While living in New Zealand I discovered a valuable thing through a Myers-Briggs course my company sent me on: when I am stressed, I am all about facts and figures.
I’ve been needing a fair share of facts and figures of late, so lockdown must be gnawing at me even though I am outwardly calm.
Another sign was that one of my beloved birds actually irritated me yesterday; gasp, horror (let’s not name her, but it’s not the grey Big Beak).
I have found myself markedly less compassionate when viewing video snippets of people thronging through supermarkets well after lockdown and casually ambling around in streets; on my lesser days I have muttered rude things, other times I have raged about stupidity being what will ultimately kill us. Because, for goodness sake, there are rules for a reason, right?
Yup, facts and figures.
This aspect has pushed me to almost obsessively research the Covid-19 outbreak, spread and characteristics; all the while hoping my trusted sources have not been compromised in the torrent of information and fake news.
I also heard the voice note attributed to the head of virology at Groote Schuur Hospital, which has since been denied as being from the source quoted. It was, funnily enough, the only clip that genuinely leaked fear into my well-constructed shell.
I spoke to friends about the effect it had on me but didn’t share it because I couldn’t validate its authenticity. I even sent off an email to the person supposedly quoted to ask if it was genuine.
The woman in the clip is heard speaking directly to her mom. And it may have been that – that simple gesture of trying so hard to outline the dangers to ensure her mom stayed home – that my heart heard. I related to that, having said to my own family, “Imagine what it would have been like, trying to keep mom home during this?”
My mom was raised in an orphanage and as an adult, held fiercely to her independence. She wouldn’t even lock her security doors at home because she hated feeling “locked in”.
It’s the first time since we lost her that I am grateful she isn’t here; she would have been deeply anxious.
And for a moment, I see her, in the requests from people who say, “But why can’t we walk our dogs as long as we keep far away from others?”
It’s an uncomfortable compassion because it acknowledges that our collective safety rests on the histories of people, which we cannot know.
The young mother in the shop with her children who “should know better” might not have anyone she can ask to babysit for free, and money to a child minder cuts into money for food for her babies.
It is an awkward compassion because I feel almost petulant or weak for feeling stressed in my home, which has enough space and even a snippet of garden to step into, especially when I acknowledge that so many don’t have that.
For some, the sacrifice to stay home, is greater.
The “facts and figures me” bargains too. I am diabetic, so I went into voluntary self isolation about a week and a half before lockdown.
I keep counting the people I have seen in person, and they still only amount to three.
Except the one shopping excursion I did and, even though I only went once before lockdown, my brain has re-run the places and moments I could have been exposed to the virus in ways no horror-movie director has ever been able to dramatise.
I have watched friends wrestle with this and colleagues become deeply emotional.
But one article I read put much of this into perspective: it suggests we are moving through stages of grief.
The world as we knew it, has changed.
We are mourning our freedom, our ease of movement and usual plethora of choice, but mostly, our safety. There is denial (Oh yay, a holiday); there is anger (Look at those idiots dancing in the thousands; don’t they know how dangerous this virus is?); there is bargaining (If we stay home for 21 days, everything will be all right, right?); there is pain and guilt (Who am I to complain when others live in such shocking conditions). Add some depression and exhaustion for good measure.
Some say comfort eating should be category of its own!
And we are cycling through these times in a great washing machine and in no particular order.
Even in our own homes, separate, we are very much together as a collective, battling an unknowable outcome. But somehow, even though it’s not facts and figures expressly, understanding this helps me.
Just seeing others express where they are, through this filter, restores my compassion. Now if I could just extend that, to myself.
May we all emerge from lockdown softer; wiser.