A letter to my COVID-19 fears

A few days ago, I chanced upon a wonderful piece of advice by the much-loved author, Elizabeth Gilbert. Although she recommends it before embarking on a creative project, the advice would be apt for our current times as well: Write a letter to your fear. 

Here’s what Elizabeth wrote to her fears before embarking on a book writing project. 

“Dearest Fear, 

Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life and that you take your job seriously…But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. 

And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this car…Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way…You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote…But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”

While you regain your breath after reading this letter, brace yourself for her next suggestion: write a letter back to fear from a space of happiness, and humanity. Tell fear about how well you’re going to handle this situation. So, shall we? 

Dear Fear, 

There’s a place for you during these COVID-driven times. You’re real, omnipresent, inescapable and honestly, catch on quick. Much as I try to distance myself from you, you creep up unexpectedly: during a video call with a friend (it was supposed to make things light); my social media feed and the barrage of WhatsApp memes. And you’re not just affecting my mind and emotions, but you’re also decreasing my body’s immunity and ability to fight viruses. But I’m going to try changing all that. So here’s my honest attempt: 

1) No more name-calling: From now on, I won’t be saying the C-name out too often. I’m going to call you my little friend, a guest who will be leaving soon, or to be a little Potteresque, ‘that-which-should-not-be-named.’ 

2) V-distancing: I’m getting pretty good at handling this social distancing bit. Now, I’m hoping to ace virus-distancing: exposing myself to limited updates on the global situation. I’m watching the news for 15 minutes for just twice a day; I have put a timer on some of my social media apps, and have also exited from some WhatsApp groups. 

I love you world, but can’t keep changing the rhythms of my mind with every 180-second-update I get. 

3) Making a schedule: I’ve made one daily schedule that has worked so far, but it needs to be tweaked and trimmed. A schedule just helps to give a structure to the day and keep things in a rhythm. 

  • Just a little suggestion from someone who is prone to being too ambitious with her day, and suffers many palpitations later.  Don’t try and overstuff the day. Yet it’s good to get ready, wear that watch, comb your hair, and dress comfortably and neatly. These little things help maintain a sense of normalcy. And make that list of things you want to do. 
  • You could have a busy day already – maybe you’re working from home and have more household chores; perhaps you have people who need your constant care and attention. Yet, make a list of things that add a little spunk in your day (upskill, paint, watch a funny video) – and try doing those things every other day. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes. 
  • Remember to also give yourself some ‘free’ time – some time where the schedule can lapse a little, or the flow of chores doesn’t have to be as regimented. Give yourself that downtime. 

The trick is to keep things challenging, slightly unattainable but yet easy if a focus is there. I read somewhere that this time is to create yourself into the version you’ve been dreaming of. I couldn’t agree more! 

4) Say hello: Decide on that one person of the day you’re going to call and check on. It could be anybody – show people that you care, tell them you’re concerned and simply talk. Chances are you will feel better (feels good to hear other people than the ones you’re living with!) and will gain other perspectives. Life might not seem fair or comfortable to you right now. Understandably so. Yet there are many blessings to count. 

I gained one such perspective.

 I was rattling away to my aunt who lives in Pune when she suddenly stopped me mid-sentence: Where are you walking? 

Confused, I replied, “In my gated community. There are very few people and as of now, walking outside is allowed.” 

“You’re so lucky! We’re not even allowed to walk on our terrace.”

She lives in the middle of a highly-crowded city’s nerve center while I stay in a semi-rural area. Yet, there are blessings to count. I began noticing the flowers and birds more closely. And have started taking pictures, enough to start a photography blog very soon. 

5) I like to move it: I try marching on the spot when I’m cutting vegetables (an art I’ve certainly not mastered!), walk around as I take my office calls, sometimes breaking into an ever-slow jog. While this is not enough, these are my ways of breaking down the daily step goal I’ve given myself. I’m managing to reach that goal daily and even dared to increase it by 1,000 steps. It keeps me vigilant and makes me aware of my inconsistent and often non-compliant relationship with exercise.

Just move. Move as much as you can and in ways that inspire you and make you feel super good. Yoga, dance, squats, walking, jogging at home – whatever makes you feel good. It’s just nice to have some exercise goal to reach. It really gives you a sense of achievement.  

6) I’m grateful: I’ve been reminding myself about things I’m grateful for. It’s not always easy and in those throes of irritation, and mental chatter – it’s tough to keep a focus. Yet, the good things are there. So I just try to make that my central lens. And if that lens gets cloudy or moves, I simply bring it back. 

7) You’re here: And that’s enough. The fact that we’re here at this point in time means that our being here matters. There is a purpose, a larger plan, a design. We might know it or are in the process of discovering it. Yet just believe in it. As writer Nicole Reed says: Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the most wonderful things that will ever happen to us. 

8) Find your chi: My inner energy levels might have been shaky, confused, in control, happy, careless… yet, it’s ever-present. One thing that truly keeps me going is spending some time every day in meditation. The quality of this time might differ from day-to-day. Some days are easier, others are restless. Yet, the time I spend with myself makes me calmer, and stronger for the remaining hours. This is one practice that holds me in good stead. 

So dearest fear, I can’t promise we won’t be meeting each other often. Yet, I prefer to minimize the time spent. I do hope you understand.

With much love. 

This article was first published on The Art of Living website.

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