The other morning, for the first time in many years the right side of my body, where the front wheel of the lorry went over me, was throbbing. For no apparent reason. I hadn’t been to the gym the previous day, I had been home for a few weeks now trying to stay healthy, working on various things to help people get through this time of crisis. So why now, was I feeling this pain?
We are living in a new normal. And now in “lockdown” it is even more scary. The constant news stories, media sensationalism, confusing messages about what to do and how to stay healthy is causing people’s stress and anxiety to hit the roof. Worrying about our parents or washing our hands often enough are exacerbating underlying issues we can normally control. And then it hit me. Control.
The hardest thing about dealing with PTSD is the feeling of not being in control. The accident, my recovery, surgeries, doctors etc etc none of it was my choice and all of it was out of my hands. In rare moments when I was supposed to do something for myself, it took every ounce of my strength to do it and only served to amplify my feelings of helplessness. So was this sudden pain, in the place where I experienced the most destruction, somehow a manifestation of this given the times we are currently experiencing?
I personally believe that one of the reasons for stress, anxiety, mass hysteria, panic, is the lack of control. We see the world around us reacting to events that are beyond our grasp. So we try to hold on to anything that helps us cope. Hoarding groceries to ensure we are not caught out if supermarkets shut. Little pieces of our life we can control. Control is also inextricably linked to safety. Most of us go through life generally feeling safe. But when that sense of safety is threatened it can shake our very core. But my psychiatrist thought that living somewhere in the middle of the extremes – feeling totally safe and being paralysed by fear – can actually lead to more awareness in our lives that can help us make more fine tuned decisions. It can help us trust that “gut feeling” which is an incredibly powerful guiding force, we just have to listen.
My parents generation has taught me a lot about dealing with situations out of my control. They came to the UK as immigrants, my Mother forced out of Uganda, coming to a new country and having to make the best of the situation they faced. They took each day as it came, with fresh challenges and made it work. They did whatever it took, even when that meant a drastic change in lifestyle from what they were used to. They didn’t complain, they adapted. They faced racism, language barriers, social isolation but they came together as a community and built their lives.
I keep reminding myself of this when I feel that I can’t surmount the challenge in front of me. A few years after my accident I needed to have knee surgery. At the time of the accident I had dislocated my right knee and ruptured multiple ligaments. But because of the other injuries I had, they couldn’t operate on it then. But it was still giving me trouble some years later, so the doctors decided it was best to operate and replace the damaged ligaments. It was a complex surgery, with only 6 surgeons in the world at that time with the experience needed. I decided to go to one of the best, in New York.
After the surgery I had to stay in the apartment we had rented for an extended period of time, attached to a bunch of machines to aid my recovery. Before I went in for the surgery, my sister had taken me to an amazing restaurant that was famous for their lollipop cheesecake tree. Imagine a small metal tree which had lollipop cheesecakes for branches. I was obsessed. Whilst I was recovering my sister tried her best to get them to send some home. But it wasn’t possible so one day, when I was feeling better I suggested we go. Don’t get me wrong this was no mean feat. I couldn’t walk yet but I had a wheelchair. So I did my hair and make up, put on a sparkly dress (the knee brace prevented me from wearing anything else anyway) and my Mum and sister wheeled me the few blocks to the restaurant. To our surprise at almost every block someone offered to help push my wheelchair in the direction I was going. When we got to the restaurant we hadn’t planned for the fact there were steps to get in. So the manager carried me to our table. I was humbled at the kindness of strangers. And I sat there, ate my lollipop cheesecake tree and laughed with my family. It cheered me up no end and even though that little excursion was exhausting we still laugh about the memory to this day.
We have to make the best of the situation we are in, now more than ever and take pleasure in the simple things. Take back control in small ways to help us feel like we are not at the mercy of the strange events going on around us. Keep a routine. Do the things that make us happy – watching a movie, cooking, dancing, exercising, video chatting with friends. Just because we are restricted in our normal activities and have to stay home, doesn’t mean we should succumb to the anxiety that is building up. If you have your health, be thankful. If you are feeling unwell and self isolating try to stay connected.
We have been through worse and have seen better days but if I know anything from my own experiences it’s that worrying about things that are not in our control never made it better. I only wasted energy I could have been putting into the small wins that would have helped me feel better. That day it was having my lollipop cheesecake tree. Today it might be getting in a 20 minute work out. Tomorrow it’s a video call with my Mum and Dad to make sure they are ok. We are a generation that has had it so good for so long that we have forgotten what it feels like to be tested. But we have to dig deep because believe me when I tell you we all have it in us to get through whatever life throws at us. It’s about mindset. If you focus on what you can’t do then it will be frustrating and stressful. But if you look at all the things you still can do, it changes your outlook. For once in our lives we have time. Time to reflect, time to spend with the members of our household. Time to learn, get fit, find a new hobby. Yes we all wish it could be under better circumstances but that’s not in our hands. How we deal with it is.