Artistic Director Mary Moynihan shares her story of contracting Covid-19 – and explores how we can all find the courage to see us through this time
On Saturday March 28 I tested positive for Covid-19, twelve days after becoming ill. I became unwell on Monday March 16. During the illness I suffered several days of chest pain and shortness of breath. I have asthma and on Friday March 27 (day eleven) I experienced severe shortness of breath and a high temperature and was taken to hospital by ambulance and was given oxygen.
I am now recovering at home and am coming out the other end of this illness. It is my understanding the majority of people will have mild symptoms as was the case with others in my home. For those who may need medical attention, there is support. The doctors, hospital emergency teams, and ambulance service are all brilliant and I am full of praise for the kindness and amazing, brave work they are doing.
Hopefully a spirit of community will continue as we find a way through this pandemic. We need to reach out and support each other through these difficult times. My heart goes out to all those families who have lost loved ones in Ireland and around the world and my thoughts are with you all. Our world has changed irrevocably and there is huge loss and grief for so many people. When all this has passed, perhaps we can hold on to what is important in life, the preciousness of each human being and the beauty of the natural world that we live in. When this is over I hope our world will be a better place. We need to create a caring society where there is access to proper services and support for all people equally in Ireland and around the world.
My life has changed because of this illness. All our lives have. By staying home each one of us is doing something hugely important. Each one of us is playing a key part in saving lives. Each one of us is protecting those who are most vulnerable. As we move forward, hopefully we will remember and reflect on the acts of kindness, solidarity and care that have been shown by so many people.
I am thankful for each day and for having come through this serious illness. I experience each day in a different way now as many of us do. I take great pleasure in being with my family and in a strange way it’s like getting to know them all over again. I enjoy watching the robins and magpies in my back garden, looking up at the sky or simply listening to the silence from my bedroom window. There is great beauty in our world. And it gives me great pleasure to be able to continue doing work online with the incredible people in Smashing Times including Freda, Niamh, Larissa, Veronica, Féilim and all the amazing artists we work with.
I have been thinking about the question of how we find courage during these difficult times. How do we empower our lives in the face of suffering? How do we build our own warrior spirit to enable us to connect more deeply with ourselves and others as we work together to come through these changed times?
Each of us will find our own way to ‘let go’ as we find a way to be present in our bodies, to root ourselves in the moment and to connect to our inner selves while also recognising our connection to the wider community.
The times we are living in have many ‘unknowns’. We have lost a sense of security which is described as the state of being free from danger or threat. In her book, Let Us Have Faith, writer and political activist Helen Keller said: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature nor do children as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run, than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” Keller talks about choosing to accept change, to have belief and confidence in oneself and others and to see life as a daring adventure. While the current pandemic is certainly not an adventure and is a serious threat we are facing as a people, what is relevant is how we adapt to change and get through what is happening. For myself, this has been about acknowledging the fear as well as the depth of resilience in our own souls, finding an inner resilience to carry me through.
Each person will find their own way to cope individually and as a community. I have found myself reflecting on the notion of letting go. During one episode of my illness, where I found it hard to catch a deep breath I felt a wave of panic rise up and threaten to engulf me. I knew if I panicked, I could possibly make things worse as I was already struggling to breathe and to panic would hamper my breathing even more. Instinctively I moved my body into a physical position and went through the motions of diaphragmatic or deep breathing*. I marked the stages of the exercise physically even though I was unable to take deep breaths and the wave of panic subsided. I did not attempt to control what was happening or tell myself to stay calm which probably would have had the opposite effect. On reflection, I imagine that by focusing on a physical routine I took the focus off the breath, the panic and the feeling of being swamped. I surrendered to the moment and accepted what was happening rather than resisting. Even though I was still fighting, I let go and my inner resilience kicked in rather than the panic caused by circumstances outside of my control. Throughout this time, each of us will find our own way to ‘let go’ as we find a way to be present in our bodies, to root ourselves in the moment and to connect to our inner selves while also recognising our connection to the wider community.
The American poet Emily Dickinson, wrote a two line poem that says:
In this short Life that only lasts an hour
How much – how little – is within our power
The sense of surrendering or letting go has stayed with me. It does not mean we don’t try. One can fight the good fight and still surrender or let go. I consider myself a strong, independent person and to acknowledge my own vulnerability does not come easy. To let go is a profound part of being human, to acknowledge our fears, anxieties and sorrow, to be open, as we surrender to both the dark and light that is within and around us and to be drawn towards what we truly love. It is perhaps about recognising the paradoxical nature of ourselves and the world we live in. Limitations have been placed on us where we are confined to our homes but our homes don’t have to be prisons. We have time now to explore in different ways, to dream about and find ways to express what is possible but not yet realised, to imagine alternative futures, a time of letting go.
Mary Moynihan is Artistic Director of Smashing Times Centre for The Arts and Equality; www.smashingtimes.ie
*Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise: Lie down flat if you can with head supported and knees bent or sit in a chair. Place one hand flat on the upper chest and the other hand below the rib cage (enabling you to feel the diaphragm move as you breathe). Breathe in slowly through the nose if you can, so the hand on the stomach moves gently out against your hand placed there. At the same time, the hand on the chest area remains as still as possible. As you exhale let the stomach muscles fall inward. Repeat and as you exhale, this time through pursed lips, tighten the stomach muscles and let them fall inward with the hand on the chest remaining still. Do only what is comfortable and if you can, practice for five to ten minutes a day several times a week. There are many websites with instructions on diaphragmatic breathing such as this one.
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