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Life in a time of covid-19 - part 7: self help

Self and help, as in the title above ... we all know what self is. It's me. It's who you are to you. And help? We understand that too. But self help. Do we really know what that is? Or more importantly, do we know how to practise self help? Or where to find it? Or if we find it, what to do with it? And why we should bother?

Let's start at the beginning; with a definition -

Self help is the assistance one gives to oneself. This assistance is achieved through the solving of personal problems ... what does that mean? Basically one turns into a hunter-gatherer, tracking and trapping helpful resources which are then used to benefit oneself. Hmmm ... there are too many ones and oneselves here ... essentially you search for things that will help and then do whatever those things are.

Self help - done properly - results in improved resilience and wellbeing. Thus, self help is good. It sounds easy-ish. But the -ish becomes more heavily weighted when the world is being throttled by a pandemic. We look at the self bit of self help and turn away. There are too many others to help! But we don't know how and our world is shrinking. And we feel so alone. And help-less. And we turn in on ourselves in a totally unhelpful way.

All this social distancing and self isolation forces a malignant form of introspection, which is not helpful at all.

Malignant introspection is associated with definable hazards. Like the wasps swarming round an unwary muzzle attached to the dog that just ate the last over-ripe autumn apple, or midges descending in clouds on the heads of picnickers on a remote loch-side, this malignant introspection comes with stings attached ...

... a massive increase in screen time; obsessing over your twitter feed; time wasted staring at your phone waiting for messages - ditto with email inbox; a worry-fest triggered by too much news; eating too much; exercising too little; a slow attrition of good intention; sloth; laziness; allowing that feral beard to grow; and the pensioning-off of depillators; endless hours trying to find bread-flour and loo roll on the internet with a delivery date before the end of May; gambling because you're bored; arguments over nothing at a time when nothings fuelled by frustration grow into boiling monsters; anxiety, depression and despair ...

Oh boy - this malignant introspection is not good. Now; it's not good. Sometimes introspection helps - the non-malignant kind; sometimes - in normal times - we need to look inside ourselves to bring about a change for the better. Right now though, we look inside and risk seeing only what is wrong. If we allow our introspection to go too deep, we may not like what we see. And until the world recovers, we'd be better to superficially skate on shallower introspection and put all our strength into keeping upright. Yes? ... clinging on without drowning. I know a psychologist might disagree with this and might say that here lies the path to a mountain that will have to be dealt with one day, and that it would be easier to deal with it, before it grows. But I'd argue there's no easy dealing with anything right now and we're better to access whatever support we can find, to deal with the now that we are living. Shoot me down if I'm wrong, but let's get through this pandemic first.

In Life in a time of covid, parts 1-6, I suggested, in a very rambling fashion, some ways to counter these hazards: finding your happy place; practising ten daily gratitudes; being kind to yourself; making lists; and taking time to properly see and appreciate the world around you.

There is, of course, an alternative - we could opt to embrace the stings; let all the hazards happen - feel out of control - feel overwhelmed - feel despair. It wouldn't be illogical, given the circumstances. But it wouldn't help - not you, not those you love, not anyone anywhere near you. And it would do nothing to address the situation out there.

So ... self help in a time of covid. I think I've covered the why we need it. We need to know how to do it. And where to find it.

There are simple methods of self help - the mindfulness suggestions in parts 1-6. And many more that you can find on the internet or in books or through chatting to friends.

Below is a list: a few suggestions that I either use myself, or have found for others. It is not comprehensive and is mainly UK based. It is personal to me and you will need to look for yourself to find the things that will help you. Here goes - my self help tips -

  • a daily dose of Charlie Mackesy at @charliemackesy on Twitter or Instagram
  • drop in on Patrick Stewart reading a sonnet a day at @sirpatstew #ASonnetADay
  • feast your eyes on photographs from these three - Cristina Mittermeier, Paul Nicklen and Jimmy Chin at @mitty, @paulnicklen, and @jimmychin
  • smile with Gyles Brandreth and his daily jumpers (yes, really!); Stephen Fry and his ties and his bread making adventures; Joan Harris and her writerly wisdom; Robert MacFarlane ... just for everything he does to support the reading community; Chris Riddell for his drawings; Monty Don for his gardening tips; Pam Ayres for her gentle humour on twitter needed now, more than ever ... 
  • use the headspace app for mindfulness and meditation exercises on your phone -
  • listen to music
  • wallow in some poetry. Or just read a book.
  • keep in touch with your friends
  • speak to your family every day

Which of these are most important to me? The last two. And the last one; always.

Just a couple of quick self-help related notes to end with -

First, an item related to physical self-help: on Wednesday, the orange narcissist - channeling his inner Marie Antoinette - when asked about the lack of PPE for frontline staff, said "A lotta people have scarves ... there's no harm in it ..." - essentially saying 'Let them wear scarves!'

He was oblivious, of course, to the scientific fact - we all know the disdain with which he views science - that the virus is so small that it probably gets through the weave of the surgical masks most front-line staff are given (... or not given) to wear. How many people have proper-PPE-grade scarves!? Does he understand anything at all? Other than his ratings? There's no need to answer that! But - and I hate ... I really, really hate to say it ... it is possible that the WHO may, in the next couple of days, suggest that we should all be wearing 'masks' when we go out on our self-distancing, permitted walk, or essential shop. Because sneezes can travel many more metres than was previously thought. And I suppose, it's just about conceivable, that a scarf, if thick enough, might mitigate against some of that potential, sneezed, virus-laden spatter. So the orange narcissist's very small brain might just have made a very small but almost valid point - for the general public ... NOT for health care workers! Please, do follow the WHO guidance, if and when it is released, and don't take this as me advising you, here, to just wear a scarf. A scarf may not be sufficient - it most probably isn't. Do what the WHO suggests.

Second, and finally for today, consider exploring your creative side. We all have one. Some more skilled than others - yes; but undoubtedly, we can all create. Earlier this week, the British artist, David Hockney, currently isolating at his home in France, said this

"The only real things in life are food and love in that order, just like out little dog Ruby. I really believe this and the source of art is love."

He finished by advising everyone in this strange new world to have a go at finding their inner creative selves and to 'Have some fun.'

Have some fun. Self help by being creative and have some fun.

My attempt at creativity ... assisted by the pigeon that flew poetically across the sky at just the right moment - sunrise on Thursday


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