time. Some days, all I can do is sit there, with my mind scattered and let the distress roll through me. Where I can, I try and turn it into energy for creativity, but that’s actually hard, and often beyond me, and not required. It’s ok to use art for processing if that helps. It can be good to turn distress into action – but it isn’t a requirement, and there’s no failure in being unable to do that.

The thing that has served me most in this last year, is doing nothing. Allowing myself the time to sit, to curl up with my eyes shut, to be under a kitten, under a blanket, unproductive and present. Sometimes all I can do is sit with what’s happening and acknowledge my complete inability to get to grips with it. I have no idea how long this will take, but I am determined not to rack up extra difficulties by being too stoical, pushing too hard or expecting too much.