Carmel Thomason, author of BRF's 'Anxious Times', reflects on a difficult, anxiety-filled year and shares strategies for coping.
Anxious times: looking back, looking forward ...
In many ways March seems a long time ago now. So much has happened since then, and at the same time so little. My everyday life has both narrowed and expanded. And I have changed. The year leading up to the pandemic was stressful for different reasons. I had a health scare, both my parents were hospitalised as emergencies within a couple of weeks of each other while visiting me, my dog was poisoned and had to undergo multiple surgeries, and I lost my great uncle Frank, who was also a great friend to me.
After an uncertain and worrying year, the start of 2020 held much promise. I was starting the decade with a new job, and one I couldn’t be more delighted to have. In January, news of coronavirus, while concerning was not at the forefront of most people’s minds in the UK. Like so many of the unpleasant stories we hear on the news, it was something happening somewhere else to somebody else.
Then I remember watching news coverage from Italy and Spain and starting to feel anxious. I would leave the house to find life carrying on as normal. The European continent felt both close and distant – just as I felt ok and I didn’t feel ok. In early March, students asked if I thought the media was over-hyping this new coronavirus. I said: 'If anything I think they are downplaying it'. I would have liked to be proved wrong. Although I believed that when I said it, nothing prepared me for the unease of seeing supermarket shelves stripped bare of fresh food and household essentials.
That night a friend called me from holiday in Lanzarote. 'Can you tell me straight what’s going on? Michael (her husband) has asked me to bring back toilet roll – he says there’s none to be had in Manchester. I thought he must be joking. Then this morning when we got up there was a note under the door saying everything in the hotel is closed and we can only leave our rooms for food at a set time. I can’t get sense out of anyone. I thought who can I speak to who’s calm and sensible? Can you tell me what’s really going on?'
Calm and sensible? I felt anything but.
'It’s true about the toilet rolls, I said. 'I don’t know what this virus is, but it’s not "just another flu". Can you come home?'
Thankfully my friend was at the end of her holiday and managed to fly home the next day. Shortly after, the UK went into a national lockdown.
I was grateful to be able to work remotely while many of my family and friends were furloughed. Work provided a routine structure to focus my days. There was lots of media chatter about how people were using the time at home to do things they’d always been too busy to do before. I wasn’t one of those people. Living through these uncertain times was enough.
I was sleeping downstairs on the sofa because my dog was now very poorly. He sadly never recovered from the poisoning, which left him with damaged kidneys, liver and heart. He was on constant medication and a prescription diet, but for months he fooled us into thinking he was getting better. I couldn’t bear to think about losing him, so aside from difficult conversations with the vet, I didn’t talk about it. My prayers became quieter too – sitting silently with God, knowing he knew my heart without me having to say a word.
At the same time my Aunty Doreen, who we spent many holidays with as children, became ill. Because of Covid we couldn’t visit her in hospital. Neither could her husband and five children. The reality of her passing was hard to take in. Due to the pandemic there could be no church service for the funeral and a maximum of ten people at the graveside. My Uncle Jack sang: ‘When I Fall in Love’. Although we couldn’t be there, his strength gave us an image of beauty and love to remember.
When my dog died a couple of weeks later, I was overcome with grief. It was as if losing him was the trigger to cry years of tears. I missed him, I missed my aunt, I missed all the family and friends I couldn’t see, I missed my life as it was.
Many of us thought life would go back to normal in the summer, but it didn’t. In September my neighbour and friend died. Last month we lost my Uncle Charlie and again were unable to say our final goodbyes.
As I write, England is in another national lockdown, where all but essential shops and services are closed, and households can’t meet indoors. At the same there is now genuine hope of a vaccine within months, that could allow us to move freely again. I’m truly grateful for this light, but I no longer think about my life as going back to how it was. I’ve stopped thinking about life as before and after Covid. For me now, there is simply life, with all the joy, wonder, diversity, mystery and sometimes sadness, that brings.
All people, the world over, have been impacted by this global pandemic. Some days I’ve felt isolated and others I’ve used technology to reach out to friends across the world and never felt more connected. These uncertain times are our times. It’s easy to condemn the world, but the pandemic has shown us the world is a small place and we each have a part to play in making it a better and safer place to live.
In this year of loss and letting go, I’ve learned to live the simple constancy of Jesus’ philosophy to take each day as it comes (Matthew 5:34). Instead of rushing to save what’s already gone, I pray for strength to appreciate good times past without losing sight of the good around me today. I pray for courage to face the future with an open heart; so, even when I feel anxious, I can take a step, in faith, however small, trusting God to guide my path.
A book of 24 undated reflections drawing on a range of relevant Bible passages to offer genuine hope and encouragement in anxious times. Encompassing the very human emotions of fear and anxiety, the reflections encourage us to draw comfort and strength from God's word even in those times when he seems silent to us. This book acknowledges that trust and hope in God's goodness doesn't always come easily, but when embraced we gain the strength to face our fear with courage and confidence.
Carmel Thomason is an author, journalist and academic whose writing explores how we can live out the gospel by focusing on the extraordinary to be found in the everyday. Her writing includes: Anxious Times (BRF, 2018), Against the Odds (BRF, 2014), Believe in Miracles (BRF, 2016) and the trilogy of John Sentamu Stories in collaboration with the former Archbishop of York.
For more information see Carmel's website: https://carmelthomason.co.uk/