I began this year with the idea of venturing out on my own but COVID it seems had other plans. I was in Sydney when the call to close the border came so I found myself on the first plane back home and straight into self-isolation.
I remember lying in bed one night, struggling with an ear infection on top of a malaise that I had been fighting for the better part of a year. Every muscle in my body hurt and the pain in my chest was so bad that I uttered a silent prayer that I would wake up the following morning. I was alone and reached out to a friend letting her know where I had hidden a spare key. I’ve been alone my whole life but it is the first time I have truly felt lonely…this is my deep dark secret and I’m sharing my story now in the time of covid because many of us are ‘quietly struggling’. (Aileen Weintraub)
If truth be known, I can’t say I felt anything because I was too busy getting through each day. On some days even breathing was hard and no I did not have COVID. The days and the nights blurred. Phone calls from well intended friends and colleagues sometimes added to the anxiety or pressure I was feeling but about what I can’t exactly say. One morning I woke up and the pain was gone, it was as if a cloud had lifted. I could once again think and feel. The myriad of thoughts about the past and future better left for another time. What I am thankful for is for the gift that COVID gave me - time. Time to reflect on what matters, on who I am and who I want to grow into.
Thanks to COVID I am learning to accept who I am. I have a better understand of how I self-soothe - other than open a fridge and immerse myself in Turkish TV. I recognised that I feel better when I am working in and for the communities I live and work in. I became a personal shopper and was quick to raise my hand to step in and lend a hand at The Learning Centre (TLC) during level three. These things made me feel more in control of myself and of the day. Magda Gerber reminds us that we can look at life as a continuation of conflicts or problems. The more often we have mastered a minute difficulty, the more capable we feel the next time.”
In reaching out to others I have come to know that the ways we self-soothe and self regulate differ. I listened without judgement and thankful for the honesty I was shown. If I judged myself by the standards of others I might never have gotten out of bed. I was not the whirlwind who went through the house cupboard by cupboard, immersing myself with DIY, fixed routine or determinedly driven to run 5KM. It did make me think about the word ‘normal’ and made me question by whose standards. Instead I chose to find comfort in the things that brought me joy each day; a cup of coffee on my deck listening to the strains of Caruso or digging up the flower bed at midnight just because I could, most of all listening to the stories of others.
These are the things that fed my soul each day but my struggles at night were different. I acknowledge that most of the things I was engaged in were just distractions and it was only then that I unpacked the root of the unease I felt. It was an unfamiliar feeling - this loneliness I speak of. It was tucked away under the busyness even in the midst of the people I was sometimes surrounded by. I couldn’t understand it because my life was in essence the same and yet it wasn’t but after much soul searching I came to realise that what I was missing the most - the thing that made life normal for me was JoJo. My companion for 12 years, my beloved dog who had seen me through the worst and best changes of my life. The loss of my parents, the move to New Zealand, different career new home and even the transition into and out of a long term relationship. He was in essence my “transitional object” - the cuddles we give our children to bring comfort. They are still learning how to draw from within, how to self-soothe and self-regulate and sometimes these things help the transition. Their familiarity touches the strings of their hearts and triggers memories and or feelings of security.
Aileen Weintraub’s words in a recent Huffington Post article resonated so clearly… “Right now, we are collectively transitioning through a pandemic. Admitting this can be hard. We keep these secrets to ourselves, letting only a select few witness our vulnerabilities. It goes against every cultural norm we have learned to honestly discuss our need for softness and comfort because perhaps by acknowledging it, we are acknowledging our deepest insecurities.”
Make no mistake JoJo in no way replaced the love I felt for my family but they are abroad or the friendships I so value. He just made my life richer. He brought meaning and ‘normal’ to my life. I knew how the days, nights and weekends unfolded because of of him. After a hard days work, or moments of doubt I had him to cuddle up to. I regulated my heartbeat with his, my breathing eased just by lying next to him. He was better than any yoga class in helping me to relax and find peace and solace. It was this soul searching that led me to Digby, my old man of a white fluff ball, who is a little bit deaf, partially blind and lost all his teeth. I am so grateful we found each other and before this last lockdown! What a difference he has made to my soul! It is joyful again. The competent, capable feeling I have at work now resonates at home. Yes, I am more productive, while at home but most of all I am happy. He brings a sense of purpose to my day. He does not make a sound - truly he has never barked, yet his presence is such that the silence is gone. He has made my house a home. The gentleness he brings, stills the flutters of anxiety that linger, even if I do not know quite know what they are. The purpose that he has brought to my day brings the consistency that we want for children. He has helped me to once again find the rhythm in my day. There is a security that comes with knowing how the day will unfold especially during these uncertain times.
This is my ‘deep dark secret’ and I am sharing it now in the hopes of encouraging yours to reflect on yours. Accepting this part of me led to Digby - my very own silver lining. Accepting that no matter how strong, confident or successful I may appear, I recognised that I am quietly struggling.
Magda Gerber talked about the importance of self-acceptance; that we have to accept ourselves so that we can accept our children, as they are, and encourage them to flourish as their authentic selves. She reminds us too that the lesson is in the struggle and I am learning much about myself during these times; the triggers, trivial and the convivial but most of all I am learning how to go gently on myself, learning to let go and if I am honest how to hold; to the relationships, the values and memories and most of all that it’s OK to admit to finding comfort from the simple things in life and to be thankful for the blessings along the way.
Reference: I’m a grown woman and I still sleep with a stuffed animal -Aileen Weintraub
Elena Marouchos is a RIE® Associate and an NZITC Board Member.