Emotional Intelligence and COVID-19 - A Reflection
I have insulin-dependent diabetes and was infected with COVID-19 on 23rd March 2020.
My husband became ill first. We were isolated together at home for a month. There was medical support over the telephone. We were kindly supported by neighbours, who delivered food and prescriptions on the garden wall (three courses of antibiotics for chest infections between us) and we lolloped out like zombies to collect them.
We experienced: sweats, coughing, fatigue, loss of smell and taste, ‘brain fog’, chills, earache and constricted breathing. We had the support of each other in the most intense and frightening of times. Not everyone was so lucky. I’m happy to say that both of us got through this bout. After several weeks in this situation, I wrote an article on LinkedIn (a rant really!) about what people were saying to me. This article is an extended version of that post.
With the benefit of hindsight, I’m now attempting to understand that situation.
As a Behavioural Skills Specialist and Workplace Mediator, I have been trained in emotional intelligence. I want to start this article by giving sincere thanks to my friends, colleagues and family who are wonderful and caring people.
To give you a picture of me – I’m independent, flexible and good at problem solving but my optimism and stress tolerance is low - according to my EQi assessment.
I knew that I needed ways to boost my resilience in order to manage my stress. My strategies included:
· Not listening to the news at all for a month (after all who wants to hear that I had a 1:3 chance of dying…?) The news was obsessed with mortality – snippets of which I heard from time-to-time as my husband put the news on when I was in the shower
· Listening to healing hypnotherapy
· Distracting myself with Netflix whilst lying still - quietly, letting my immune system do the work
· Contacting my support network of friends and family, explaining my situation
And it’s the last point where things got horribly interesting.
Most people were sensitive about our situation but some really-were-not. To give you an example, on three occasions, I was told by three different people, the names and ages of other people who had died from COVID-19. I was also phoned by my employer twice and, at the end of the call, she said darkly: ‘you sound worse than last time we spoke.’
At night I would lie awake wondering why I sounded so much worse and ruminate about the poor souls who had sadly passed away. With not much else to think about, this felt like emotional poison.
To balance this, my husband’s level of optimism is high. This meant that he was a lot more tolerant of other people’s behaviour! Whilst I was able to call the doctor (when he said he was ‘fine’) and get him antibiotics; he was able to tell us: ‘we’ll be all right’ when things looked pretty bleak.
I felt that some other people were lacking in empathy towards me. So, let’s discuss empathy: ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.’ It involves being able to imagine me in my situation. Clearly, in some cases, I don’t think that this process happened. Is it because they’d not had COVID-19 that they couldn’t understand what we were going through?
But was it empathy that I really wanted? Did I want someone else to feel what I was feeling? I can categorically state the answer is ‘No.’ It was bad enough for me to feel this – let alone someone else!
So, let’s think again. What about their anxiety? It was having a big part to play with lockdown, restrictions, change to everyone’s normal life, worries about food shortages, panic buying and isolation. I believe that the media had a large role to play in stoking the zeitgeist: ‘FEEL ANXIOUS EVERYONE!”
Another friend called me and successfully cheered me with a great upbeat conversation, but unfortunately undermined it by her last question: ‘Do you cry every day with fear?’ I answered ‘No’. But the implication was maybe I should be sobbing thinking about the abyss that lay before me! Others sent panicky messages asking what my latest symptoms were – which I picked up in the morning as they were left on my voicemail late at night.
Clearly there was a significant mismatch between their kind intentions and how they were behaving. I appreciate that it’s hard not to display anxiety – when it’s everywhere. And they had a genuine reason to be anxious. They, their loved ones and everyone they had ever met who was alive at that moment was faced with contracting a deadly virus. How should they handle that?
And then things progressed and my symptoms lingered for 12 weeks - which meant a long, slow recuperation. This led to the: ‘why aren’t you over it yet?’ questions. Sometimes followed up with: ‘you must have it really badly.’ Truthfully, I was feeling very drained by, what I felt, were unnecessary negative comments.
Why would someone say this to a person who is sick and clearly trying to get better? I had to devise a new stress management activity to protect myself. It was simple. Stop talking to the people who had made comments that I felt were negative, until I felt more recovered. I also sent my husband (who was feeling better) on a crusade to explain to people not to talk about dying of COVID-19 when they contacted me.
I was starting to feel that many people were in the uncomfortable place of: ‘I don’t really know what to say, so I’ll say the first thing that comes into my head.’ It’s not their sympathy that I wanted. I wanted better communication.
The friends and relatives who were angels at this time were those whose message was: ‘I care about you. Is there anything I can do for you?’ What a relief that was!
In return, I had the space to open up and encourage them to be positive and upbeat, tell me about how they and their family were doing (a great way for me to take my mind off things), talk about fun times from the past and events to look forward to in the future.
Maybe that approach would not have suited everyone – but that’s what I wanted.
In the last analysis, the solution is back to basics – what I see every day as a mediator; two people not really understanding each other because of a breakdown in communication. The solution is about asking and listening. So easy to say and yet clearly, sometimes so difficult to do.
Keep well - and communicate well!
Allegra Stone Mediation