“Every time you encounter something that forces you to 'handle it', your self-esteem is raised considerably. You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens. And in this way your fears are diminished immeasurably.”

― Susan Jeffers, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

I have not put on a pair of jeans for seven weeks. I live in tracksuit pants and slippers now. I have day pants and night pants – just to keep the illusion of ‘getting dressed’ alive. It helps me to put on my day pants to work, even though I work at night too! But keeping semblances of normality alive now are important. Today, I’d like to share two techniques that I am finding helpful at present.

Corona Time is certainly not getting easier. The conspiracy theories are gaining momentum – not helped by Facebook deleting views that are not mainstream. And the government’s dithering and authoritarian ways make it quite hard not to give in to the fear that something else is afoot. I don’t really believe that there is a ‘conspiracy’. My view is that governments don’t like to admit errors. Rather than quickly ‘course correcting’, as I hoped they would when I first started writing these posts, they make mistakes and then follow that road, rather than just admitting that they made some mistakes – and rectifying them without delay. The video of police manhandling a toddler for breaking lockdown was a real low point, in my view. No matter what happens to the perpetrators, the act itself is indicative of madness that has descended upon us. As many have stated, the virus is the enemy, not the people.

I wrote the above, before Ramaphosa’s speech last night. Despite the mixed reviews, and almost no detail, at least he admitted there had been errors. How long they will take to fix them remains unclear.

For now, we are still in Level 4 and the limbo continues. Human beings are not good at limbo. I feel that I have been in the duty-free area of an airport for 7 weeks – and no one is calling my flight to board! I sense that this is the thing that is causing the most frustration. Not knowing ‘how long’ is causing panic – if we knew when the flight was going to take off, we could adjust. But the indeterminate nature of how long I am going to live in slippers is causing itchy feet and accelerated mind talk. Neither of these is good for mindfulness (the ability to stay both present and hopeful).

Today, I would like to borrow from Susan Jeffers, the author of ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’. I made reference to Susan in blog post # 4 (“Don’t be attached to the outcome”) when I spoke of her ‘No-lose decision-making model’. Jeffers, who died in 2012, had an interesting approach to fear – one which I have taught and also used many times in my life. She saw fear as a learning problem, not a psychological one. Essentially, Jeffers said that to overcome fear, you have to develop trust in your ability to handle whatever life throws you.

“I’ll handle it” are the three words that Susan used to achieve this. When you look back at your life, the reality is that you have handled everything that life threw at you. You may not have always handled it well, and it may have caused distress, but you handled it. That is what human beings do, says Jeffers. So why then would you not trust yourself to handle whatever comes your way in the future? Fear, says Jeffers, is best handled by breathing deeply and saying, “I’ll handle it”. Because you will! You may get depressed, sad, even hopeless, but handle it you will.

With so much uncertainty, I can’t think of a better time to employ Jeffers’ mantra. As you feel your mind wandering down the road of ‘what if’s’, let “I’ll handle it” sink in. Let it become one of your coping strategies. If lockdown lasts the whole of winter, I’ll handle it. If I need to find additional sources of income, I’ll handle it. If I run out of cigarettes, I’ll handle it. I’ve handled it all so far. I’ll handle whatever comes my way. Trust yourself now more than ever. Build resilience. That is something they can’t control.

The second topic I’d like to explore is that of boundaries. From a physical point of view, a boundary is literally that – a border. How physically close you let people get to you, whether you like being touched etc. are examples of boundaries and we all have different zones of comfort in this regard. However, we also have psychological boundaries. These boundaries are the limits we set with others, specifically in terms of how we let them treat us. People with soft boundaries are easily exploited; those with rigid boundaries are hard to get close to. Ideally, boundaries are both firm and flexible.

On a deep and profound level, Corona Time is messing with all our boundaries.

Physical boundaries – we are now forced to maintain great physical distance. For a person who loves touching and hugging, this is doing my head in. The inability to smile at strangers or to see their facial expressions is deeply unpleasant. I can’t let people into my home, and I can’t go into theirs … These are all examples of where renegotiation of physical boundaries is taking place. It is the new normal and we have to make peace with the fact that, from a physical point of view, the boundaries need to be high. My personal view is that, while staying sensible, we all have to make our own rules regarding our private spaces.

Intellectual boundaries – these boundaries relate to the fact that we are all entitled to our own thoughts and opinions. In the age of disinformation and misinformation, this is another difficult boundary. And yet, precisely because it is difficult, it is essential that we all demarcate our intellectual boundaries. I choose to engage very loosely with conspiracy theories.  I observe them from a distance and entertain some when I’m in the mood. But I keep my distance. I do the same for the numbers and the statistics. I’ve never liked numbers. I don’t like them now. I watch and listen to a bit of news – carefully selected and timed. If someone continuously shares things that disturb or offend me, I unfollow them. I am not an ostrich, but I also do not need to have my headspace invaded without invitation.

Spiritual boundaries – here I am in my zone. I am open to God, Life and the Universe. I see signs, I trust synchronicity and I profoundly trust Life. I don’t need anyone to agree with me and I have no need to convince anyone of my views. My boundaries are low here – anyone can enter. And, if you hold a different spiritual view, that is also fine. I can choose not to enter your zone.

Emotional boundaries – these are the most important boundaries, in my view, which need to be examined and kept in check. Essentially, my emotional boundaries entitle me – and others – to our own feelings. Here, I use the “bounce” technique, which I learned from my dear friend Zahava Aarons, and which has served me beautifully. This is how it works. When someone is speaking to me and expressing their feelings, I pretend that there is a porous wall (or fence) between me and them. I then see everything they say as a ball which can either bounce off my fence or I can choose to let it penetrate the fence. There is simply too much emotion around at the moment for me to let it all in. If I do not protect my emotional boundaries, I will get swallowed up by other people’s emotions. And I can’t afford that. None of us can. I am not callous or indifferent to their emotions. I am simply discerning as to what I will let in. In the same way that we may get infected should the virus penetrate us physically, so too can a breach of our emotional boundaries cause infection. It is really important to protect ourselves at this time, not just physically.

So, there you have it. My life in slippers strategies … “I’ll handle it” and “Bounce, bounce, bounce”. And don’t forget where it started … TTP and Monday before Tuesday. And one day we will all meet again – wearing shoes and smiling at each other!