As I write this, I am overwhelmed. Completely and utterly overwhelmed. And this feels like such a selfish thing to admit. Bizarre, isn’t it?
I’m overwhelmed with wanting to help so many people, but feel selfish for admitting I feel bad.
As we head towards another week of lockdown, for many of us, the reality of a global crisis and its impact on both our personal and professional lives is beginning to feel devastatingly real. Some of us know of others: neighbours, friends, colleagues or acquaintances, who have themselves been unwell and in need of attention. We pick up the phone, or drop a message: “How are you? Is there anything you need? Can I do anything?” We applaud our NHS workers weekly, thumping pans and whooping in unison, showing our support. We make ourselves heard for our amazing health workers on the frontline: “We support and appreciate your incredible work.”
Many of us may have signed up as volunteers to help feed those in need by collecting shopping and prescriptions, waiting hours in the sluggish curve of the Tesco queue.We shiver in the early morning sunlight, clutching someone else’s shopping list and hoping there will be eggs and milk left by the time we get in. We create makeshift offices at home; prop laptops against Lego towers, sweep toast crumbs from the keyboard, or perhaps keep one eye on Slack and the other on the kids, who are by now springboarding from the sofa into the wash basket with increasing gusto (I’m assuming this is what kids do in lockdown).
TV, articles and social media all tell us: “Check up on people. Check up on your colleagues, your families, friends and neighbours. Donate money to charity. Donate food. Look out for others.” Charities cry out for donations. We need to help fight COVID-19. But we also need to help the other charities whose funding is suffering as a result. The small charities are especially vulnerable.
We simply haven’t got the funds in our accounts to donate to every charity in need, nor have we got enough hours in the day to volunteer for every person considered vulnerable. No matter how much we do, how much we donate, or how hard we clap, it’s not enough. It’s never enough.
Stay in and not volunteer and you’re selfish. Go outside and you are also selfish.
How can we be kind to one another when every single action is judged and called out? How can we stay calm and look after our wellbeing when we are precariously tightroping a blurred line between “good” and “bad”?
Little Things Make a Big Impact
Here’s the thing: you don’t have to bankrupt yourself pouring a month’s wages, your overdraft and your kidney into every charity you can find. You don’t have to volunteer for every vulnerable person within your postcode. You don’t have to go out at 8pm on a Thursday night and thump on a Tefal frying pan twice the size of that show-off at Number 32. More money and harder clapping doesn’t mean you care more.
It’s about what you can realistically do within your means.
Pick one or two little ways you can help. And the minute you start feeling overwhelmed and find yourself howling hysterically into the hissing shower again, take a step back and look out for yourself. You can’t help others by destroying yourself.
Here are some ideas. Start small.
A Smile Costs Nothing
News articles, social media feeds and emails are saturated with links to donate to various causes. It’s got to a point now where I’ve spent far more on charity donations than I have on little treats for myself, and to even consider buying anything expensive as a treat feels like a sin. I had a publication acceptance for my collaborative book with the lovely Mari Ellis Dunning this week and my only celebration was one small glass of prosecco while I worked on a freelance article. I felt terrible for announcing the publication and felt like my skin was crawling for the rest of the night.
I felt self-indulgent, uncaring and cold. Why should I celebrate a book publication acceptance when I could be using the time spent writing that book to help people? Why should I tweet or share anything that doesn’t acknowledge the grave situation we find ourselves in? Shouldn’t I be promoting charities or hastily putting together a fundraising event?
Here’s the thing: I can’t run a marathon at the moment. These stressful times have brought on the worst gastroparesis flare up; any more than a couple of mouthfuls of plain food is too much for my stomach to handle and I get sick, doubling up with severe pain. Where normally I’d be training for a big event right now, I haven’t exercised more than a daily walk for weeks. Compared to the crisis of COVID-19 however, this seems trivial.
I’ve felt angry at myself for not being able to do a fundraising marathon and I’m looking at safer alternatives for charities I care about. But even though I’ve tried to support good causes where I can and shared the ones that resonate with me, I’ve also made sure I’ve tried to make people laugh as much as possible.
If something makes me chuckle or I do something silly, I share it. We need laughter. We need light relief. We need balance.
Don’t be afraid to share good things online with people. I love seeing people succeed or say something funny or do well. We need that light now more than ever.
Give the Gift of Learning
What are you good at? What are you passionate about? That tired old saying that you often see pinned on peeling posters: “nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something” – it’s true. What have you got to offer?
Are you a good writer? A top public speaker? Great cook? An artist? A coding wizard? Comedy genius?
Whatever it is that you can do, no matter how trivial it may seem, may benefit someone else more than you know. It’s easy to set up a Zoom session and offer to teach people something in an hours’ session. The qualities you have could really make a difference to someone else. Plus, what’s more empowering and confidence-boosting than learning something new?
Look After Number One
I’m not telling you to give up volunteering or donating – please, if you’re in a position to do these things and still look after your own wellbeing: keep up the awesome work. Just make sure you’re not pushing yourself to help every single person at the expense of your own health.
You can’t be entirely present, nor be fit to help someone to the best of your ability if you’re zoned out, utterly skint or losing your temper with family members because you’re so exhausted from running around lugging pints of milk to every person on your cul-de-sac. If you’re doing too much, pull back.
Do small things with meaning. Don’t spread yourself thinly. If you’re only focusing on what’s manageable but giving it 100%, that’s going to matter so much more than if you’re trying to call an extensive list of family members and only half-listening on the phone. People will value you reaching out to check in with them so much more if you’re totally present.
Stop feeling guilty for treating yourself. Just because you ordered an overpriced box of truffles from your favourite chocolatier doesn’t mean you’ve just robbed 20 starving orphans of their lunch. You can still make an affordable donation to a good cause without depriving yourself – even if it’s only a pound that you can donate right now, it all helps.
Kindness Has No Limit
This week, don’t be afraid to reach out if you’re weeping into the utility room cupboard between conference calls and making the kids’ cereal. Call a trusted friend or colleague and admit that no, today things are not okay. Don’t allow your own needs to become eclipsed by the shame we have become conditioned to feel by not disregarding our own wellbeing in order to put others first at all times. While ignoring our own needs, there is only so much holding people up our tired bodies can take.
Keep looking out for and supporting others, because now more than ever, kindness matters. Hold each other up from a distance. Keep responding to those who need help where you can. But remember, you will not run out of kindness for others by giving some of it to yourself. The anxiety and sadness you may be feeling some days seemingly has no limit, and nor too does kindness.
There’s enough to go around for everybody, and that includes you.