Social distancing is not the same as social absence

Dear reader,

I received an article today on longitudinal empirical evidence of COVID-19 spread in numbers and figures. The article took 26 mins to read, but I’m a slow reader and need time to process and analyse the meta level of author’s context, undertone and aim of the whole narrative, so I read it in about an hour.

Most of the world as of today is going into quarantine, self-isolation or compulsory prohibition or free movement. In other words, for many people that feels like a prison. As someone who used to work in a prison, allow me to make this comparison, as black and white as it may appear. This post is in no way trying to diminish or minimise the article’s point and I think it is very useful that we are aware and acquainted with the facts that are surrounding us. But I advocate that facts need to come with a bit of balance of interpreting as well as a balance of the effects we are wanting to spread among people when trying to do the best thing – help them. So here is my view, which I hope would add and build on hope.

The implications of the pandemics are not only economical. They will affect people’s mental health and wellbeing, not just because of the fear of getting ill, but because of restricted freedom and dictated ways of being. History shows us that taking away one’s freedom and isolation are one of the most commonly used means of torture. As much as our current state is for now nowhere near imprisonment, it is likely to leave similar effects. Have a look at numbers of divorce in China and you’ll quickly see what I mean.

The article highly recommended social distancing. And avoid leaving home if one’s been experiencing symptoms. This is backed up by evidence that social distancing works in trying to keep the spread low and gradual. But there is one discourse misunderstanding I see people make when trying to obey the recommendation (or order in some countries/cases). And here is the thought that I would really like to communicate across

Social distancing should not be interpreted as social absence – completely removing yourself from social life.

Having no (or little) physical contact with others is by no means implying that one should not have emotional and social contact with others. Social life has not disappeared. It is changing. Re-defining. You do not have to avoid your neighbour across the street if you see them appearing on the door to take the rubbish out. The virus does not spread by looking at each other and making a remote friendly gesture.

I do hope that as much as we need to stay vigilant in these tough times, we do not become socially isolated. We have not disappeared from each other, we are still here and in this – together. I will soon prepare a webinar on that. The one that will help us stay vigilant and hopeful. If you are interested, send me your email at biba@ribalon.org. And take care of yourselves and each other in the way that makes your lives worth living.

Biba

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How many do we really need?

My Birthday, Our Future

Dear reader,

another year turned around and if you are here, you are lucky. Many people are dying these days – more than normally. Death is part of life, but life as is happening now, is something most of us are not used to. Not in a good way.

I walk the streets of London and they change day by day. Massively. Less and less people, trains and Tube feeling like Phantoms, shops either empty or overly crowded while people aspire not to be too close to one another. Schools closing. Shops and restaurants closing. The Covid-19 has touched all of our lives and it feels like we are fighting an enemy we don’t know, don’t see and don’t notice when it’s present, but we are aware that it is there, among us every second we dare to live.

This is the time where it is very easy to collapse, fear and lose hope. I watch people and they are petrified. Closed down. Or pretending nothing’s happening.

This is also the time where care escalates. Where public and private sectors continue to work and make trials and errors to get us all through this. Our street has received community notices on the door to educate us how to protect ourselves and our loved ones. And in the shop today, as people were queueing to enter the store, they still found some kindness and consideration to let a mother with a buggy enter first. The neighbours still say hello to each other, even though from the distance. And families who have locked themselves in their houses, are spending quality time together. It seems as if winter is coming even though the nature is sprouting but undoubtedly, there will be scent of cinnamon and freshly baked biscuits breezing through the windows. There will be small acts of kindness everywhere, among increased crime and impatience. As much as we cannot know or predict how long this uncertain period will last or when its peak will be, we do have a choice to direct our focus: either on how our systems are collapsing, or on how our systems are coping. You will find evidence of both. And imagine what difference it might make to your wellbeing (and possibly health, definitely mental health), if you choose to focus on what (still) works.

I hope that in a year time I will write another blog for my birthday. But if I don’t that’s fine too. It has been some ride, this life journey and I am glad we are all still here. As a mental health professional, I am also minding that the general pandemics will cause people to experience mental health difficulties they haven’t experienced before. I do hope that if it happens to you, you will get in touch with someone who can be with you through those times and help you sustain your wellbeing. You can also write to me.

Wishing you all sharp focus of your choice and wash your hands in the way that is right for you and others around you,

Biba

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