Before the pandemic, I hadn’t thought for one second, that my freedom might be curtailed like this.
Neither did any of the most famous hostages. Take Brian Keenan, Terry Waite or John McCarthy who were taken hostage by a Lebanese Islamic terrorist group. Terry Waite suffered years in solitary confinement and was denied access to most things that we would consider essential. Brian Keenan and John McCarthy, suffered physical and emotional abuse by their captors and other similar accounts often describe years of degrading treatment that has long lasting psychological effect. They certainly hadn’t factored into their day their own kidnapping.
Running through each of their experiences is the struggle they had with their emotions. The grief they felt at the loss of their liberty, the lack of contact with their family and their freedom of choice. Intense boredom almost drove them crazy as sensory stimulation was kept to a strict minimum. Sometimes they were blindfolded for days or in darkness. It forced them to draw on their inner resources and to find ways that they could calm their over-powering anxiety and panic, the rage they felt at their suffering and to keep mentally balanced.
Our experience is incomparable in many ways to a hostage’s. There are, however, parallels. We are not at liberty to move freely and this may feel more restrictive if you live with difficult people or you live in a small flat. You may also be struggling with boredom, especially if you are not currently working and you are not used to having time on your hands.
Having little human contact is not comfortable for a lot of people. It’s not surprising that solitary confinement is a punishment! Being alone can cause you anxiety and panic especially if you have never experienced solitude. It can also bring up painful memories and traumas that you haven’t yet processed and it can make you aware of your behaviours or habits that you are not happy with. I’ve done a lot of thinking about my own habits, especially in relationships and my feelings of grief related to my dad’s passing have come spilling up to the surface once again. I often wonder whether this work will ever be done.
There is also a lot to be grateful for. Even in their tiny cells, the hostages found gratitude in small things. A visit from a spider became a welcome reprieve from hours of solitude. The colour of fruit, a cool breeze, a new day of life as well as all of the beauty and love they had ever received. They had time to reflect on all of those wonderful things that make us human and connect us to others.
There were bad moments too. I feel their sense of powerlessness which makes me anxious, but this isn’t something new. We have no control over anything, death will teach you that. I’m most worried about my family, knowing that I can’t physically be there for them if they need me. I’m sometimes drawn into a rabbit hole of concern about the future and longing for how things used to be. I’ve switched off the news, I won’t watch it anymore. It’s hard enough dealing with my own sadness and longing than to hear about the number of deaths and suffering the world over. All I can do is wish them well.
Here are the key lessons from hostages that will help you when things get tough:
We don’t know how long this will last but we do know it will end. The good and the bad always pass because this is the nature of life. The hostages were released and we will be too. Keep that in mind if you start to despair.
Keep connected! Now more than ever, we need to maintain and care for our most important relationships. There are a million ways to make contact online and now’s the time to do it. If you don’t know your neighbour, say hello (in a socially distant manner! ), wave to people from your window, tell somebody you’re thinking of them. My favourite meditation practice involves bringing the people that I love and care about to mind and evoking those feelings of connection. In that state, I can send love and healing to the rest of the world and it alleviates my feelings of powerlessness and solitude.
Take care of your mental health. My spiritual practices help me to stay balanced and exercise helps me to deal with emotions like sadness and anxiety. Try to limit the things that trigger anxiety such as the news or social media. If certain people are causing you to feel more anxious because of their tendency to catastrophise or complain, consider limiting your exposure to them if you are still in contact.
Express gratitude. Listing what you are grateful for can bring you out of difficult emotions and into more positive states. Noticing beauty is a good place to start. Have you ever noticed the flowers that grow between the pavement cracks or the birds that gather on your fence?
Get creative. What is it you have always wanted to learn? Chances are, you can find online classes. Like me, you may have forgotten old hobbies because you didn’t have time. My creative outlet is dance, writing and cooking and now I have time for it all.
Don’t be pressurised to pretend everything is ok. If you are having a bad day, tell somebody. If you don’t feel like talking, don’t talk. Use this time to understand your needs and desires and to develop strategies for communicating those to others. All hostages talk about having to accept and welcome their vulnerabilities as a way to manage their emotions and to stop themselves from losing their grip on reality. This is a life-long lesson that will serve you in the long-run.
Practice kindness and generosity. It’s a practice because it is active and it instantly makes you feel more connected to others. If you can help somebody who is self-isolating, try and do so. Why not check on your elderly relative or neighbour to see if they need anything or if you can help them. Pick up the phone and offer words of encouragement or support. By being generous of heart, supportive and empathetic of others, we lift ourselves up and find strength to get through almost anything.
Maintain a basic hygiene regime. This will do wonders for your mental health and feelings of self-worth, irrespective of outside events.
If you are living with others, respect their boundaries. Establish with each other when you want to be alone and politely convey which behaviours are causing you irritation or anger. Much of this you may have already understood from those you live with but honest communication always makes things clearer and can improve relationships especially during conflict.
Whatever your circumstances, I wish you well. We can grow from this experience and come out stronger and I hope this blog post helps.
I’d love to read your comments so please feel free to leave them ! What is keeping you healthy and balanced?