At Rape Crisis Scotland we spend a lot of our time calling for compassion. Usually this is from the institutions and organisations that respond to survivors directly – the Police, Crown Office and health services for example – but as necessary Covid 19 restrictions continue to dominate our lives there’s been a shift in the public conversation that needs a closer look.
Our work at Rape Crisis is rooted in decades of working with and understanding trauma, and we can say with certainty that this pandemic has tested our endurance in a way that few of us have experienced before.
It is understandable that, after almost a year of living in a state of heightened fear and anxiety, many of us are feeling tense and at the end of our tether. Recent calls to our helpline have indicated that many are feeling the strain of this more than ever before, but also that legitimate anger and frustration is boiling over and scalding those it touches, including survivors. Rather than being targeted at those institutions that are supposed to protect all of us, wrath is directed at young people, people taking public transport, meeting a friend for a coffee and a walk – as though this is not a vital lifeline for many in times of isolation - and people not wearing masks.
Evidence shows that by and large people are adhering to the rules and making decisions about this based on minimising risk. Most of us feel bound by a sense of collective social responsibility, yet the few people who are flagrantly breaking the rules continue to be sought out and splashed across the front pages, decision makers are pressed on what more can be done to punish the minority who defy guidance and people take to Twitter to lambast those they judge to be wrong.
The early days of ‘we’re all in this together’ seem far away now, bitterness too often dominates and at a time where resilience is at an all-time low, the damage that the public conversation and peer policing is having on all of us, and especially on survivors, is worrying.
Take masks for example; some recent calls to our helpline have come from survivors legitimately exempt who have been challenged by employers, peers and in public places, despite guidelines clearly setting out that if a mask makes you feel trapped, claustrophobic, panicked or anxious then you do not have to wear one. Imagine for a second how that confrontation might feel to someone in that position.
In Scotland you are not required to ‘prove’ your exemption – though there is a card available for people who do wish to carry one – which also means you do not have to disclose the reason why you are exempt. This is absolutely right – people with invisible illnesses should not be forced to disclose their condition(s). Similarly, survivors of rape should not have to disclose their trauma to meet the illegitimate threshold of self-appointed mask monitors.
The impact of this on the climate we all must live in is severe. Far from the opportunity to breathe in the fresh air we all need to survive, for many leaving the house has become fraught with danger – danger of catching the virus, of unknowingly spreading it and of being met with hostility for not wearing a mask. Interactions are strained, gazes are averted and isolation is compounded as our connections fade. We know of survivors who haven’t been able to leave their houses – even for essential reasons like getting shopping, picking up prescriptions or doctor appointments. It doesn’t have to – and it should not – be this way.
These are hard times – it’s wearing, and difficult. In good faith we do understand that aggressive demands may be the result of fear and living through grief. Trauma can influence behaviours in many different ways and so many of us are struggling, isolated and desperate. We understand the urge to lash out - but demands for accountability must be targeted at those with power.
All of us must do our bit – and despite the headlines the evidence shows that the vast, vast, vast majority of us are. Let us try to trust in that and reach out with compassion, not suspicion, and let others in our communities go about their day knowing that not a single one of us wants this to last even a second longer than it must.
Hello! It goes without saying that these are really difficult and disruptive times. This is not what we are used to, it’s a time of fear and uncertainty and a hotbed for anxiety – it’s okay if you don’t feel okay.
It’s also okay if you’ve not transformed into a yogi and banana bread enthusiast (it’s also okay if you have, magic!) and it’s completely normal to have good days and bad days and really truly terrible, dark days.
Remember, you are not alone.
Lots of calls to our helpline (which is still open 6pm – midnight every night on 08088 01 03 02) recently have talked about the impact of Covid-19 partly because right now looking after ourselves is a lot more challenging.
This situation is bringing up feelings of being trapped and of being out of our control, and many of the coping strategies we rely on are out the window. Home might not necessarily be or feel like a safe place for you.
If all of this is bringing stuff up for you, is triggering or disorientating please know that is completely normal. For most of us this is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before, so we don’t know how we are going to react. There is no right or wrong way, we just have to try and find *a way* through.
Be kind to yourself
Give yourself permission not to be hyper-productive or your best self. None of this is straightforward so it’s fine if you are feeling worse than last week or the week before. If you can’t give yourself a break during a global pandemic and national crisis, when can you?
Connection is super important right now so many of us are spending time on social media – which can be great but do keep in mind as you are scrolling through sourdough that by and large people are not posting the hard moments or the darker days. Don’t mistake having an internet connection for social connection, sometimes social media can actually make us feel lonelier. Reach out and check in with your people through Facetime and/or text.
Find a routine of sorts
The temptation to crawl from your bed to your sofa and spend all day there in pyjamas is REAL and let’s face it sometimes even just getting out of bed feels like an achievement.
Some days this is fine, but lots of people find it helpful to keep up some kind of routine, even little things like getting up, making the bed and getting dressed (into comfortable clothes, obviously). Open your window and get some fresh air. Lots of people don’t have the luxury of having a home office or space to be able to separate work/home. Try and make the most of any space that you do have and try and create some sort of marker if you are working to signify and the end of the day, even switching your work devices off and putting them away or going for your daily exercise.
If you have children or are a carer then pressure on your time is likely to be even more intense and getting a moment to yourself might be even more challenging. Even carving out five minutes to just breathe can help take the edge off intense anxiety. You can try breathing in sync with this gif for a few minutes and see if you find it calming.
Distraction and mental health
Tempting as it is to watch every single Political briefing it won’t mean that you have, or that you feel, any more in control. Lots of advice is telling people to limit news intake to once a day – but it might also be helpful to save a list of distraction techniques and ideas to help you focus on other things.
Our website has lots more on this and the Survivor Network has developed a helpful list of distraction and soothing techniques, self-care tips, links to exercise classes, resources for keeping kids entertained and learning, and more. Some of the links are local to England, but there’s a lot in here that applies wherever you are.
Your mental health matters and you are not alone. Mind (the mental health charity) have also come up with some useful resources around supporting your mental health more generally at this time, you can find these here.
Rape Crisis Centres across Scotland are still open, and many are still taking new referrals.
We are still here, (6pm – midnight on 08088 01 03 02 - you can save it in your phone under a name so it’s handy if you like) and we still want to talk to you.
We know that often people worry about taking up our time or being an inconvenience, but we promise nothing could be further from the truth. This is why we are here. We want you to call. We don’t want anyone to go through this alone.
You don’t have to be in crisis to pick up the phone or email (email@example.com), you don’t have to know exactly what you want to talk about. We can just start by talking about how you are doing.
We don’t know how long this is going to last, or what these months will look like. All we know is that for as long as it does, and beyond, we’ll be right here with you.