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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Matteoda

Covid-19 and the Art of Patience

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

When you can’t go outside, there’s only one place you can go: inside. But going inside your mind is not necessarily a good idea if you are troubled or anxious. It can make things worse, and you can feel trapped inside your head as well as inside your home. However, “inside” your mind is the only place where real change can actually occur, through a regular practice of meditation and introspection.

Patience is just an abstract word, until you have to put it into practice. Having suffered from several physical conditions over the years, I started the slow, uphill path towards patience many years ago.

I used to love hiking and walked all of the Pilgrim’s Route, from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in southern France to Santiago de Compostela in western Spain in 1999. During the pilgrimage, I started suffering from pain in my feet, but did not pay much attention to it and finished my trip. In the following years, the pain got worse. I saw numerous specialists and was prescribed orthopaedic insoles, which I have been wearing ever since. The insoles solved the pain in my right foot, but my left foot, though better, still suffers to this day. This problem with my feet was the first lesson in patience. I had to stop hiking at weekends, then had to stop taking long walks in the park. In 2017 I suffered a hairline fracture in my little toe (left foot, of course) for no reason whatsoever, and the pain hasn’t ceased since. It’s much better that it was, but no one can work out why I’m still in pain, so there is nothing I can do. Just sit and be patient and hope it goes away at some point.

The enforced immobility made me turn to other forms of exercise, and I started practising yoga regularly. I love a good workout, so although I trained as a Hatha yoga teacher, I would often go to Ashtanga or Power Yoga classes, which gave me a really sweaty workout. However, a few years ago I had to take time off work and stop teaching yoga because of the onset of excruciating pain in my left wrist. It was so bad at one point that I couldn’t even hold a summer jacket in my left hand! I had some tests, and was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the base of the thumb. I received physiotherapy, took anti-inflammatory drugs, rested my hand as much as possible, and after about three months was able to resume working at my computer. I went back to teaching yoga too, but could not do all the postures that required putting weight on the hands. I still can’t do urdhva dhanurasana (bow or wheel pose, also known as chakrasana), even though I had always found it relatively easy and it was one of my favourite postures. Actually, maybe now I could do it, but I’m so scared of damaging my wrist again that I haven’t tried. I’ve discovered other forms of yoga though, and a few years ago I took a training course in restorative yoga, which is excellent for people with physical limitations (but should actually be practised by everyone in this day and age – but that’s another story).

There have been other conditions too, but I don’t want this post to turn into a long list of complaints. I am just using the examples above to illustrate how illness (read “enforced immobility”) can teach you the art of patience. And I say “art” because I really think that’s what it is.

In 2014 my elderly mother (now almost 92) moved in with us. That was another lesson in patience. The elderly require infinite patience and lots of love, and I had to discover a different form of patience. It was no longer being patient because of my physical limitations, but because of those of someone else. Someone who has reduced mobility and very poor balance needs you to understand their requirements and be patient and loving in the support you give. They often forget things, and need to be reminded – patiently – of what they’ve forgotten. Caring for my mum has been a tremendous lesson in patience and humility.

At the end November 2017 she fell and suffered so much damage that we all thought she would die. However, she was discharged home exactly 2 years ago, after a 4-month stint in hospital. When she came back, her condition was so bad that we honestly thought she had come home to die, yet thanks to her own will, determination, patience and resilience, and thanks to the care she received, she is now mobile again, albeit with a walking frame, and perfectly lucid. These two years of recovery have been an uphill battle for her, and also for us. When she was first home we could not leave her on her own for more than a couple of hours! Again, patience (on all sides) and acceptance were vital for getting through these tough times.

So now we come to the point in question: Covid-19 and the lockdown. Today the Spanish government announced that the state of emergency and the lockdown will be prolonged at least through to the 26th of April. Today is the 4th of April. That’s over 3 weeks more at home, and I’ve already been indoors since the 14th of March. People ask me how I’m coping and are surprised to see that I’m doing really well. I can’t go as far as saying that I’m enjoying lockdown, but honestly, it’s not that bad.

As I said, I’ve had plenty of practice in the art of patience, and as a freelance translator, I’ve had plenty of practice at working from home and spending many hours alone, so no problems on that front. As I’m quite a sociable person, I obviously would love to meet my friends for a drink at the local wine bar, or go out for dinner or to the cinema, but I can’t, so I don’t. I don’t make a huge fuss about not being able to. Do I miss these things? Yes. Am I miserable because I can’t have them? No. Why not? Because I consider myself to be extremely lucky to be in lockdown in Spain in the 21stcentury, within the comfort of my own home, with hot water, central heating, electricity, plenty of food in the fridge, TV, radio, music, books, the internet, etc. Without having to go back to World War 2 (my daddy was just a teenager when he joined the Partisans to fight against Mussolini), just think of people in India or Africa who have to choose between dying of Covid-19 if they go out to work, or dying of hunger if they respect the lockdown, sometimes in crowded conditions, with no running water. I mean, just how lucky am I? I have all these comforts, I still have some work coming in, though not much, and have a little more time on my hands (not much, as I no longer have the home help, so have extra home chores to handle) so I’ve finally managed to create this blog that I’ve been thinking about for years, and to resume a daily yoga and meditation habit that had been moved onto the backburner for several months.

However, there are two things that I sometimes struggle with: 1) the lack of physical contact with my mother and my husband (we’ve decided that we can’t risk giving her the virus, and as my husband is the one who goes out shopping and is therefore exposed to the risk of catching the virus, we have no physical contact) and 2) other people’s suffering. My heart really bleeds for those who lose a loved one during this lockdown as they can’t even see them off with a proper funeral or hold their loved one’s hand during their last moments on earth. The incredibly high death toll, every day, is depressing to put it mildly. I find solace in physical yoga, meditation and prayer, but some days it’s just too much.

Still, there’s always sunshine after rain, so when I feel gloomy I try to count my blessings and remember that better times will come so long as we all #stayhome, respect the #lockdown rules and #staysafe.

In the picture, one of my cats (Rufus) is obviously flouting the social distancing rules sitting bang in the middle of the table :-)


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