Riding the Waves: Reflections on two months of self isolation

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It feels like ages since I last wrote to you dear reader.  The purpose of this blog is to outline some fragments of thought from two months of self isolation since coronavirus entered into all of our lives.

 As I write these words, I do so knowing that these events have impacted on us all in so many different ways.  I want to be clear that I do so from a position of real privilege.  I am not an NHS worker, putting my life on the line day in, day out, with what can only be seen in my view as a heroic level of dedication.  I am not a key worker.  My job is not to ensure that people are fed.

My job, at its most basic level, is to stay in.  I write this sat in the comfort of my own house, with access to the electricity supply that powers the computer I am using, and with access to heating, food, and a constant supply of clean running water.  I am so lucky.  On the days when I feel sad, or worried, this is what I come back to.

Brunch

Rewind two months ago today, and Fran and I were heading out for brunch.  It was something we had been promising to each other for a long time and not quite got around to.  The car park was busy, the restaurant buzzing.  People were sat close to one another, packed in tightly, listening to the live music that was being played in the restaurant.

It feels like I am describing another world.

Fran and I had been watching the developing news, and were aware that friends in other countries were beginning to lock down.  

Mindset

At this point, dear reader, I need to take you way back in time in order to understand the present day.  I warn you that this part of the blog may not be easy to read, so if you want to skip over it, I totally understand.

The thing is, I have always been three things: lucky, impatient, and stubborn. Oh so very stubborn.  Each of these can be seen in my arrival into the world, in January of 1983.  After a really tricky pregnancy in which I was lucky to have got as far as I did, I arrived six weeks prematurely, determined to see the world early.

“I have always been three things: lucky, impatient and stubborn. Oh so very stubborn.”

Truth is, I shouldn’t really have survived, and were it not for some brilliant medical care, I would not have been here at all.

Knowing this fact has always shaped the way I have lived my life, and thought about it too.  Knowing that just by living, you have defied the odds, few things are scary or formidable.  I am aware how precious every day is, and filled with a determination to make every day count.

Growing up, I also saw the fragility of life first hand.  I spent time in a special school before I went onto mainstream.  On so many occasions, I learned with great sadness that friends I had did not return to school and had gone, as we were told, to a better place.  As I grew up, my mum, who by sheer coincidence went on to work at the same school I had since left, visited me with that sombre look on her face and that tone of voice to deliver news.  It happened with such sad regularity that I knew what she was going to say before she spoke the words:  Someone I knew was no longer with us.

I write these words in order to set what follows into context.  Whilst I might treat coronavirus with respect, I will not let it fundamentally change who I am, nor alter the fundamentals of how I see life.  It might change the way and how I choose to live it for a while.  Who I am though, will remain unchanged. There are some things that this virus can and will not touch, nor will it define. 

Lessons in marking time

 It is funny how the various, seemingly tangential strands of your life can come to be useful in ways that you never imagined were possible.  The contemporary relevance of my PhD is one of those things.

In a previous chapter of my meandering career to date, my chosen field of study was offender rehabilitation. As part of this work, I chose to speak with people who agreed to talk to me about the serious crimes they had committed.  One of the aspects of these conversations was how they had experienced what had typically been quite long spells in confinement, including a life sentence in one instance.

Now clearly the context is very different here, but elements of this have sprung to mind of late, typically regarding how to mark spells of time which might span several years and are of a potentially unknown length.

How do you do that? Well, in the most pragmatic way, one takes things a day at a time.  Each unit of time is carefully deconstructed and reconstructed.  Fashioned in ways to make it more palatable.  

When I think back to some of what I heard during those conversations, my own marking of time feels so much more straightforward.

Making the time count, and riding the waves

Given my own mindset and the circumstances I have described, my own task is to spend the time keeping myself safe.  It is easy for me to feel powerless at times – and my way to respond to that has been to try and make the time I have count.

Another way in which I am fortunate is that I have the work, together with the structure, routine and chance to make a difference that it offers.  Whilst it isn’t the NHS front line, it still provides a way to make an impact.  Working in disability sport, I have a great job, and am stepping up to help those I work with navigate challenging waters.

I also write lists, lots of lists.  Lists of things I want to do, people to see, places to go when this is over.  

There will be lots more work to do too.  One of the things I have noted are increasingly over simplistic references to ‘the vulnerable’.  There is lots to be done here in order to ensure that those with impairments like me are not lost in this talk.  We have to keep seeing the whole person.  

“We have to keep seeing the person, not the vulnerability.”

 It is ok too to feel sad.  I have cried, felt sad, missed things.  I have also danced with Fran in the kitchen, and shared drinks with friends via virtual pubs.  I have had the privilege of speaking with and interviewing world class athletes via Twitter.  Positive creativity is a must in these circumstances.

 Faith is too.  We will get through this.  My belief in this, and in the capacity we all have to respond, individually and collectively, in the most positive ways possible when faced with challenge, remains undented.

Look at the fundraising efforts, the collective displays of solidarity, the new outlets found for expression and invention.

 There will be costs and bumpy times ahead, but we will ride this out.  Hopefully in some ways, we will be better for it too.

 

We can do this. Together.   

“We can do this. Together."


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About the Author

Chris Whitaker was born and grew up in Cheshire, arriving in the world with cerebral palsy after a complex childbirth. Apparently, he was lucky to be here at all and has tried to make the most of life ever since! Chris has worked in the third sector for a few years now and is also a charity trustee. Making a positive difference every day is what drives him and he gets to see the impact the third sector makes. Chris has also been able to use his own lived experience as a disabled person to make an input into his working life.

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