When I woke this morning I did not expect that my name would be spoken in the House of Commons. Nor did I expect an invitation to be interviewed by BBC Newsnight.
I was wrong on both counts.
Welcome to the increasingly bizarre world of COVID-19, where every day the stakes are raised and the words ‘incredible’ and ‘mundane’ have traded places.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s backtrack a little…
When I woke this morning, as with every morning for the past couple of weeks, it was with an unsettling anxiety that generally consists of a racing heart, a headache and a deep sense of unease.
Something I’m learning in this brutal new world is that, for my own mental wellbeing, my usual round of checking news sources when the alarm sounds at 6am is a bad idea. A really bad idea! Because that news is invariably bad.
My anxieties make me prone to catastrophize situations. I’ve learned over the years to accept this, and the knowledge that I do it helps me to contain the anxiety. So when something with truly catastrophic potential comes along – COVID-19 – I’m left with nowhere to go. Because every day, often every hour, brings news which out-catastrophizes the catastrophist.
We’re living through times which are rapidly exhausting not only our supplies of medical equipment, finances, and household essentials. It’s also exhausting our supply of superlatives to describe the truly incredible events we’re witnessing.
Indeed, what is perhaps the very strangest thing about life at the moment is that nothing is strange anymore. The impossible is played out daily on our screens as the world switches to a mode not seen before in peacetime:
- Thousands of deaths from global pandemic? Check!
- Tumbling stock markets? Sure!
- Borders sealed and freedom of movement curtailed? Why not!
- Hundreds of thousands of job losses around the world in a matter of days? Absolutely!
- Draconian legislation passed without vote in Parliament? You got it!
There’s not a lot we can do but sit back and watch. And wait. And hope.
And reach out.
Which is precisely what I decided to do this morning. As I mentioned yesterday, we run a successful small business and have done for almost a decade. We have hundreds of wonderful clients and we’re good at what we do. I’m comfortable saying that, because that’s what they tell us.
But the economic meltdown has put a hard brake on consumer confidence, which is hugely worrying for a small business like ours, however successful we’ve been.
So I reached out to my local MP, and to a journalist that I genuinely respect and admire, in an attempt to draw attention to the fate that’s befalling us and hundreds of thousands of other small businesses like ours, all of whom are tumbling between the cracks of the various rescue measures that are being announced by the government.
To my surprise, both responded.
Within an hour my MP was quoting me in a question to the Treasury on the floor of the House of Commons, live on TV.
Soon afterward I was in conversation with that journalist about the prospect of appearing on BBC Newsnight to draw attention to our plight, and that of those like us.
Things really do move fast. Too fast. Which is part of the problem, because the barrage of news is too much to process. Day-by-day, hour-by-hour, we’re being pummelled with relentless abandon by a news-cycle on steroids.
Too much. Too big. Too incredible.
We need – or, at least, I need – more of the mundane. I need to find ways to put all of this incredible back in its box so I can be awed again by the beauty of the little things.
So that’s how I’ll choose to end today, just thinking about the little things that really matter.
Like the lovely neighbour who rushed from her bus ride home to collect our prescription from the pharmacy before closing time, to avoid us having to break isolation in a way that would be irresponsible.
Like the friend who called to check up on me, because he felt I was fraught in our WhatsApp chat.
Like another friend who literally changed the words of a song to a comedy COVID-19 alternative to cheer me up.
And like our children, who wondered today about things at once wonderful and mundane, such as our coal-mining heritage, learning latin, and how best to get away with murder on some iPad game I cannot fathom.
When everything is too big in such crazy days, we all need to take a moment to breathe and to find comfort in the tiny things.
Because in the end, that’s all that matters.
In the end, that’s all we really have.