The coronavirus throws a unique set of spanners in the works if you don’t have a home.
This time last week, a friend and I were settling into a lovely rhythm of work and training in a beautiful Californian suburb, when the pandemic hit. Very quickly, the countries where my family lives—France and Belgium—closed their borders to non-citizens, which unfortunately, includes me. I wasn’t due to see my family for a month and I’m used to spending long stretches of time apart from them but this felt different. Anxiety hit me pretty hard. It was a struggle to concentrate and I could feel my muscles tightening up.
Flying and passing through busy cities seemed to be our two greatest risks for catching the virus so we decided to sit tight until the lockdown was lifted in Europe. I filled the freezer with food and breathed and stretched my way back to a state of equilibrium. We fast became a mini-experts on the virus—tracking stats, listening to diverse commentary and watching the different ways that each country handled the spread. There looked to be a 3-month cycle in each location…which was not ideal since my visa was due to run out right as the peak was forecast in America.
Since Canada had already shut its border, we looked to Mexico—speaking to friends and monitoring updates. Initially, we had been making decisions every couple of days but we started having to reassess every day, and then every hour.
THE ADVANTAGES OF BEING HOMELESS
“Have no attachments; allow nothing to be in your life that you cannot walk out on in 30 seconds flat, if you spot the heat around the corner.” Heat
Getting ready to leave at a moment’s notice is one of the advantages of a minimalist lifestyle. Over the course of several years, I’ve reduced my belongings to fit in a cabin-sized suitcase and I keep all my true essentials—passport, bank cards, iPhone and laptop, in a small Eastpak rucksack that my friend gave me for Christmas. As we have the car, my mobile home kit this time also includes kettlebells and a couple of yoga mats.
The moment we heard from friends that Mexico was likely to shut its borders, we made the decision to leave our lovely Airbnb and our freezer packed with supplies and drive straight to Tijuana. Again, not ideal! If we’d had the luxury, it would have been a lot more comfortable to do the long drive in America and cross the border in Texas but we couldn’t take the risk of getting trapped.
My anxiety ramped up even higher this time. I was nervous that we wouldn’t be allowed entry into Mexico, I was incredibly apprehensive about the drive through the border towns, especially if there was any unrest related to corona and I wanted to maintain open and honest communication with my family without adding to their concern.
It turns out we got lucky in a million ways. As I write, we’re on our third day of dawn-to-dusk driving, so far without a hitch. We’re headed for a beautiful town in the Mexican countryside where we have friends and relative safety for the next few weeks or months. Hopefully, we’ll get there with just enough time to find a place to live and fill the freezer before the town goes into lockdown.
THOUGHTS ON THE EFFICACY OF ANXIETY
“Worry is a misuse of the imagination.” Dan Zadra
I don’t think that the spikes of anxiety that I experienced over the last few days have been helpful. Anxiety scrambles my thinking, tenses my muscles and triggers pain in my neck and upper back. It’s also impossible to have fun when you’re anxious. I wasn’t able to enjoy going through immigration in Tijuana. I let alarming messages from people close to me upset me. And I’m not at all sure it helped that my heart pounded almost out of my chest each time we passed through an unofficial Mexican checkpoint.
I’ve been trying to track how anxiety feels in my body, to identify who and what triggers it and to gradually reduce the time that I’m in that state of “fight or flight”. What I’ve come up with so far is having wonderful people to speak to who can encourage and support you, breathing deeply when anxiety takes hold and stretching tight muscles morning and night so that tension doesn’t turn into pain.
“The price of security is insecurity.” Dan Harris
Reflecting on this time when all the luxuries we took to be inalienable rights have been so easily taken from us—including access to family, healthcare, employment, homes, food, exercise, free travel and education, I’m trying to work out how we can do better. What lessons we can learn.
For me, I’ve decided that I need to be more resilient physically—not only from a health perspective but also in terms of being able to defend myself from attack. I’ve also realised how highly I value adaptability and see the risks in an inability to adjust. I know I need to identify my Achilles heel(s) and pay attention to areas where I am weak. And philosophically, my goal is to be less attached to things turning out exactly as I’d hoped.
I know we haven’t seen this thing play out yet but so far, I have nothing but gratitude for the opportunity to pause and shore up my defences.
What has corona meant for you?