Breathing New Hope by Hannah Stone

In recent weeks I’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from our wonderful NHS, with various tests to eliminate other possible diagnoses based on the cocktail of symptoms I’ve had since testing positive for covid in December. I now know that all the new-to-me experiences, including breathlessness, are ‘just long covid.’ I decided that having been unwell for seven months I can adopt the phrase ‘living with long covid,’ and I deliberately choose that over ‘suffering with long covid.’ I am able to do many things which I used to enjoy in my ‘old’ life – maybe in smaller portions, or in different ways. I am extremely fortunate than my incapacity does not cause me major financial headaches. It is frustrating, often lonely, a bit like being back in lockdown as smaller reserves of energy of all sorts (physical, mental, social and emotional) mean that any sort of engagement with the world around me takes it out of me very quickly. But there are, curiously, some new insights that I have gained.

My grown-up sons are fantastic at debunking me, offering pragmatic advice, encouraging me, and making me feel loved and supported whatever I am able to do (or not do). Recently, I shared with one of them that I was a bit worried about how I’d cope with a big family occasion next year, and he pointed out we had no idea how I would feel in a year’s time, and perhaps I could just wait and see, rather than micromanaging the plan. I said perhaps I could ‘park’ my plans for now. ‘Oo, look, mum,’ he retorted. ‘No parking here – the tow truck has taken that away!’ What a great way of encouraging me to live in the present. I then played with the image of living in the slow lane, after bustling along in the fast lane for the last half century or so, and that (to extend the image further) being like a car at a garage, up on blocks, waiting for an engineer to bring fresh wheels, really wasn’t such a bad place to be, as I could just enjoy looking around and being where I was, in that moment.

I’m doing a lot of relaxation, mindfulness and yoga nidra exercises at present and sometimes the calming voice of the presenter suggests you ‘just focus on the breath.’ You cannot take back a breath, or store one up for the future. You can only breathe the one that is in your lungs at this very moment. Then I thought of how the Greek word pneuma means both breath and spirit, and how the Latin word ‘spiro’ (I breathe) is only one letter different from ‘spero’ (I hope). I’ve pinched that from the third century BC poet Theocritus, who is acknowledged as the source of the phrase ‘Dum spiro, spero’ – loosely translated as ‘while I live, I hope.’ And then there is that cosmic ‘breath’ of the wind, which takes me to the delights of walking in the dales, no matter how slowly … Sometimes we have to let go, and accept we are not in control.

‘Blows your mind’

High up on the moors wind rips words from mouths;

cupped ears collect speech and Aeolian groans:

conversations collapse in on themselves.

Singed heather stems look like bright flames just doused

by sudden hail storms clattering with fleet feet.

Blown deaf and dumb by gusts, we trust to sight;

feel fooled when standing stones take sudden flight:

what seemed a flock of sheep, startled, reshape

into new meaning, huddled by a wall.

We breast the wind, wearied swimmers caught out

by currents, tides our arrogance denied,

subjecting our bodies to tyranny of forces elemental, conquering

till we acknowledge: we are subjects here.

Hannah Stone