Puppet People

Corona and chronic pain.
What does it really mean to be isolated?

It is usual at this time of the year for me to feel a little bit sad. As I visit my parent’s house during the first days of Spring, I look out at what used to be a view of lush farmland and ancient woodland. I now look only at a blank fence. Gone are the days of watching the sheep graze and the red kites swoop. We used to delight at the eerie lights from mountain bikers flitting through the trees at dusk. “Watch the wall my darling, whilst the Gentlemen go by” we would quote.

The fence was erected a few years ago. One fencing company refused this work on moral grounds. The owners of the land beyond my parent’s low dry stone wall quickly found contractors with less scruples. The fence went up; tall trees behind it further shutting out light and the countryside. This latest incursion was sadly, just the latest in a line of dubious actions. It felt personal. It was personal. It was all legal … just.

It is hard not to feel anger at people who act not only selfishly, but maliciously. It is a familiar story. Everyone knows at least one: people who act like the Punch to everyone else Judy. That’s the way WE do it and it doesn’t matter who gets hurt. After all, they see other people as subject to the laws of their own, absurdly small stage. Question these Punch wannabes or step out of line I dare you! That is when the stick comes out and they do use it. Remember that their rules are as narrow as their stage.

So I look out at the view and feeling of space that once was. The garden is now four walls and I try not to feel fenced in! In reality I’ve been fenced in a lot longer than these few years of this petty little display. What I’ve lost is far more than a view. Struggling with constant pain stripped my career, social life, and my dreams. Like most people in my situation, my world got very small. I was totally isolated.

The word “isolation” has new meaning in Spring 2020. The very real dangers that isolation brings are now the key focus of all media. Assistance in combating isolation is everywhere as we are told to stay at home.

The truth is that for many people, this social distancing the world is observing is a continuation of their lives in pain. We have been quietly distanced from our friends and loved ones and most devastatingly, our own lives for a long time! As well as the physical agony preventing us from participating, we are distanced by the simple fact that not many people can or want to understand what we are going through. A short period of government imposed home time and the world has lost its axis. For people with chronic pain, this is our new normal. Welcome to our world says the painfully isolated. Where was all this help when we needed it?

Some people reading this may find that at this time, what lifelines they did have are drying up as people focus on their own families. Again, we have dropped even further on the list of priorities. Doctors see us as low priority in the first place. There is no urgency to help us because we are always like this. We are suffering right now – still. We are alone now – still. In no way am I minimising the severity of this virus, or the fear it instils in everyone. It is the fear that is spreading misinformation and panic. Fear that is also making chronic symptoms flare.

When fear is prevalent, the puppet people among us are at their most wooden. These are the hoarders, the shelf raiders, the toilet roll snatchers.

The media reports on the worst of human behaviour and it is easy to be blinded by this. However, we can also see moments of connection and true humanity that show us at our very best! Scores of volunteers are signing up to support the NHS and vulnerable people. The arts and museums, although in dire straits themselves are offering streaming services like never before! The world is waking up too! The Grand Canal is clear again. Birds can be heard in large cities! In the face of this panic, the world seems to be united. In this technological, divided world, this is a moment of rare togetherness despite our physical isolation.

What of the puppet people? Now, they hoard. Before, they distanced themselves with fences both real and emotional. When the corona virus is a historic event, they will still be alone on their little stages. Livid circles on their cheeks, strings in their back. Wooden.

What it means to be “in isolation” is perhaps then, a state of the heart. Us, the chronically isolated will still be suffering very much. We may still be misunderstood and at the bottom of the medical pile. We need not be alone. We need not allow the pain in our bodies and hearts to change us into Punch.

At Something Chronic, we connect people not through shared suffering but shared creation. Art unites and lifts us. Our message in this time is our message every day! Sharing an artistic experience together without restriction or explanation is empowering. Being alone in your house or room doesn’t have to mean that you are isolated. Art can change the world for the better. Join us and let’s break down some fences.

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