Living with uncertainty, the unexpected and the unplanned.
I began writing about uncertainty during the first Covid-19
level 4 Lockdown in March 2020, but I left it unfinished.
There was too much uncertainty.
My husband’s employer closed their business and then was
the search for new work. I finished writing this while three
weeks into an unexpected hospitalisation with pregnancy
complications in a level 2 lockdown.
I’m someone who likes things to be organised, planned and scheduled. There’s been so much about these past months which has challenged my whole approach to life.
I’ve found some things that have helped me get through times like these.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a psychologist around 10 years ago where I was talking about a time in my life which was very hard. I was living on $50 per week, staying in various people’s houses and eating the cheapest food I could get my hands on. I had always looked at this time as a time where “life didn’t look after me.”
The psychologist asked me: “Did you have clothes to wear?” I answered yes.
“Did you have food to eat?” yes, even if it wasn’t very enjoyable food.
“Did you have a roof over your head?” Again I answered yes.
Somehow that conversation forever changed my perspective on that difficult time in my life. I no longer look at it, as a time where life didn’t look after me but one in which I was taken care of in real and tangible ways.
In uncertain and unexpected times you may find it helpful to look out for the ways that life looks after you and those you care about. You might be surprised by the many and varied ways when the good shows up.
Rather than focusing on my own worries, I think about ways that I can be there for others. During lockdown I could send a text, write an email, share a joke or set up a video call. In hospital I can be respectful towards others and remember that others are having a difficult time too.
It can really help to look for ways to take care of others, do the dishes, make someone a cup of tea or other simple but life-enhancing acts of care.
For instance if you have spare money, you can share it with others who have lost their work due to Covid-19. There are many examples: follow some artists/writers or musicians through Patreon, or purchase something online from a small business.
I look out for something every day to be grateful for- it doesn’t have to be complex. It could be the cheerful yellow glow of the dandelions growing in the lawn. Or someone in your household that took care of a necessary task before you got to it. At the moment in hospital when I see the various support staff- cleaners, meal coordinators I say thank you- for them it’s their job, but for me it’s making my stay more comfortable. It really makes a difference to me to be grateful for what they are doing for me, much of which I’d normally be doing at home.
Let go of expectations:
I was once told by a fellow counsellor “expectations are anticipated resentments”. I’m currently confronted by all the things I hoped for in this pregnancy and what I’d intended as my birth plan needing to be relinquished. I’ve allowed myself to grieve the loss of what I thought I could have- which helps me to accept the current situation and be open to what might happen instead.
Recalling the care we’ve received supports mental wellbeing, it can also evoke the warm feelings we experienced in times when we were struggling.
A memory which I revisit time and time again is when I’d been horribly seasick, while going snorkelling on trip to the Great Barrier Reef. I’d been by myself when every other person was on the boat was there with friends. I got off the boat having thrown up everything I’d eaten for lunch and dry heaved for the past hour, feeling gross, lonely, tired and hungry. I went to a food court, ordered some food and was invited by an older couple unknown to me to eat dinner with them. I’ve never seen them again nor remember their names. But their kindness by including me stands out in my memory and still calms my heart when I revisit the memory.
Making space for feelings as they arise, naming them, acknowledging them and, where appropriate, sharing them can reduce their intensity.
In my conversations with others during the first level 4 lockdown I named the grief I felt that due to Covid-19 I was unable to meet clients in person. This has always felt like an important aspect of providing counselling support- being physically present, offering attention and support. As I’ve acknowledged these feelings, they have reduced in intensity allowing other feelings to arise. Hope and curiosity arose for what might emerge from this difficult time in our history.
I’ve also had to acknowledge and feel sadness, grief and disappointment about being hospitalised the day after I’d finished work to begin maternity leave and being unable to spend the quality time I’d hoped for with my husband nor been able to prepare our home for the arrival of our little one. I’ve talked, cried and made space for these feelings. These have allowed me to move to more of a space of acceptance.
Be vulnerable and find out you’re not alone:
Since being open with my wider friend group and community I’ve discovered that there’s so many people in my life who’ve also experienced difficult pregnancies, hospitalisation and similar health issues. It’s been really helpful to know that I’m not alone in this hard experience. Other people I know have also been through similar things. Knowing this really makes a difference to the feeling of isolation.
I’ll leave you with a quote for Mr Rogers:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world." Fred Rogers.