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From Coping to Thriving: Shifting the Pandemic Battle Plan

~ Exploring the Eight C's... Strategies to promote mental health as we move through this pandemic

By Teresa HedleyPublished 4 years ago 9 min read
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From Coping to Thriving

"There's no turning back!"

I can still picture it. One of our teens, about to leap off the slate diving rock into the backyard pool. A split second after the leap, the midair yelp: "No turning ba-ack!"… and then the splash, the ripples, the pause and the re-surface. Wet!

I must admit, I did it, too. And I recall that moment, suspended in air, the slice between dry and wet, exiting and entering, knowing that I was committed. It was something between exhilaration and trepidation.

I feel it again, now, immersed in this pandemic. The plunge took place on March 11th, the day COVID-19 morphed into something real, close to home and also distant, a global concern, collaboration and conversation. A pandemic. We all leapt, within days and weeks, into new territory: deep, murky and uncertain.

"There's no turning back!"

It was supposed to be temporary, this new existence. Two weeks. Fourteen days and we could stamp this thing out, get back on track, re-open, re-emerge, and reclaim the life we had cast off like some sort of abrupt, Pompeii time-freeze. But two weeks grew to three, three to a month, a month to two? To summer? Fall? 2021?

As the duration grows, so, too, does the realization: this isn't going away anytime soon. And with it, the corollary: there's no turning back.

Early on in the pandemic, in our household, we created a blueprint for moving forward, a sort of pandemic adaptation via self-regulation battle plan. While this chart was originally designed for our son Erik, with autism, we soon realized that what's good for Erik is good for all of us.

Erik reading the "Things I Know, Things I Might Be Feeling, Things I Can Do" plan.

The unpredictability attached to this pandemic has thrust us into autism-like shoes. Heap on change, turmoil and upheaval, and we all become anxious and untethered, floating outside of our usual routines and structure.

Our March blueprint - a blend of pandemic facts and figures (the what); the identification of fall-out feelings (the so what), and practical strategies (the now what) - was designed to help us through while we hunkered down and waited out the storm. It was a coping plan. A Band-Aid.

Turns out this pandemic may take longer to heal. We're beyond Band-Aids now. Pat O'Connor, autism consultant and therapist in Barrie, Ontario, uses a running analogy to clarify autism support. For me, it is helpful in the context of this pandemic:

"...this is a marathon, not a sprint."

As the long-haul realization kicks in, a re-frame takes shape: this is no longer about coping, this is about thriving. Adaptation. Evolution. It is about wiggling out of our former exoskeleton into a new, updated one.

Growing into an updated version of ourselves.

Like many, I click on my computer each morning and I read. I fill my head with facts and opinion, with layers of thought, which in turn guide my own thinking. The re-frames catch my attention. When the going gets tough, the tough really do get going. It starts with a magic wand of sorts, and with it, a transformation from obstacle to opportunity. Re-framers make lemonade. And they also make the leap from short term to long-haul, from coping to thriving.

In the context of COVID-19, re-framers ponder. What is lost?

Routine, identity, structure, choice, control, certainty. And more.

Re-framers reflect. What is found?

It is here the magic occurs. A re-frame delivers repair, not despair. Immersed in a pandemic, we find, surprisingly, more time. We find freedom. Isolation gives us weeks of "someday" - i.e. time to get to what we always meant to do, to try.

A re-frame delivers repair, not despair.

I receive a text from an artsy, teacher friend, Karen.

"This reminds me of being 8-11 years old. There was time to try new things, and a cupboard full of cardboard boxes, coloured paper, craft supplies. We used our imagination to create crafts, dress up, drama, games, etc. With everything taken away, I feel a bit like I’ve been dropped into (childhood). Throw away the agenda, and see what happens. What is left is yourself. Start there. I think that's the only thing that is familiar or in our control. And interesting to rediscover."

Time allows us choices outside of rigid agendas. As Karen suggests, there is a sense of being transported to a simpler time, to childhood summers with endless, floaty time and possibility outside of expectation or itinerary.

"...there is a feeling like in childhood, of losing track of time, focus on filling up moments with 'being and enjoying' rather than 'accomplishing and meeting a goal.' We are able to listen to our inner clocks... just as we did when we were very little."

- Sarah Ford Holliday; Speech Language Pathologist

I receive an email from a local arts director, Quinn:

"My sense is that, during this time, we have an opportunity to cultivate what is calling us, from within and without."

I receive an enlightening article from, Dr. Katelyn Lowe, clinical psychologist and autism specialist in Calgary, Alberta:

"Often shifting one’s mindset is all it takes to view the same situation very differently. In the face of COVID-19 and some pretty tough circumstances – can you be a warrior instead of a worrier?"

A warrior or a worrier? It is a choice.

So here we are, shifting to something new, stepping into new skin, trying on possibilities, and given time and space, evolving from coping to thriving.

But how? Now what?

It makes sense to flesh out the third column in our original pandemic plan - the "Things I Can Do" - and to purposefully cultivate growth and resilience.

By thinking about each suggestion beyond what it delivers in the moment to the long-term effect of each, we begin to feel empowered. Truly, what is the cumulative byproduct?

What action skill sets emerge? Possibly, the ability to re-frame, transform, adjust, adapt, solve and evolve.

What are the positive, long-term qualities and feelings that are reinforced and enhanced?

In time, competence, resilience, self-determination, self-actualization, fulfillment, creativity, generosity, selflessness, helpfulness, worthiness, sympathy, empathy, pride, delight, confidence, joy – and so much more. This is the thrive weave.

By taking stock, knowing translates into doing; doing translates into becoming, into personal growth - and into thriving over simply coping.

"When we know better, we do better."

- Maya Angelou; poet, singer, author, and civil rights activist

Given this, Erik and I brainstorm and add to the third column suggestions. We then notice that the strategies can be clustered according to purpose. Each is expressed by a verb to make it actionable. The result is Eight C's to Cultivating Mental Health. Let's take a look.

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1. To Calm: Self-regulate to the max. This is like the oxygen mask model. In order to help yourself move forward, first you need to calm your body.

Strategies include meditation; stretching; writing a gratitude journal in order to frame the day in a positive way; deep breathing; deep pressure via weighted blankets and cushions; peaceful music; walks and pauses in nature.

2. To Coddle: Be good to yourself. Over-indulge. Create spa-like experiences.

Strategies revolve around water, heat and pressure and include hot showers; soaker baths with lights dimmed; hot tub soaks; saunas - if available - for a sound sleep; heated pads on the shoulders; being rolled and wrapped tightly in a duvet and lying peacefully, enjoying the weight and snug feel. When Erik was young, we called this "mer-boy."

3. To Celebrate: Take time to celebrate all that is going right. Appreciate the ordinary.

It is easy to fixate on the harsh aspect of this pandemic. But what happens when you decide to celebrate the small and the good? You will notice things like singing from balconies and clapping for healthcare workers. Closer to home, you may notice small gestures that make a big difference like flowers left for all to enjoy; posters with messages of solidarity; rocks painted and planted in unexpected places, truly, pockets of joy. In our small west coast town, a creative soul floated two plywood dorsal fins in the bay to simulate an orca mother and calf. Enchanting! When our frame becomes positive, so, too, do we.

When we discover positivity, we become positive.

4. To Capacitate: Build known skills. Become masterful at something you enjoy. Use this focus as a needed distraction; a time to process the big picture; a way to express your creativity and an outlet for your emotion.

An example might be a talent like photography. Photos might become your eye on the world, a way of processing an event. Similar outlets may be videography, vlogging, painting, sketching, sculpting, woodwork, metal work, jewelry-making, flower arranging, song-writing, story-writing, journaling or blogging. Sometimes art imitates life, and when it does, it helps us to make sense of it.

Erik's "Eye Phone" is his eye on the world.

5. To Cultivate: Do something new. Use this time to finally do a "someday" activity.

This is where the fun really begins because the possibilities are limited only to your imagination: dabbling in new foods; trying new recipes; perhaps kicking off the day with yoga on your deck. A friend transformed her kitchen into a restaurant and invited her family in at the door. A spin on that is to eat in different areas of the house each night. Set up a card table, top it with a tablecloth and flowers or faux candles, and presto! any room can be exceptional. Other ideas include staging picnics in the yard; heading out at night for walks by the light of a full moon; turning the kitchen into a hair salon (we all need a cut!); setting up small tables for children and having them design menus, prepare and serve food.

Discovering new is invigorating: it's like being a kid again, relishing and delighting in firsts.

Discovering new experiences is a source of joy and wonder.

6. To Create: Move from feeling suppressed to feeling expressed.

While creativity is inherent in each of the categories, perhaps we can think of this one as going beyond in what you normally do - adding a signature, creative twist. For example, serving food on unusual platforms or embellishing with a fanciful finale; adding decorative touches around the home (place settings from outdoor objects, for example); gardening and landscaping with whimsy. In this, Pinterest will surely be our guide. At the end of the day, satisfaction comes from being able to say, "I made that."

7. To Contribute: Helping is healing. When you give, you receive. What can you contribute to your home, to someone else's home or life, to your community?

Ideas include offering to help at home or in someone else's home (at a safe distance) with grocery shopping, yard work, house work. Repetitive and rhythmic tasks offer good opportunities to process and think. It is said that motion is the potion. Examples are chopping, vacuuming, sweeping, wiping, digging, raking, weeding and watering. Or perhaps you could leave your mark - pockets of joy - around your community.

A creative and whimsical community offering delivers delight.

8. To Contemplate: You don't know what you've got till it's gone. What we miss most, perhaps, during this pandemic is the effect of face-to-face connection and how it enriches our lives, makes us fully human.

Take time to connect in other ways - virtually, via letters, via surprise gifts and gestures, as described above. While we are separated, we can be imaginative in the ways we communicate and inspire. How will you connect?

We discovered an imaginative way to communicate and connect...on a beach log!

____________________________________________________

We review the list and possible options. Erik is quiet for a moment and then pipes up. "These things we can do," he begins, gesturing to the list, "they're good things, fun things... our favourites. And some are... kind of random... like mini restaurants around the house... and adventures by the light of the moon."

"Yes, you're exactly right. In reacting to the heaviness of this pandemic, we need to focus on lifting the weight... on elevating ourselves... up and out of this... on pitching in... on helping out. You've heard of the expression, fight fire with fire? Well, maybe we need to fight novel with novel. Do something new, unexpected."

He sits with this, pondering, and then he gestures to a canvas poster on my office wall. "Whatever’s good for your soul, do that."

"Yes, we need to honour our souls."

And this takes us back to the start, to the diving rock. Equipped with a plan that is purposeful, practical and novel, we feel a whole lot better about taking that leap. There's no turning back. But that's okay. We'll no longer be treading water. We'll be swimming laps.

Take time to honour your soul.

____________________________________________________

About the Author: Teresa Hedley is the parent of three young adults, one of whom, Erik, has autism. She is also an educator, a curriculum designer and an author. As a teacher-trainer, Teresa taught English in Canada, Japan, Greece, Spain and Germany. Additionally, Teresa worked directly with families and school boards in Ottawa as an autism consultant and advocate. She and her son Erik co-authored a twenty-article mother-son series, "I Have Autism and I Need Your Help" for Autism Matters magazine. Her memoir, What's Not Allowed? A Family Journey With Autism is available on Chapters Indigo. A companion toolkit will follow the memoir.

mental health
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About the Creator

Teresa Hedley

Greetings from the beach... where you'll find me exploring, reading, writing, hiking and kayaking with our local seals. I'm excited to share my stories with you via What's Not Allowed? A Family Journey With Autism. Now on Amazon + Chapters

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