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Social distancing - how I'm keeping in control

Rachel Cooper

Rachel lives with relapsing MS. Here she shares her strategies for keeping in control when you have to stay at home.

Normally, staying at home feels like it’s something I’ve decided to do, and it’s something that I don’t have to do all the time. But this time it’s not my choice, and it’s not clear when the current COVID-19 situation will end.

Thinking about how things are going to pan out in the near future I feel a sense of rising panic. I’m quite introverted, but I do need social interaction. We all do. And without the normal structures of school, work and shopping the days already feel peculiarly featureless. They are merging into one another and I’m losing track of time.

We’re only at the very beginning of this, so I’m conscious I need to act now to try and claw back some control.

Staying in touch with people

Firstly, I’m taking steps to maintain social interaction. Thankfully, there are a great many digital tools now that enable us to communicate with family and friends. Video calls with groups of friends and family are really easy to set up on various different platforms. They mean that even in isolation we don’t have to be alone.

Social media too is something I feel really grateful for right now. There’s a large group of people with MS from all over the world that I’m in touch with on Twitter and Facebook. And it feels really reassuring that they understand how it feels to be going through this, and can give advice about what we should be doing.

I’m talking to my neighbours too (from a few metres away!) to check whether they need help. Feeling part of a community is helping to ground me and make me feel connected.

The importance of routine and structure

Secondly I’m imposing a routine on myself and my children who are now off school. I’m not being too stringent as I don’t want it to be unachievable - especially as we will probably have to stick to it for months. I’m planning for us all to be up and dressed at the time we would be for work and school. Then the day for my children is loosely structured around blocks of school work and free time for playing, and screens (of course…).

Because this is going to go on for a while, and it’s going to get really boring quite soon I’m setting myself some goals to work towards. Books that I want to read, things that I’d like to learn. Importantly I want to stay busy, because I suspect that will make the time pass more quickly.

Getting outside where possible

Thirdly I’m trying to get outside every day, and I’ve planned that into our daily schedule. If I’m up to it, and I’m permitted, I’m going to go for as long a walk as my legs will allow me every day after lunch, bringing the children with me.

If that’s not an option then I’m going to do a bit of gardening. I’ve been doing some weeding and planted some new flowers. Although I’m a terrible gardener, I find it very therapeutic to plant something in the ground and (hopefully) see it grow and flower. It’s a good reminder that life goes on, despite everything.

Staying active indoors

Fourthly, I’m trying to be as physically active as possible. I don’t normally get very much exercise but now I’m doing no exercise at all. But thanks to digital technology there are a vast range of exercise videos online. I’m going to do some yoga, which I have been meaning to do for ages and never got round to. And I’m going to put Joe Wicks’ daily PE lesson on YouTube on for the children and try and join in.

Above all, I’m doing one thing that MS has thankfully taught me to get really good at. That is, living in the moment and accepting uncertainty. I have learnt not to constantly fear the worst, but to take life as it comes, one day at a time, and I’m hoping that will get me through this - because it won’t be forever!