Professor Joe Goldblatt
According to Psychiatric Times, whilst there has been some early research about the anxiety and psychosis caused from the Covid 19 pandemic, there is very little that has been researched or published about what is considered the care of the soul or the sacred. Even U.S. President Harry S Truman recognised the importance of the human spirit in healing and once stated that “The reward of suffering is experience.”
Now that I have experienced the suffering from the strange and mysterious Covid virus, I wish to share my experience so that it may inform, educate and potentially help others. My experience is by no means representative of all others and therefore should not be generalised. However, as I have discussed my experience with my fellow Covid sufferers I have identified several common themes or perhaps stages of suffering we shared that may serve as a wayfinding system to help those who contract this odd and often debilitating virus.
The first stage or theme for me was similar to the first stage of grief and was reflected through the looking glass of shock and uncertainty. The more deeply I stared into the looking glass of the internet and googled symptoms seeking guidance, the more uncertain I became as to how I would traverse this dark future road and finally arrive at my future desired destination of good health.
This stage of uncertaintity finally began to come into sharp focus when I spoke by telephone with NHS Scotland Test & Protect staff and learned the road signs and rules for trying to arrive safe and sound at the end of my journey. Therefore, my first learning experience was to as soon as possible speak to NHS Test & Protect so I could express my concerns and ask any and all questions as I began my seven day to ten day isolation journey.
The second theme and stage of experience was anxiousness from every Covid symptom that suddenly appeared. Although my symptoms were minor, a tickle in the throat, a deep cough or a sniffle, they immediately gave me visions of the thousands of images of patients with ventilators struggling for survival in hospital. I soon decided that I needed a daily routine that would distract me from my anxiety. I then commenced creating a general schedule that included daily grooming and dressing, a few minutes of morning meditations for others and now for me as well, and then completing a range of projects from tidying the home to attending meetings and corresponding with friends and family. Each day also included a post luncheon nap that was followed by tea time, happy hour with mu usual single malt libation, and dinner. Prior to bedtime. I enjoyed a hot bubble bath with lavender and geranium to help me calm down for the deep sleep that I hoped would result from my preparations.
However, sleep was not always easy and this is where my third theme and stage quietly and firmly arrived as if to say to me, “You can do this.” Each time I began to grow anxious about my minor symptoms and the increasing number of days I was spending alone in solitary confinement I began to practice something I learned from the classic song “Count Your Blessings” by Irving Berlin and featured in the 1954 movie musical “White Christmas”.
When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
As I lay awake upon my pillow I counted the blessings of being alive, of having the support from NHS Scotland, of having friends and family who love me and of not having more severe symptoms. Usually, within a few minutes, I drift off to sleep. However, if my negative thoughts occassionally did entreat I gently showed them the door and refocused upon my blessings with this additional image provided by Mr Berlin.
I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you’re worried and you can’t sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings
The third and final stage of my journey was made much easier when I stopped trying so hard to think positive thoughts and to get well. When I discovered the magic transformative power of patience and accepted that eventually if I followed the best medical advice I would potentially arrive at my destination in better health, I then slowly and surely began to feel better throughout my final days of recovery.
My own personal Covid journey began with uncertaintity and progressed to anxiety until I finally slowed my expectation through the discovery of patience. Whilst every Covid journey will have different twists, hairpin turns, steep hills, and even narrow cliff edges to navigate, I now believe that easing uncertaintity through obtaining quality information, reducing anxiety through a daily routine that includes self care and finally, lowering expectations so that you may sometimes enjoy the view and then perhaps you shall remember this journey with gratitude because of this new experience.
Poets and jurists as did U.S. Presidents also understand the potential power of the human spirit to overcome suffering. The lawyer Alan W Scheflin JD devised a Social Influence Model framework to help prepare expert witnesses for legal cases involving the negative influence of cults. Scheflin was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Elephant’s Child”.
I keep six honest serving men
They taught me all I knew
There names are What and Why and When and
How and Why and Who.
Scheflin then incorporated the theme inspired by one of the servants in Kipling’s poem in his model.
Influencer’s Motive: Why
Influencer’s Methods: What and How
Circumstance: Where and When
Influencee’s Receptivity and Vulnerability: Who
The lucky ones who are both influencers and influencees and who have survived Covid now have one more blessing to count. We now have experienced a journey that we did not anticipate nor plan and neither did we know how it might end. What we do know now is that by embracing the experience of our suffering we might have just become wiser from the choices we have made as we successfully navigate this brave new world.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University and recently was infected with the Covid virus.