This week I've lost count of lockdown now, and with each day the desire for human interaction and connectedness grows stronger.
As an introvert, I was quite comfortable during the initial lockdown period. In fact, I was pleased that for once in my life it was acceptable to remain indoors for an entire week. Or more. But never in my life has it been so long since I’ve seen my parents. My family. My friends.
Phone calls and video chats don’t quite do it justice. The presence of another human being, and basic interactions like a hug or a warm smile, have such a profound impact* on our day-to-day life.
So in a time when face-to-face interaction is so limited, how can we cope?
During a discussion on isolation, my friend told me that connectedness is about the quality of our relationships, not about our proximity to another person. Proximity helps, of course, to reduce feelings of isolation. But proximity on its own cannot cure loneliness. I resonated with this thought, feeling grateful that I could engage in such meaningful conversation while at such a great distance apart.
Phone and video calls may not feel nearly as enriching as face-to-face interaction, but they are the closest form of “normal” interaction we have available to us right now. Just as we would schedule time to meet or talk with our loved ones, make time for phone and video calls to keep in touch.
Writing letters is another great way to communicate. Letters can help foster deeper or more meaningful conversations, as we take more time in thinking about what we want to say. The post isn’t the only way of sending letters either. We can send photos of handwritten letters, or use our texting method of choice (including messaging apps) to have long-length letter-style conversations.
There may be a new “Covid normal” in times to come, but no matter what that is, we will eventually be able to see our family and friends again. Life will go on, and we will adapt. To have hope that things will get better is important too, no matter how bleak it may feel right now.
Our hearts go out to those who have ill loved ones, as we know visiting is often restricted or sometimes completely off-limits, and other forms of contact may be limited too.
This can be frustrating and stressful, but focusing on prayer, on hope, or on something that is meaningful for you both can help. Take feelings of fear or anger and use the energy for good – if your loved one is an avid gardener, consider starting a garden project. If knitting is their thing, try your hand at knitting. Or maybe DIY is more their style. This can help strengthen your connection with them in an abstract way, too.
Feelings of isolation can be exacerbated when we’re bored. Because when we’re bored, sitting alone and pondering the meaning of life, it is never more blatantly obvious that there is no one around us. Sing, dance, learn a new skill or just take more notice of the things around you.
In the early stages of lockdown, I formed a new friendship with “Garry” our resident (harmless) house spider. While he was an unexpected visitor, and despite the initial urge to “get him out of the house NOW”, we let him stay. And each day we would follow his adventures, playing 'Where’s Wally' to spot his new location on the wall. Such a small and seemingly meaningless interaction resulted in appreciation and acceptance of something I may not have given much thought to otherwise.
On a more sane note, maintaining a daily or weekly routine can help to create a sense of normality during such an abnormal time. Routine can also give us a sense of control in our lives, increasing feelings of calm and safety. Setting a regular wake up/sleep time is a good place to start!
Remember that no matter how lonely or isolated you feel, help is always available. Speaking to a counsellor can, in itself, reduce feelings of isolation and increase connectedness. But counsellors can provide coping strategies and other support too.
From our CatholicCare family to yours, we hope that you are all keeping safe and well during these challenging times.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli20 October 2020
Bishop Peter J Elliot13 October 2020