Remaining sane in times of pandemic
How we react when the ground under our feet is shaking is a representation of what is already inside usMila Petkova
To be entirely honest, it took me a while to start this blog post. First of all, I had plenty of time to prepare, but I didn’t. My biologists friends were extremely concerned before February for the possible pandemic… I knew that what is coming is no joke, but I didn’t take into consideration many factors, like the severity of the possible outbreaks. Since neither I nor people close to me are in a risk group, I continued my life as usual until it turned out that in Spain, where I live, the situation is getting exponentially worse and the healthcare system might not survive the hit.
After that, I had to deal with my personal concerns about my individual freedom and the anxiety that one of my professional endeavors – Erasmus + mental health teacher trainer, will be left on hold for a while. Between the insecurity and the anxiety of being locked down at home, while at the same time attending my clients in my private practice, it took me a while to wrap my head around the situation.
At this moment I am in my home in Barcelona, I can only go out for essentials (the police makes sure that everyone stays at home) and it is not clear how long this will last. I will not talk about the virus itself, nor it’s impact on the economy, there are experts who are better prepared than me.
For the last 5 years I have been most of the time location independent, working remotely in my consulting practice. I realised that while my personal freedom to work from wherever I want took a hard hit, my daily lifestyle didn’t really change so much.
In the busy days I would spend time in my home office from 10am to 10pm seeing people on videocalls, writing or collaborating with colleagues from all around the world. What changed is the perception that I can be anywhere else and now I don’t have this right. Even though I think that the most important thing now is to be patient, my natural drive for change makes it very hard to sit and wait. Nevertheless there are some things that worked for me during the last week and I believe it is a good start for everyone who feels restless, although, as I always remind there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
Reorganising my finances
Some of the insecurity comes with losing part of my income, because at this moment not all my work is with clients, some of it is with EU project based in Barcelona. I had to make sure that the amount of money I spend now is in line with the current situation. Luckily it was possible for me to construct a plan, but for many people this crisis will be financially extremely challenging, so we should all be supportive and take this into consideration. Luckily at home we spend much less.
It is an especially powerful tool to feel useful in times when your job or private life is on hold. Instead of spending time being anxious one can donate it. Everyone can donate time by buying groceries for old neighbors, helping friends and colleagues with their projects or calling elder relatives who must stay put now. I spared some hours for pro bono sessions for people who are severely hit by the current situation – emotionally and financially. I think that helping as a profession is already rewarding enough, but on some occasions one not only helps by expertise, but also by donating – time and labor.
Establish a routine
I am just the worst in having a steady routine, I have appointments until late in the evening, I work on several different projects at the same time, it has never been my strong side. There was a lot of space for self-improvement and now I try to do my exercises daily. I wake up and go to bed at the same hours, cook and eat better. I never know when my body and immune system will need to be in perfect shape, and I do my best to keep it this way. It is less chaotic now and I can feel the difference. My way to do it is to schedule everything in my calendar, I know that not everyone is obsessed with writing every activity down, but it is very useful for me. I also schedule calls with friends and relatives.
Networking and support groups
I participate a lot in our virtual group Location independent therapists, I started meeting up with other professionals who I have met just once at the world congress of neuropsychoanalysis, but now we share our personal experiences, fears and doubts. We started supervision sessions, book club, talks, etc. Many of my regular networking events were transferred online.
Everything that I liked to do with my friends offline was soon transferred to the screen. To be honest, this part is a bit dystopian and I am not so sure how long it will be enough for me to maintain contacts like this. But on the other hand, now that I have no choice where to be, I have the opportunity to meet my dearest friends from Bulgaria, whom I see in person 3-4 times per year. It doesn’t matter if you connect with someone across the globe or with your friend who lives 10 minutes away, for the time being you can still have good time.
This is easy to remain online, there are so many great books and movies, but recently some of my favorite singers held concerts from the roof of their home streamed on the social media or in professional studio. I saw a show that I have been missing for a few years because I was never in town when it was on. This time is extremely hard for performing artists and if you can, go online and see the life concerts make sure you’ve sent a donation if the concert is free.
Maintaining your home
The firs days I made sure that my home is pleasant to inhabit. During the last busy weeks lots of things were just piling up so I took my time to create nice areas for work, for meeting with friends, for sport, for rest. Even if you live in one room, spend some time and effort to separate the areas making them pleasant and inviting. In case that you don’t work now, find activities that make you focus – like courses and other tasks and create spaces for focus and leisure. Your brain will thank you.
Everyone has some system to vent out – sports, therapy, friends. I practice what I preach and, as most psychotherapists, maintain my mental health by seeing/calling a therapist. It has never been more necessary, because there are times when I truly realize why locking people up is indeed universal punishment. Not that my cozy home is Shawshank State Penitentiary State Penitentiary, but none of us deserved this and we must reframe the narrative. Staying at home saves lives, this is obviously last resort, but without vaccine and healthcare systems that can handle the sick, we have no choice. And having no choice might be acceptable, transformational or devastating. The only one who can make it not devastating for you is you.
Recognise and fight the ultimate horror
I already mentioned that for me the worst possible scenario is losing my freedom, but my friends, colleagues and clients are afraid of so many things – losing loved ones, getting sick, being useless, isolation, nature, people, the possible more deadly mutations of the virus. What we are truly afraid of is the unknown itself. It takes the shape of our worst nightmares and chase us when we are alone. Recognizing that we fabricate our own demons and facing them is the only possible path towards transformation.
Most probably I will go on soon with some more “wisdoms” and tips about staying home under lockdown, but my plane to Marrakesh was going to take off today and it is still hard for me to accept that I am not going anywhere, nor meeting my family anytime soon. I am truly grateful that my sole concern is my freedom, not my health or the life of close relatives. But if the freedom is all that I have, losing it can be truly hard, that’s why I am doing my best to re-gain it from the inside.
Dr. Mila Petkova is psychoanalyst and online counselor, currently situated in Barcelona, Spain. She has doctoral degree in psychoanalysis and philosophy of culture at Madrid’s Complutense University and has also participated in four-year education in the Clinical Section Freudian Field in Barcelona organised by the World Association of Psychoanalysis. At the moment Dr. Petkova is working with clients mostly online and is the authour of two blogs - Mila's Wellness, where this article was originally published and MiPsy.