Freedom From Fear During Covid-19 Quarantine

First of all, it’s ok to be feeling fearful right now. Whether that’s because you are physically or mentally vulnerable, concerned about the virus affecting your loved ones, worried about your finances, stressing over a trip to the shops, frightened by the Draconian changes to the law, or contemplating the possible fallout of this situation; there is a space here for you.

As an asthmatic single mother who has also been side-tracked by dystopian imaginings due to China’s social credit system and last year’s Event 201, I have gone through a range of these fears. The words to note there are “gone through”. For, although we remain in lockdown and still have no idea when or how this will end, I currently reside in a state of equilibrium and remain informed by new developments without feeling emotionally swayed by them. That does not mean the fear will not arise again, but that I can take joy in the moments of taking pause and noticing that – right here, right now – all is fine. There is food in the shops, the children are playing, the earth keeps spinning, and – if you’re reading this – here you are blessed with another day in this crazy world.

Anyway, I hoped to share with you a few of the ways I’m staying calm and collected during this global crisis. These will not be right for or applicable to everyone, but if just a few of those who need these ideas find them, my job here is done.

I write this from the perspective of an ‘unsupported’ lone parent to four children, the eldest of whom is autistic and the youngest breastfeeding. By ‘unsupported’, I do not deny that I have some incredible friends who step up to help me when they know I need it, but that on a day-to-day basis I cannot assume help from anyone. I am self-sufficient to a fault, but this has also made for some pragmatic and philosophical crutches that I share below.

1. Compile your hospital / grab bags

My main fear as a lone parent – even before Covid-19 – is that I will become severely ill and have to figure out at what point I call for help. I long ago reached the conclusion that “Who would have the children?” is a pointless worry – if I’m that ill, I’d shed my pride to call friends, or social services would deal with them.

So, apart from that, experience tells me that when I or one of my children has had to be admitted to hospital in the past, I have been let down by my lack of preparation for unforeseen circumstances. If there is one lesson we perhaps all learnt from the panic-buying just a few weeks ago, it is that it pays to be physically prepared in advance of a crisis hitting.

Something that puts my mind at rest with regards to the scenario of being rushed into hospital is that both myself and each of my children has a bag prepared for a sudden change of scene. There is nothing worse than being told you have to immediately leave your home yet having a mad scramble for all the things you might need whilst simultaneously feeling emotionally charged – I know this due to being evacuated from my home due to a sinkhole scare when my youngest was just 10 days old.

What people put in their grab bags is unique to them, but there are some obvious necessities: a change of clothes, basic toiletries, any regular medication, a notebook and pen, important personal documents, non-perishable snacks, a bottle of water, a little cash, and something to keep you occupied.

With regards to the children’s bags (and taking this preparedness task beyond this pandemic), you will want to factor in an annual refresh for age-appropriate needs, correctly-sized clothing, and to ensure that snacks are replenished for those with a longer shelf-life.

It also makes sense to keep a short list of daily-used items which you still need to grab separately as you leave, e.g. your mobile phone and charger, the kids’ favourite cuddly toys (or, more likely, electronic devices), and spare house keys for the person who may support your family during your time of need.

This simple task can go a long way towards maintaining peace of mind despite an unknown, unpredictable future.

2. Know your support networks

Admittedly, at the best of times I’m not great at making the most of the support on offer to me. ‘Official’ support services have often seemed patronising and perfunctory, and the selfless support of friends leaves me feeling indebted, however much they protest that I needn’t feel that way.

But times have changed and we all need to be helping and accepting help at every opportunity – building connections and community even while we can’t socialise (especially while we can’t socialise).

When we went into this crisis, I dropped into worst-case scenario thoughts. I imagined civil unrest and extreme isolation. I became anxious about the authoritarian policies we would be living under. I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen to those people already suffering from mental health problems or trapped in abusive relationships. I projected my worries of a future not yet here right into my present reality of peace and plenty. I had to allow these thoughts full expression in order to relinquish them and move into a more mentally-healthy state.

An important part of letting go of unconstructive thoughts is to recognise what is actually happening in your immediate here and now. For me, that was seeing all the helpers appearing, even if just through the window of social media. There have been so many people offering friendship and support to one another, so many willing to step up and help people they have never met before, so many friends checking in and sending love, so many local initiatives arising to fill the gaps that neoliberalism has created in our communities.

There is so much order arising out of what could have been disorder. It fills me with hope that, whatever happens, people will come together to look after one another. And it makes me realise that, however unsupported I have felt as a single mother in the past, I am currently recognising and appreciating all the options I currently have to seek support should I need it. And there is such freedom from fear in that.

3. Relax about ‘schooling’

As an ex-home educator, I really must make the distinction between ‘education’ and ‘schooling’. Between ‘learning’ and ‘curricula’. It has saddened me to see how many parents are struggling to adjust to lockdown, not only because they are suddenly yanked from their own routines, not only because their children are suddenly yanked from their routines, not only because the whole family are suddenly foist together 24/7 without a their usual breaks or freedoms – but on top of that they feel pressured to replicate school at home and ‘keep up’ with schoolwork.

Stop! So many people have just been told their jobs are not really that important. So many people are recognising that the sociopolitical paradigm we have been living in is not necessarily that which supports human flourishing. So many things are being turned upside down, that perhaps we can question that which we took for granted – not only those things which are precious and deserve deeper gratitude, but also those systems and institutions we are conditioned to that may not be strictly necessary for our family’s health and well-being.

For some children, continuing with the routines, schedules, and activities of school will be their sense of normality amidst this chaos. If both parent and child are able to work together with that, that’s great. But for many children and parents, this time at home with family will be a precious breather from the pressures of school and after-school activities. It is a chance to step back and appreciate the moments we may usually have to rush through.

This is a chance to create a rhythm tailored to your own family. To focus on creating a nest of love, safety, and security. To witness that which truly lights up your children and allow them freedom to explore those things while the demands of school don’t call. And you will find that – amidst the lie-ins or late nights, the lack of interest in reading or writing, the ridiculous amount of screentime, the times when you worry that the kids “aren’t doing enough” – there is learning, there is connection, there are realisations, there is growth.

Children are ‘learning all the time’ (that is also the title of an appropriate and inspiring book by the educationalist John Holt). Please don’t worry about them ‘falling behind’ or ‘missing out’ – the priority right now is our health, both physical and mental. The most valuable things we can teach our children right now are equanimity, resilience, and refuge in the face of struggles. And that love is always the answer to the most important questions.

4. Recognise your simple pleasures and mini freedoms

While here in the UK we are currently allowed our daily fresh air to get our exercise, I am well aware that this isn’t true for countries in strict lockdown and that stricter restrictions may be coming here. In light of this, I have already started planning for the things I will do or notice to secure my little freedoms during lockdown.

We have communal outdoor space here, and I will be cherishing the sunny days that I can go and put my washing to dry on the washing lines, even if that is a mere 5 minutes of outdoor time. I love springtime laundry airing most years, but this year it has a bittersweet poignancy from which a keen appreciation arises.

We have a double-aspect south-facing living room, and I will be lifting my blinds and opening my windows to let the sun and air stream in. I will sit in the sunlight even as I sit in my home (and will be encouraging my children to do the same to get their natural vitamin D).
Your living situation will be different to mine – for better or worse – but I hope you can also find the nooks in your day and your home that give you opportunity to momentarily taste the outdoors.

I will also be giving thanks for the simple pleasures that we so often take for granted. The whole-hearted hugs of my children. The sloppy kisses of my 2-year-old. The fresh fruit and vegetables provided by local businesses. The private messages to and from friends that have taken on such significance in this physically-disconnected yet emotionally-connected crisis. The running water, electricity, and emails of reassurance from food stockists, that tell us that we are safe and abundant – times are strange but the infrastructure on which we rely for survival is still ticking over.

This is, relatively speaking, a comfortable crisis for most people in the Western world. While it is usually considered crude to pull the cards of having it better than people in warzones or famines or shanty towns because it diminishes our valid concerns about the difficulties of those who are vulnerable in our own locales, I think there is no better time to be grateful for the basic necessities of life than during a global crisis. Our true needs are brought into stark relief.

I do appreciate that not everyone is as privileged as I am to have a comfortable life in the UK, and that many people are in less than ideal domestic situations. However, if you have your own home to sit in, with food in the fridge, energy and water on demand, people to love and be loved by (whether near or far), and something to entertain you, you are doing pretty well in the grand scheme of crises.

It is hard – but it could be a lot worse.

5. Develop and cherish your intellectual and spiritual freedom

It’s ok if you’re not interested in the positive psychology of ‘self-development’ and would rather watch your favourite TV series, play games, and enjoy goal-less chill out sessions with a beverage. The self-development industry has a lot to answer for in rallying people to thrive despite their outer circumstances – we’re not all in the financial or psychological position to do that, and spiritual ‘quick fixes’ are rarely quick for those new to such mindsets.

However, I will say that – when physical and external circumstances are beyond our control – having the time and space to think for ourselves is where our true freedom lies. Whatever the media narrative or mainstream social discourse, ultimately only you can control what you think. We might be stuck within the walls of our homes, but mind, imagination, and spirit have no such restrictions. Be free!

This is the perfect time for the realisation of those oft-quoted ‘spiritual truths’ that tell us our only boundary to inner peace and enlightenment is the monkey mind. We can rail against the practical and mental frustrations of social distancing and self-isolation, but where does it get us? It is evidence that, so often, our felt ‘reality’ is not about our physical circumstances but how we conceptualise those circumstances.

If it wasn’t for having 4 children to care for, I could well see this period of isolation as the silent spiritual retreat I have long sought after. For others, maybe it’s time to escape into the things you really enjoy or have long aspired to do – things that will divert you from the fear-filled and fear-fuelling news reports and transport you to the internal place from which joy and creativity arise. From meditating to reading to playing guitar to painting to gardening to studying to doing messy crafts with the kids – being in the moment with what you love is the key to taking this indefinite period of quarantine one purposeful step at a time.

Above all, you didn’t choose this. There is no part of this for which you can turn the blame on yourself, as we are apt to do when our lives don’t go according to plan. This awareness of our lack of control is a wonderful portal into the spiritual or philosophical equanimity this situation can afford us. If we can let go of what April 2020 was ‘supposed’ to be, we can be present and loving with what actually is.

How I Caught The Travel Bug

 

Almond blossom, Atlas mountains

I suddenly realise that I’m no longer scared. I have so much to tell you about my experiences of life as a mum who travels, yet have hitherto been possessive of those memories as if sharing them with the world will somehow betray my family. Yet, whilst I sense this first post may be somewhat navel-gazing, I now believe that my valuable experiences can translate into useful information for other people. I hope to share that information via Free To Be.

I have no doubt that I will find myself writing of things that seem ridiculous, naïve or irresponsible in hindsight and that, in documenting the life of my children and my partner via a medium that may never be erased, I will be careful to ensure that some things remain sacred. I am very conscious of the image I am putting across, whilst simultaneously very conscious that I don’t actually want to be putting across a mere ‘image’ – I intend to be open and honest in my accounts of our life. Just not brutally so.

I also recognise that the deployment of this blog is very much a commitment to the path I’m on. I’m not known for my ability to stick at something for long before being whisked off my feet by my next big interest. It feels exhilarating to come out and say “This is me. This is my family. This is my life.”

I have come many miles since my days of life as a new mother, and those miles aren’t just air miles.

I suddenly realise that I’m no longer scared.


The About page gives you a snapshot of where we are now, but I also feel a little background is forthcoming, a description of the seed which has resulted in the fruit of this blog . . .

It’s late summer 2010 and I’m in the midst of training to become a breastfeeding counsellor for a national organisation. I’m given the opportunity to travel up to Scotland for a study weekend and I decide it will also be a good chance to enjoy a brief exploration of a country I had always hoped to visit. Given the go-ahead to have the first spot of ‘me time’ since giving birth to FreeToBeP in Spring 2008 (thanks to my mum agreeing to be the babysitter for any study weekends I’m required to do), I decide to spend a total of four days away – two days for my course plus an additional two days in Edinburgh.

This is no simple feat, for I’ve never left FreeToBeP with anyone else overnight and “mummy milk” remains his comforter of choice. I also decide to fly there; it’s the quickest and cheapest way to get to Scotland from my home on the south coast, thus I deduce that I should just take some Rescue Remedy and go for it.

For some reason – despite only ever taking two short, uneventful flights between the UK and Holland some 12 or so years before – I had a huge fear of flying. That, plus my concern about environmental matters associated with excessive air travel, meant that I’d made some good excuses not to travel anywhere that required a plane. I didn’t even own a passport at that point – lucky for me that for domestic flights you don’t require one providing you have alternative ID such as a driving license.

I’d also developed what I still consider a healthy opinion that there is so much to discover on my own doorstep and so many places yet to visit in Britain itself, that the desire to travel further afield rarely surfaced. Oh, how I cocked my eyebrow and scoffed at the part of my astrological birth chart analysis that said I’d be very likely to live in another country one day (as I type this, I’m seriously considering emigrating).

Well, a mere four days in Scotland, including two days of being the tourist, kindled a fire that has been burning quite steadily ever since. It could be blazing by now, but family matters have a way of keeping this fire under control at the moment.

I sat on the outbound plane reading Sufi philosophy and decided I was quite at one with the idea of my own mortality. This helped with the nerves associated with hurtling through the air in a manmade object controlled by the hands of fallible creatures. I relaxed and felt awed by the fact that I was thousands of feet up in the air, experiencing views that I felt deeply privileged to see – I felt quite close to something that some might call ‘God’, lost in amazement that I could be looking down on the earth in this way, riveted by the sea of clouds, grateful to be living in a time when humanity has access to such technological advances. It was akin to the fascination experienced when all of the unfathomable mysteries of the universe layer themselves up in one’s very vision as one gazes up at the stars. I closed my eyes and felt more at peace in myself than I had in a long time; full of colour and hope. Yes, knowing I had four toddler-free days ahead of me probably helped, but it was much more than that. It was one of those transcendental moments that seem to come out of nowhere. As I opened my eyes and glanced out of the window, I saw a rainbow playing above the plane’s wing as the late afternoon sun bounced off it. Yes, it sounds clichéd and predictable but “it was a sign!”

Looking back, the sense of freedom and life and adventure I recall from this trip are more vivid than the memories of the trip itself. It was definitely a case of something being much more than the sum of its parts. I intend to return to Edinburgh one day – in some ways, it will be like returning to the point of conception; if the remainder of this post is about my rebirth into a new state of being, this captivating Scottish city was surely the place whereat it all began.

Makars' Court, Edinburgh
Makars’ Court, Edinburgh

A couple of months later and it’s nearing Christmas, the time of year when one starts reflecting on what might be to come during the following 12 months. A browse in my local library has furnished me with the book which is to irrevocably change the course of my life:

I initially picked up The Passion Test as I was a sucker for all things ‘self-development’, yet I didn’t necessarily believe this would have any more significant an impact on my life than the many other books on personal growth that I’d read in my time. But it involved a self-assessment test and, hey, they’re fun to do (at least I think so).

Wow! Years of studying and training in various spiritual paths and techniques didn’t get to the root of my personal destiny quite like this book did. Whilst on the one hand I feel that anything about personal desire does smack of the ego state that Eastern philosophy would have us all forego in order to find our inner (and therefore outer) peace, on the other hand I felt a very real connection with something immense and important as I contemplated what my personal Passion Test had revealed.

I intuitively listed 23 things that I felt passionate about when considering the opener “When my life is ideal I am . . .”

My list included such things as:

I am . . . writing successful poetry, essays and articles.

I am . . . loving and being loved by a partner who I connect with physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

I am . . . frequently having fun with family and friends.

I am . . . enjoying perfect health with vitality, energy and stamina.

Of this list of 23, I then picked the five things that set my nerves tingling, my sense of joy soaring and my face wondrously grinning in excited expectation. Four of them were more abstract ‘feeling’ items that would be very much a case of internalising and acting upon the spiritual and psychological theory I had spent years acquiring. Yet the fifth was much more tangible:

When my life is ideal I am travelling around the world visiting sacred sites, temples and places of natural beauty.

And so it appears that, after years of struggling to figure out my place in the world and wondering why ‘settling down’ is such an elusive state of being for me, all my desires, interests and inspirations boil down to one thing: world travel.

Something I had always said wasn’t an interest or priority is suddenly the single most important thing I know I must do.

The little voice of fear pipes up: “Running away again?” No. This is not about escaping something; this is about making the most of my freedoms and listening to the louder voice that says “You can!”

You can go and see all the wondrous sights and sites you would like to see.”

You can satisfy the part of you that has always been interested in and intrigued by other cultures.”

You can go wherever you want to go without needing to make excuses about costs or other practicalities: you know that when your heart takes the lead, everything you need makes its way to you.”

And the biggest one to clear the biggest doubt of that moment:

You can travel with children as a single mother.”

 

I suddenly realised that I wouldn’t be the first single mother to go out and see the world with her child.

I suddenly realised that I could spend all my life waiting to feel ‘settled’ only to never have really satisfied the constant internal restlessness.

I suddenly realised that the exclamation “I want to travel the world!” resonated to the core of my being.

I suddenly realised that I had nothing to lose and so much to gain.

I suddenly realised that this would be a huge part of my life’s purpose.

I suddenly realised that I was no longer scared.

 


Was there a big “Aha!” moment for you in discovering the desire to travel? Or, indeed, any other sense of purpose or destiny in your life? Did you trust it and act upon it? I’d love to hear your stories and to know of any other life-changing books, revelations or experiences that set up a new course of life for you – feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Next week: 10 Mind-Altering Family Travel Tips