COVID-19: Cultivating a Positive Perspective

Adam Graver, 22, lives and works in Hextable, Kent and is this month’s guest blogger

It’s a bit of a cliché these days, especially in my area of work (Christian ministry), that perspective is everything. Still, despite being wearied by the endless illustrations employed by well-meaning people endorsing adopting a more positive perspective on life, I do have to concede that they do have a point. When navigating the uncharted waters of lock-down and striving to cultivate a healthy mental state, the way that we digest the news and information around the pandemic is key.

Anxiety is understandably on the rise during the pandemic, according to statistics gathered by the BBC, suggesting the impacts of lock-down on daily life as a critical driver of this. One of the vital hallmarks of an anxious mindset is the anticipation of the worst-case scenario. It is certainly easy to fall into this mindset, considering the unprecedented nature of the situation that we are in. A counter for anxiety of this kind, therefore, is to set our minds on dreaming for the future instead. Let me explain how I do this.

Probably the most challenging aspect of lockdown for me is the separation from those that I love. Adopting an anxious mindset, which would probably be my default, promises many more weeks and months of this separation, and the pain that accompanies this. I question how long I can cope without seeing them, and greatly exaggerate how long this period will be. Approaching the reading of the news with this mindset, I will unconsciously reinforce this worst-case scenario in the way that I interpret what the media is saying. For instance, I will focus on the high death rates and spread of infection and interpret that data to mean that it will be a long time before I can see my friends and family. This mindset is unhelpful for obvious reasons. Early on in the lockdown, it became apparent that I needed a more positive way of thinking.

One such way in which I attempted to do this was looking at other countries, which were further on in their epidemics, and observing how their restrictions were being gradually lifted. What could this look like in the UK, and how would the restrictions easing in a similar way affect my life? What would be the first thing I would do when the restrictions were easing here? Suddenly, in focusing on the possibilities and opportunities that will eventually be opened to me when lockdown eases, my mental state is improved. I can begin to dream of how life improves, what I will say to and do with my loved ones when I see them again, and my mindset is switched from one which imagines the worst-case scenario to dreaming for the future.

Perspective is essential, and the way we think – the way we imagine the future to be is critical during these times, and stewarding our thoughts is vital for maintaining a healthy mental state.

Adam Graver

I did not want to go there

A compass in a hand

Have you ever gone where you do not want to go? Early retirement through ill health brought me to this place in 2016, almost exactly four years ago as I write. I neither saw nor wanted to go “there”. I did not know where “there” was at the time, even now a description tests my ability to write.

When Jesus said to Peter, John 21:18, “When you are old, you will go where you don’t want to go,” the statement came on the back of his restoration with Jesus, after Peter’s denials. The incident also took place after the resurrection of Jesus, in the context of new revelation. The encouragement of Peter’s restoration was tempered by the strangeness of Jesus statement.

Jesus words to Peter were first and foremost personal, spoken in the hearing of the other disciples. It was a private revelation given in the presence of others. It is at this point that the Bible falls silent on the matter, nothing further is said. As is often the case, when the Bible falls silent tradition takes up the thread and makes much of the manner of Peter’s eventual death in Rome, some thirty-five years later. And it is here that the story usually comes to a final rest.

Utterly exhausted by ministry, and never having fully recovered from a mental breakdown some six years earlier, retirement thrust me into a landscape that neither had shape nor form. I sought a road map but found none. I looked for familiar landmarks but found none, and I looked for pathways that others have taken but found none.

I might not have had a road map, but I did have a compass, one that kept me pointing to God, and in time, I ripened for revelation. But before that time came and because the familiar danglements of evangelical vocabulary had worn thin, I re-assessed much of my thirty something-years of following Christ.

At no time did God retreat from my experience, though he did stand back and let me wrestle with my emptiness. But it was not so with my relationship with the church or my first language, evangelicalism. I drifted from the church and felt alienated by my native evangelical language, both of which were in full retreat and distant. I was stripped bare of my appetite for church and lost my desire to use an evangelical vocabulary. I was trapped in the vacuum between the old and the new. We do not usually sign up for nakedness of this kind. Nevertheless, that is where I was, and I knew I had to work with what I had at that moment.

At first, I discovered that as I travelled my road, I neither understood the pain of reconstruction nor, could I see the new. There were no easy answers; nothing was ready-made. I wrestled for everything.

Once I realised that God was holding onto me, and not me holding onto God, I was able to see that God reframed my understanding of who he is, and I would not change a thing despite the personal trials I endured during this time.

Perhaps these thoughts have an application during the Coronavirus lockdown; after all, we find ourselves moving where we do not want to go. In these ‘unprecedented times,’ we should not be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

I have lockdown lurgy

The peg in the lawn

I am finding that the novelty of lockdown has worn thin, and frankly, I’m struggling with it all. At first, the lockdown was a new challenge to meet. Responding to these first adjustments to my life gave me something new to conquer. Now, it’s week six, and I am, well, wearied by it all. I feel like I am running a marathon with the finishing line nowhere in sight. I need a fresh injection of hope to keep sane.

I have resorted to staring at the infographic from my last post to keep me on the white line of life. And another thing; I’m watching my self-talk – it drifts off centre. When my self-talk drifts, my mental health slides with it disabling me further. A normally well-ordered life begins a downward plunge into chaos. On these days sucess is making it to bed time.

Arresting my mental decline becomes my new goal. And I have been thinking about my positive routines. I need to treasure them and keep them well maintained.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but once I appreciate my daily routines, seeing them as a positive, I can exercise gratitude for them. Showing appreciation for my habits is a skill that I have developed in later life. I now find that I like my routines; they are my friends. I see them as boundary markers: inside them, I am free to express myself in an endless variety of ways. But, if I treat them casually, then orange lights start to light on my emotional dashboard. These helpful habits provide me with boundary markers that help me stay in the safe zone. And, in the safe zone, I feel more in control – a little like the Ten Commandments really.

New routines may help us to cope with change and helps us form healthy habits, and in turn, this reduces our stress levels.

  1. ROUTINE IS AN ANCHOR
    Routine acts like an anchor in our souls. For instance, whatever takes place during our day, knowing that our evening meal is around 18:00, and knowing I go to bed around 22:00, can be a real comfort. The certainty of routine gives us a framework for the day. Frameworks hold me.
  2. ROUTINE IS FREEDOM
    That framework provides me with plenty of room to do all the other things I have planned to do. So, rather than a restriction, my routines are a means of regulating my life. A regulated life is a healthy life.
  3. ROUTINE REDUCES STRESS
    I find that routine can carry me when I need some support to keep going. If my habits are engrained, then they can help to transport me through a tough time, reducing the stress of blocked goals or ineffectiveness. A blocked goal is frustration. Frustration is stress.
  4. ROUTINE BUILDS POSITIVE HABITS
    There are times when our life needs positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is vital to keep me steady. I so easily slide away from my ideals or healthy habits; so they bring me back by exercising a mid-course correction. Positive habits steer me away from danger lines.
  5. ROUTINE PUTS A PEG IN MY LAWN
    If I put a “peg in my lawn” whenever I look out of the window, I will see the peg. Putting a “peg in my lawn” is a metaphor that I have used throughout my professional life, and now that I am retired, I find it just as useful to shape my present and to plan my future. I need pegs.

Can you help?

I’m collecting stories:
I am interested to hear how you are coping with the lockdown. How has it affected your mental and emotional health, and what strategies have you put in place to help?

Please tell me about your routines. Have they changed since our lockdown?

When did you last venture out?

Drop me a line, and your comments could form the foundation of another post. Thank you so much.

Father with son: Building together (part 2)

In the second of two posts about learning from my father, Derreck Parkes, I retell a piece of family folk-lore concerning the building of his garage in the 1960s. This post is taken from my tribute to my Dad at his Celebration of Life, following his death in January 2020.

Ever the engineer, Dad decided to install a rolled steel joist, just in case he needed to lift an engine, as engineers do. In those days, one did all the jobs yourself, and when necessary, one conscripted one’s son, aged 14.  

And so it came to pass, that the said steel joist was delivered; to the driveway, some 25 yards away from the construction site. The duly conscripted son, obedient to the last, together with his visionary father embarked upon re-siting the vast chunk of metal to where it could be inserted into the brickwork, lining it up at right angles to the wall. 

We were about to start the lift when Mum called us for lunch, but Dad, ever the optimist said, “We’ll just pop it in now then it’s done before we eat”. 

Fair enough, I thought having caught his easy pragmatism. And so we started to lift the wall end of the beam, a few inches at a time. Once lodged at the opening in the wall, I thought it was just a matter of levelling the joist and pushing it into place. 

However, as we pushed, it began to slide at first but then got stuck. So Dad said, “You hold it there, and I’ll nip round to the other side to free it”. Now the only problem was that with both arms aloft I now bore the full weight of the beam and I began to sink into the lawn. 

Seared in my memory to this day is the vision that before lunch, I was 6 foot 4 and slim; after lunch, I was 6 foot and obese. I’ve never recovered, which is why I am as I am to this day!

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