Lessons in a time of uncertainty

September 24, 2020 By

By all accounts this could have been a normal Thursday. My children came home from school, we did a bit of homework (believe it or not), baked a cake, had dinner. We’ve no activities on Thursdays anyway, and now we’re chilling out watching a bit of TV.

But it was different. Because they knew and I knew that all routines were now out the window. 

And not in the way they are out the window during the summer holidays, during midterm, during a random sick day. Because those times have their own rhythm too, and we know it and it’s familiar and it’s safe. This was a different beat. And so it wasn’t a normal Thursday anymore.

It really brought home to me the importance of our psychological framework and what happens when it shifts. Our daily lives and routines fit into a bigger picture. They get their meaning and purpose from that bigger picture. And if that changes, they change too. And suddenly we’re on sandy ground.

In one way we have a very distinct new purpose. The school closures and isolation measures are there to stop, or at least slow down, the spread of the Coronavirus. It’s a specific and extremely worthy task, and we’re all in it together. But that doesn’t mean it won’t play havoc with our minds. 

My kids aren’t relishing the thought of an extra two weeks of school. They just want their normal life back. My goal will be to help them find meaning and reassurance within these new parameters, within the familiar that has now taken on the hue of something else.

As I was writing this, it dawned on me that what we were experiencing was very much like a transition. That perhaps it is a transition. In William Bridges influential book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, first published forty years ago, he defines change as an external event or situation that takes place. A transition, however, is the “inner psychological process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the new situation that the change brings about.”

I thought that right now we might be in what Bridges refers to as the neutral zone. The neutral zone is a bit like a no mans land. A change has happened, we have left something behind, but we don’t really know what’s ahead of us. It’s not always a comfortable place to be. But it’s an important one to acknowledge. If we are honest about our feelings, losses, fears and, importantly, hopes we have a much better chance of navigating our way through it. And if we do, it can foster resilience and growth.

And as the day progressed, something happened. We started to find our rhythm again. A late night cake decorating session seemed just the thing. But equally, and perhaps more importantly, anxious feelings that had perhaps been suppressed for some time came to the surface and were let out. Painfully, and not fully processed, they will linger for some time. But I will treasure the time we now have to manage them. 

I am conscious as I am writing this that despite the seriousness of the Coronavirus I am still writing very much from a position of privilege. My children might be scared and feel that their world has been turned upside down. But we do not live in a war torn part of the world, and they are not ostracised or forced to live in inhumane conditions. I can’t even begin to imagine what those who do, go through. And the world could do with showing them some more compassion.

This article started as an attempt to verbalise some of what I was feeling as this day progressed. It ended in a different place than I had predicted. In that way, I guess, it could be said to mirror life.

 Look after each other and stay safe out there.

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash