Dancing with the mysterious … called Covid I turned towards my self-consciousness and body as my guides.
By Natalie Hodgson
It was time for the Friday office group picture. One week to go! We all cheered as we ended another full and busy school day. This was not a normal week. First term back after lockdown. A flurry of new rules, protocols and adjusting back to social and academic expectations.
We had done well as a school community. We had managed to keep the school fully operational and all year grades present… until this week. Each day was a new positive case, in this case positive is a bad thing, followed by a year group sent home and a few students isolating. With Google classroom activated, and teachers tucked away in silent rooms to give lectures, it seemed like this maybe the new norm.
Public Health England had a hotline set up for school Senior Leadership Teams (SLT), with school management and governors reaching out for advice this October. We certainly did our share of calling in. This was also my new job. After four years freelance teaching (Mindfulness and Yoga) in schools and for community groups, I decided over lockdown to take a permeant role in a secondary school in Bristol. So far it had been exciting, fulfilling, and enjoyable.
Walking home that Friday I was indeed happy that the weekend had come. All week I had noticed my low energy levels following the kids to bed after the bedtime story. I concluded the fatigue was due to end of term fuzziness; adapting to full time hours and juggling homelife. The autumn mornings were also getting darker and the afternoons cooler. On the footpath home I passed a large pile of dog droppings and quickly diverted my boot heel to the right. How I wished owners would do the decent thing. Then I thought it was strange that I did not smell it. I was quite proud of my extra sharp sense of smell. I can smell what is in a bag before it is taken out. I detect my boy’s unwashed feet from across the room as he denies not going for a bath. I can detect the nose turning odour in the fridge within seconds while other family members did not seem to mind it.
Tonight, I was going to make a vegetable curry, roti and coconut rice. Once home I started on the meal straight away, opening the curry powder jar to begin the dish. Tilting my head to maneuver my nose to top of the jar I was shocked that there was not one wisp of flavour that met my Bowman’s gland. What is this? A check of the expiry date confirmed the spices were still fresh.
Quickly calling one of my children to verify, I stuck it under their nose. ‘Mum!’ my son screamed, ‘stop it, it’s so close to my nose URGH’. They do enjoy my curries and have frequently accompanied me to the spice markets however have yet to appreciate the world of spices.
I stopped, looked down at the jar and then furiously opened several others. Five spice, cinnamon, turmeric, coriander. None of them. None of them smelt like anything. Really is this possible? And then the penny dropped. I have lost it. My sense of smell.
In the next two hours, I was in a slight state of panic. I called the test centre hotline, booked a test for 7:30 pm that night and received results on Monday – POSITIVE. Remember positive means bad. Even if you wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, and social distance, as you must, you might still contract this disease. I was living proof. The NHS letter stated ‘ Your coronavirus test result is positive. It means you had the virus when the test was done
Try not to worry. You can often ease symptoms at home until you recover.
You must, by LAW, self-isolate for 10 days from your symptoms starting. If you’ve not had symptoms, self-isolate for 10 days from your test.
Don’t worry!? I have two little children and one of them is a severe asthmatic! Ease symptoms? Does that mean I will have more? I couldn’t sleep that night or the two after that.
On March 24, a headline in the Financial Times proclaimed that “Coronavirus may have infected half of UK population,” suggesting that many people in the region may have already recovered from and developed some immunity to COVID-19.
The article stated that if you work towards staying healthy, get enough exercise and eat a balanced diet recovery is guaranteed. This was the positive side. So that’s what I needed to do.
I know can look back now and remember not enjoying my lunch on that Friday, thinking I put too much olive oil on my salad as it tasted bland.
What did this really mean? Are we safe? Is my health forever jeopardised? I had lost my sense of taste and smell. They were gone, completely. This is the strangest sensation. Your brain knows what you should be tasting. The eyes recognise the food, the brain identifies the contents and sends messages for your mouth to start salivating. The food is placed in your mouth and then – NOTHING. The brain continues to send these messages as the tongue swirls these familiar textures and the inside cheeks caresses the cuisine. However, the tastebuds cannot reciprocate these signals and so there is a confused yet still nourishing scenario.
You do still get hungry and eat. Well I certainly did. If blind folded you could have given me playdough spaghetti and I would have lapped it up, deluded that this was the real deal.
Unsurprisingly, people working in health care and education have the highest estimated risk of exposure to the coronavirus. So why was I so surprised? So yes, I have it. This mysterious demon, this invisible monster, this global air-born atomized terror, this nightmare. Call it an atmospheric threat. Since March it is was almost like the world is in a ‘straight-to-video’ horror movie with the threat of the next sequal always ‘Coming Soon’. Something so real it kept my family in lockdown for six months. It kept us from our bi-annual family holiday to Australia, my birthday party, my daughters Holy Communion to name few. Yet so strange and mysterious at the time as we huddled in front of the TV learning more through BBC updates, Boris’ announcements and the NHS death tolls.
Well I had now joined the gang of 43.3 million cases across the planet. The plague of the 21st century was in my body. But now what? Isolation – yes. Home shopping. No outdoor exercising. This was déjà vu. What fretted me the most was exposing my husband and children. It would be impossible for me to fully isolate. I had nowhere else to go. As an expat in England, I had no other family here. No country home to escape too. What would that mean for them? I prayed every night that are safe. Safe from me. Their wife, mother. The culprit, the carrier of this virus. It was no longer just on the news, it was me.
I never showed signs of persistent dry cough or a debilitatingly high fever throughout the 10-day period of isolation. So why was I worried?
Boris Johnson had it. Trump and his family had it. So after 8 days I still had no energy in the mornings. My appetite had decreased; however, my sense of smell was ever so slowly luring its way back. My yardstick of recovery, I returned to the curry powder jar daily experiencing eureka moments with the slightest hint of odour. Was I improving?
Each night was a different nightmare. How would I be perceived at work? How would the children be received at school? Would this affect the children’s health in the future? Research has yet to be revealed on the real effects of this pandemic, on the youth, on the unborn babies on the ‘so called recovered 100% cases.
I sat, I practised everyday as I normally did. My mindfulness practise was my constant. My personal yoga practise began at the age of 13 and in 2009 when studying to become a mindfulness teacher I realised that I had indeed been practising mindfulness through movement. Receiving intelligence and messages from my body through slow, deliberate poses, raising my awareness with each movement. Yoga and mindfulness go hand in hand.
Mindfulness is not an idea, it’s a practice. It requires daily commitment, passion and stamina. It has become as vital to me as breathing, eating and drinking. It is my career. I lecture people on how life-changing it is and witness the many wonderful journeys my clients and students make through the MBSR (Link to course) or Mindfulness in Schools Program (MISP) programs.
My practise helped me see and understand my habitual ways of thinking. My clinging on to the unknown of Covid, the worry I was inflicting on my family. My behaviours stemming from these thoughts and worries that were all based on hypothesis. Imaginary outcomes that had no facts, no truth and my way of ruminating to the worst possible outcomes. Not even the C-19 experts working day and night can answer my questions. There were no answers, not even a vaccine, yet this didn’t stop the daily worry ‘bugs’ plaguing my thoughts.
Yes, this is a life challenge. One of many that we will experience. Sitting in silence and recognising these habitual thoughts I can jot them down – I can have a conversation about them. I can digest them as probabilities that are taking me away from really ‘being’ with my family, enjoying the home time and redirecting my energies towards staying healthy and counting our many blessings (safety, family, friends, a beautiful home, a great school etc etc). My mindfulness practise helps me to respond differently, more kindly and compassionately to myself, others and life’s challenges.
The ‘Serenity Prayer’ by Reinhold Niebuhr captures this philosophy, calm and aspiration.
Grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
What I suffered the most from was the absence of touch. I couldn’t hug and caress the people I love. The power of touch, the purest exchange of love I could not express. Touch is like a circuit board lighting up your insides, something I can’t have enough of. I am a junkie and need my fix!
This was what hurt me the most. I knew it would not be forever, and I hung on to the memory of a flying bodies crashing down on our bed at 6am for their kiss good morning, the couch snuggles and the sloppy blow neck kisses goodnight. My gratitude levels peaked as I counted down the days when these daily treasures would return.
So now? Well, while this year has undoubtedly been one of the toughest times I can remember, I know that there is no real substitute for touch. The bond it creates, the trust it conveys – it’s our evolutionary background and how we cope as humans. It did not stop us from baking together, playing board games, joining in art workshops and dancing our little heart outs with online classes (all 2 meters apart).
Who knows how this virus in my system will affect me in the future, in my old age, my ability to fight other illnesses? On my part, I plan to donate plasma. My hope is that my antibodies will help someone else win their fight against the novel monster coronavirus.
My daily mindfulness practice gave me access to the intelligence of my body, as I sensed its wise messages guiding me. It taught me to stop the obsession with trying to find the answers but instead look deeply at the questions, such as ‘what will nourish me right now’ or ‘how can I tend to me family’s needs and emotional care’? These questions led me to trust in the deeper harmony and unseen way of my ‘whole’.
The greatest teaching in the past few weeks has been that obstacles are forms of guidance in disguise and life is not always safe and secure, but I know to trust that I can hold 10,000 joys with 10,000 sorrows in loving witness of my awareness with gratitude and the miracle of being alive.
If you have never tried mindfulness before I deeply recommend joining a group and doing a MBSR 8-week program. You may not think it is for you, but if you find yourself anxious in the challenges life throws your way or lacking courage to make the changes you want to see, then just give it a go.
Mindfulness will help you ease tension, release stress, and teach you strategies to calm your worrying mind. Something you will need at some point in your life. Who knows you may even enjoy it!
Join us in the next Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program. It will teach you simple yet powerful strategies to rewire your brain for peace, gratitude, and presence.