Stay strong. Stay well. We’re all in this together.
Our Ambassador Mark Noblet shares his experiences and first-hand advice on how you can deal with isolation.
This story was written when people with blood cancer were shielding across the UK. For up-to-date information on current restrictions and guidance during the coronavirus pandemic, see our information on staying safe and government guidance.
We’re social creatures that have evolved to live in groups, where we converse, touch and socialise. This is why isolation is such a challenge. Here’s some wisdom gained from my personal experiences.
Define the purpose
Humans are pretty bad at applying themselves to pointless or thankless tasks. When was the last time you got pumped about defrosting the freezer?
We need to feel that what we’re doing has a purpose in order for us to be motivated and committed to it. This is especially relevant to being in isolation, because the immediate fear of being alone and actively doing nothing is difficult to accept. Let alone be positive about.
Ahead of my hospital isolation following a stem cell transplant, I really struggled to accept what was going to happen. I avoided thinking about it until very close to the time, which caused me to panic. The thought of minimal interaction with people for six to eight weeks was overwhelming. Like defrosting the freezer, I left it until it could no longer be ignored.
To overcome this brain-freeze and focus on what was ahead, I needed to find a purpose. I had a lot of very honest conversations with my wife, family and friends. I wrote a set of rules and reasons to refer to when I was losing sight of the end goal.
Here they are:
- Isolation is for everyone’s benefit – it will reduce my risk of becoming ill and reduce the burden on those who love me.
- Visitors must feel 100% well. Even the slightest doubt is enough to stay away.
- Stop contact unless absolutely necessary. Hands should be washed for 20 seconds regardless. There will be plenty of time to hug, kiss and high five after this.
- My isolation is time limited. The better I do it, the sooner I can get back to normal.
- Isolation doesn’t mean I’m a prisoner. Reach out to others - call, text and email. Communicate and express yourselves - Rage, laugh and cry.
Find peace knowing this all has a purpose.
Stay safe now. Live life to the full after.
Engage with people
It’s remarkable how many people want to engage with you; within your immediate network and far beyond.
You may not be able to interact face to face, but there is a huge amount of positive energy from spoken and written exchanges. Who doesn’t like receiving emails, cards and messages?
I found two ways to engage with people from my hospital bed, and they both served different purposes:
Find an emotional outlet
Blogging was an outlet for my emotions and enabled me to update my friends and family on my progress. I got a lot of encouragement from people which was nice, but not the purpose. A cathartic brain-dump gave me a daily means to reflect on my experiences. Some entries were daft. Some humorous. Some angry. Many simply recounted my experience but allowed me to move on.
Setting challenges for myself and others helped me to fill endless hours and gave people a reason to engage with me, even if they were unsure how to address my situation.
My most popular challenge was called Catch 22
- Imagine you can only listen to 22 songs or pieces of music for the rest of your life. Now order these tracks in a good old fashioned mix tape.
- If you’d like to, you can share why you have chosen these tracks.
- Email me your list and make me smile.
I posted this on my blog and received 101 responses from family, friends and many strangers. Reading all the replies made me smile and laugh, and lifted my spirits.
It doesn’t have to be music, it can be a list of your top films or books. You’ll find that people love a challenge and are eager to engage with you.
Accept your position (it’s temporary)
Accept that you need help.
Seek help without shame or embarrassment. Ask for messages, cards, and get help with food and household products.
Be unambiguous because many people simply don’t know how to respond to your situation.
Not everyone is blessed with razor sharp emotional intelligence, so remove the barriers and be prepared to be bowled over by the kindness of others!
The world is full of good people, so give them the chance to do something for you. You’ll be able to level the table in time.
Stay strong. Stay well. We’re all in this together. Let’s hope for a pandemic of kindness.