The world is changing, and so am I.

A personal reflection during an unprecedented trauma to a welcomed opportunity.

A guest article by Priya Ganatra

Priya Ganatra is a strategic commissioner for a local authority in one of the London Boroughs, as well as a complementary therapist. She has kindly agreed to share with our readers her own experience of the Covid-19 lock down. Priya’s article illustrates how a single event with implications for the whole of society, can also be an intensely personal, perhaps even traumatic, experience. She reflects on the many facets of her life and identity affected as she became unwell with Covid-19 and her experience of recovery and beyond, sharing some age old wisdom from the renowned 13th Century Persian poet and mystic, Rumi.

Priya describes her own background and passion for young people as follows: Growing up developing my own identity as a British Indian and deciding how I fit within the two communities was a big challenge, and despite being the sensitive, empathetic member of the family, I was known to push boundaries and fight for what mattered – equality. From an early age I was drawn to helping young people who were struggling and supporting those in similar circumstances led me to complete a postgraduate qualification in Applied Anthropology and Youth & Community Work, and pursue a career in working with young people.  I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to support young people develop positive life skills and experiences in the UK and America, both as a frontline youth worker and as a manager.My current role as the lead commissioner for mental health, and as a qualified practitioner of complementary therapy has allowed me to continue the pursuit of improving young people’s access to emotional mental health services.   

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My time leading up to catching the virus and the lockdown announcement felt hard.  I had no breathing space in my work or personal diary and I was losing motivation in all the things I once enjoyed, even driving into work had become a challenge.  The daily temptations to go back home and sleep, or drive somewhere else and sit in the car for that moment and just be, became all too familiar.  It was clear my body and mind needed a break, permission to stop and pause, I wished for time to freeze so I could just breathe.  

That morning as I struggled to get out of my car, feeling so tired, I could have never known that it would be my last day at work until…well who knows?  Or maybe a part of me did.  Why did I take my laptop home? Considering I never take it home.  Why did I say more goodbyes than usual? Maybe my body was telling me something.  The next day I came home from my volunteering commitment at the hospital, I climbed into bed with the onset of a fever and just slept, exhausted. I knew something felt different, just not sure what.

My patterns of avoiding saying no, being afraid to let people down or needing to fulfil my commitments be it with friends, family or professionally, allowed me to feel productive, worthwhile and alive.  So having had to say “No Thanks” for the first time, I welcomed the much needed gift of peaceful sleep.  I had silence, a comfortable space to lie down and just be. Immediately I recognised this privilege of living in a house and neighbourhood that allowed me to enjoy this feeling, after years of unwelcomed disturbances. 

The weekend went all too fast, as Sunday began its goodbye all that came to mind was preparation for another week full of work events, dinner with friends, treatments and other engagements. So I told myself “I must sleep this ‘thing’ off” and be energised, I need to fulfill my commitments to others and it’s not a ‘convenient’ time.  But somehow my fever wasn’t listening, it wasn’t bothered about my plans,  my body was telling me that the world around me was changing.

Suddenly my diary was being cleared for me, it wasn’t my choice to let anyone down.  All the decisions were taken out of my hands, surprisingly it felt acceptable, after all it wasn’t me that was cancelling! I felt a sense of peace with the lack of control even though I knew I had that choice all along. 

But my emotional pattern reappears, the voices in my head telling me “you are letting people down, you don’t have time to be ill, you have a role to fulfil”.  But my breathing doesn’t seem right, the shortness of breath and pain pulls me down, I have plans, I am busy, but my cough doesn’t care for this. 

How could I not provide my aromatherapy treatments? I was devastated to let a little girl down as I was unable to make her chocolate scented aromastick as a treat for her last day of radiotherapy treatment – that hit me hard in the core of my stomach. 

And yet I’m surprised how quickly I am getting my break, unintentionally I am getting what I had wished for- the world was changing around me and so was I.  I was learning to appreciate what I have and the people in my life, I was:

  • Grateful for having a peaceful environment to sleep and live in
  • Grateful for my infinitely loving, resilient, committed mother who cared for me as she has always done, I had the time and space to truly see it.
  • Grateful for a very supportive workplace: managers, colleagues, friends who showed compassion and just let me be, whilst keeping in gentle contact.
  • Grateful for family and friends around the world for their daily love and support, expressed through video calls, messaging, surprises and laughter.  This genuine care during a frightening time of daily loss of precious lives from contracting this virus was truly felt.   

Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life – Rumi

As I start to get better and I want to get back to my normal work I realised that this is different and it feels different.  I was taken back by the impact of ‘not being allowed’ to go anywhere or do the things that gave me purpose, a sense of self-validation, had on me – I experienced a sense of loss and bereavement.  How could I not be able to do the things that mattered the most to me?  How could I not show my full appreciation for the amazing NHS staff that I work with at the hospital and the patients who looked forward to the benefits of aromatherapy treatment as they anxiously wait for their radiotherapy?  And yet I felt wrong, unreasonable and selfish for being given the opportunity to rest and stay at home and save lives, seeking beauty from this chaos was my only option. 

So I let go and decided to just ‘be’ and enjoy the new found connections with people and appreciate how fortunate I am to have so many people from around the world to talk with. Turning to social media has been a comfort, light relief during this exploratory phase, there has been a solace in turning to health professionals, celebrities, spiritual practitioners, fitness experts and culinary artists at a time of needing familiar voices, faces, all with the ambition and passion in getting us through these uncertain times.

The author reflecting on the year ahead. Picture taken January 2020.

Amidst of this, I found myself addicted to this new comfort, a need to scroll through and be inspired, a want to follow and keep up with the latest video apps, things to stimulate my emotional/mental health.  A new kind of era, a calling to fit in and be connected.  As excited as I was to see people, I was just as quick to limit the constant use of devices.   I craved the answer to a question that cannot be given anytime soon: how long will this now last?

Whilst I’ve accepted that physically I’ve slowed down and rested, the thoughts in my mind have not.  I am realising the world is changing and I need to keep up.  I’ve felt the pressure now to be inspired and turn this involuntary pause into something productive like discovering my hidden and often ignored skills and creativity.  

In closing, a personal reflection: Sometimes we can’t see it when we are in chaos, but these moments if we choose to listen can change us for the better.  So I want to take this time, this welcomed opportunity to discover who I am: my self-value, purpose and self-worth whilst continuing service to others.  In the words of Rumi:

The inspiration you seek is already within you.  Be silent and listen.

Priya Ganatra – April 2020

You can download a distributable version of our infographic for the Covid-19 Five-a-day by clicking on the link here. Please do attribute if you use it.

Over the last few weeks we have published a number of interesting articles that cover the mental health aspects of the Covid-19 crisis. Please navigate to our blog page by following the links below to access all of them. Here are links to a few highlights:

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