19 Mar 2020

control & attention

This isn’t an email about what should or shouldn’t be done about COVID-19. I don’t have a hot take. I don’t want to pile on to your anxieties.

What I do wanna say is that right now I’m feeling a sense of loss of control, and I think a lot of people are. Yes we all have our role to play in limiting transmission of this virus, but we can’t control most of what’s happening. We’re worried about our inability to protect vulnerable people we love, or disgusted at China’s disregard for human life, or angry at our own bungling (Australian) federal government, or mystified about the source of our future income, or frustrated with the wildly varying knowledge and reactions of public, family or friends, etc. etc.

About a year ago I was in hospital for a while. There was a mass in my liver that had been making me progressively sicker for years, culminating with me getting sepsis. There were solemn conversations with the doctors about liver transplants and cancer. After about a month of remaining in hospital and having various tests I had a surgery where they cut out most of my liver. There was a small chance I would not wake up, then another small chance the remaining liver would fail in the days after. They wouldn’t know if the mass was cancer until it was later analysed. (It was not cancer, and spoilers, I lived.)

In a situation like that there’s very little under your control. It’s absurd to read over the details of a consent form when the alternative to agreeing is death. But something that gave me some solace was focusing on some small things that I could control: I could make sure to watch the sunset each day, or if I couldn’t leave the bed, at least watch the light change. I could control where I put the plastic chair to watch the light move through the leaves. I could control the music I listened to, and the attention I gave to it. I could choose between white bread and wholemeal. I could take a stroll around the ward at midnight if I wanted.

Despite it being a scary time with many undignified moments (one word: catheter), I actually look back on it quite fondly. I can’t put this down to anything other than this mindset of control and attention

So I don’t know how much that will help anyone. It’s difficult to be aware of your own attention. But also, something as simple as giving all your attention to the amount of water you can hold in your palm can mean the world.

I hope you are all doing okay, that you and those you love are safe and healthy.