My #lockdown began last year in mid-June. In the most unusual way. One day I was on a holiday that was on my bucket list and the next I was almost ready to kick the bucket! Immobilized. In critical care. Fighting for my life and sanity.
Soon, I was rediscovering–and re-learning–all the things that we take for granted. Like blinking. Smiling. Walking. Chewing. Swallowing. All the while learning to mime, write, or communicate with a semblance of coherence.
Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). It’s a rare autoimmune disorder that affects one in 100,000 around the globe, and I was diagnosed with it over 3,200 miles from home. No two cases are the same. I’m extremely lucky to be alive but I don’t know when I will be “normal” or “whole” again. Kind of like this situation we all find ourselves in.
How? Why? What? The unfairness of it all takes your breath away, doesn’t it? Well, all I can say–after living through and battling with my very own nightmare, a Black Swan event if you will–treat it as an opportunity to build a new life and not as a threat to your old one. And you know what? You will then (partly) be able to choose what a storm like this leaves behind in its wake. For the rest, keep your head down and allow it to pass.
That is not to say any of this is or will be easy.
As for me, my immunity has been shot to bits. And when your immune system goes to serious war with your own body, it’s tough to trust that you will survive in such an unpredictable, hostile environment. Like some of you might feel and/or have felt in toxic workplaces. For me, it felt way worse. This was my own body. I had to live with all that toxicity within me. I couldn’t just leave it and go home. Or stay home, like we have to in this pandemic.
Extended Lockdown And Quarantine
What’s more, my lockdown-and-quarantine of sorts is likely to extend for a few months beyond everyone else’s. Yet, just like all of you out there, I also can’t afford to mourn the loss of any of it. I’ve just had to make peace with the fallout of this life-threatening—and life-altering—disease. Just like we are all struggling or learning to make peace with the coronavirus pandemic, which is forcing us to change everything about our lives. For no fault of our own.
That’s how I felt. If the disease has no identifiable cause, how did I get it? If it can happen to anyone, no matter what their fitness or immunity levels, then why must it find me?
I remember lying in my hospital bed and watching an entire monsoon pass me by. No smell of freshly turned earth, no mangoes, no shimmering mirages while driving on hot afternoons.
What’s more, I was going to miss an entire cricket World Cup, I thought. I was hooked onto countless tubes and needles but that hurt! I would ask my brother to keep me updated on the points table.
I would keep thinking I might just be able to make it back home for the elimination rounds. If not, then maybe the semis. Or the finals. As the days dragged on with me firmly in the ICU with no TV or even a clock, and with the World Cup slipping out of both mine and India’s grasp, it was easy to just lose hope and give up.
I’m glad I didn’t. Even though, on most days, it seemed like the entire world was moving on, going about its business, with people I knew going places. And I lay helplessly confined to a sterile ICU and, later, to an insipid hospital room. My life as I knew it, it sometimes seemed, was all but over. I did not know what my new normal was going to be, any more than I could predict when I would speak or walk again.
Similarly, COVID-19–whether we like it or not–has turned normalcy completely on its head. One day we’re planning for the next quarter, a wedding, or a family holiday and the next we’re all shut in, paranoid about a cough or a sneeze.
It’s forcing us to transform our lives, often in unfamiliar ways that might seem like they have nothing to do with years of careful preparation. To build careers. To stay fit and healthy. To carve out a personal niche for ourselves. The indiscriminate nature of this strange and mysterious pandemic is forcing changes that are pushing us out of the familiar and the comfortable, without fear or favor. Whether we want to or not.
Something like that can be extremely disconcerting, to say the least. How can the entire planet be affected, we ask? It is unprecedented and unfathomable in its audacity and scope. And there seems to be little respite in the near future, with India now riding the curve that other, seemingly more prepared, nations have traversed before us.
And, just like it was for me, giving up is not an option. So, what do we do? How do we deal with the professional and/or personal setbacks that might lie in store for us when this is all over?
We dig our heels in. If we’re forced to stand still or turn around at one juncture, we prepare ourselves to walk down another path.
I know this because that is exactly what I did. Suddenly I became the best mime artist, explaining complex questions and requests to my doctors and nurses with a tube in my throat, and without access to a voice I had always known how to use to very good effect.
I was a communications specialist. Heck, I even taught the subject. How could I not find a way? I couldn’t sit up and type on a laptop, so I wrote thousands of words on my phone. On days I could not bring myself to get out of bed, or even sit up, I turned to podcasting. I’m a storyteller at heart. I had to find a way.
So, go ahead. Embrace the change. Find a new skill. Sharpen an old one. Connect with an older self, re-acquaint yourself with an outdated version, and reboot it.
As I see it, onward and upward is the only way forward. Everything that we do in our lives prepares us for adversity in ways we know nothing about. There’s no time like the present to discover the iceberg that lies beneath the surface and holds our worlds up.
Trust me, this too shall pass.
Preeti Singh is a communications specialist. She teaches management students business writing, communication and networking skills. She has worked with defense and security think tank IDSA, news media house HT Media, and Businessworld in the 18 years she's been in the business.
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