Silken Laumann: We are going to be OK

A commentary by the author, four-time Olympian, and founder of online story-sharing platform Unsinkable

My parents lived through the Second World War, the post-war depression, and then immigrated to Canada, moving into a tiny one-bedroom apartment with three small children.

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I grew up being told frequently that anything was possible in Canada, while at the same time preparing for the end of the world. Our family readied for disaster by storing a three-month supply of food under the stairs, and gold bars and cash in a cupboard.

Although I never quite figured out why apple juice was one of the cans we hoarded, by the time I reached adulthood, I had absorbed the message: Be ready for anything. What nobody talked about in my parents’ generation was the toll that a world-wide emergency took on their mental health.

As one of our Unsinkable writers suggested, COVID-19 is a fast-spreading, slow-burning emergency. COVID-19 has all our hearts racing and our minds working overtime.

We are arming ourselves against this thing we cannot see, but we know is out there, and we know worse times lie ahead. At the same time, we are starting to absorb the losses — losses of our business, our social structures, our plans, and how we saw our future unfolding.

Let’s first acknowledge that we are not “fine,” we are living every day with a huge amount of stress.

It’s not business as usual in any single part of our lives. We are living with our grown-up kids, or working at home with our toddlers underfoot, or trying to home-school our middle schoolers while attending a Zoom call at the same time.

My colleague is making all her work calls in her car, where she is away from her boisterous three- and five-year-old girls.

And for all of us there is the insipid stress of keeping everyone safe, of making sure we are washing our hands, and our groceries, the praying that no one in our family has an unrelated health need that requires us to go to the hospital.

If we know that we are stressed, we are more likely to take measures to address that stress head on, rather than finding it leaking out at inconvenient times, or exploding out of us with the people we most love.

Self-care may have been optional in your life in the past, now it is a necessity. Breathe work, yoga, meditation, exercise, it doesn’t have to be complicated. The internet is a gold mine of great tools to get you started.

We have got to move that stress out of our bodies before it gets stuck there. My wellness tools are well honed, but most people simply haven’t had time to make their mental and physical health a priority; now is the time.

Look after yourself, so you can look after one another.

It is a time for gentleness with ourselves and with each other. There is a saying “stress makes us stupid,” and it’s kind of true. Most of us aren’t thinking totally clearly.

The other day I went shopping for the first time since coming out of a 14-day total quarantine. The changes to my local grocery store were shocking including a huge red line at the till that I completely missed in my feelings of being overwhelmed. Fortunately, the lady in front of me, said gently and kindly, “you missed the red line.”

We need to choose gentleness and compassion with one another, because everyone is struggling in some way.

At no time in my lifetime have I been so certain that we are all connected. In my speeches and books, I have said that people want the same things, they want to have their basic needs met, to have purpose and to experience deep connection with others.

Today we don’t have to guess what our neighbours are thinking. They are worrying about COVID-19’s effect on the people they love, on their jobs, and on their community.

My worry may be focused on my 83-year-old dad who still insists on grocery shopping or my immune-compromised husband or my special-needs stepdaughter, but really, that’s just the details, worry is a universal emotion right now.

Some have said COVID-19 cuts through the social hierarchy and makes us all vulnerable. But some people are more vulnerable than others.

There are thousands of front-line care givers who are more vulnerable than the rest of us; they work everyday with patients who have this highly contagious virus. We need to do everything in our power to support these superheroes.

People who live on or below the poverty line are also particularly vulnerable during COVID-19. They may have no housing, reduced access to social services, and limited ability to access adequate nutrition for themselves and their children.

A vast number of the people who use our community’s social services, food banks, and government assistance are families, and therefore they are children.

That is why, our amazing Victoria community has set up the Rapid Relief Fund. I love the name, “rapid relief”; we aren’t going to wait for other people to help us, we are going to get stuff done!

Most people are worried about money right now. As we begin to scrimp on groceries, cut down on a streaming service, and look at all manner of cost-cutting, I wonder if we can carve out a little bit for Victoria’s most vulnerable.

I have asked my children to contribute a little of what they have to this fund and my husband and I are donating 10k today.

A young woman, Ashley Rose, who was born HIV positive and wrote her story on Unsinkable, says, “no matter what your situation is, there is someone out there who would gladly switch places with you.”

In the midst of all of our losses it is good to remember we are lucky. We have our health, our family, and a roof over our head.

I have been through many challenges in my life, including having a near career-ending accident 10 weeks before the Olympics, in which I was favoured to win a gold medal.

Every challenge has deepened me as a person, gifted me with added humility and taught me greater compassion for others.

I do not know what the upside of this terrible global pandemic will be, but I know we are being given an opportunity to not just survive COVID-19 but to somehow be deepened and transformed by the experience.

We cannot change that a pandemic is gripping the world right now. What we can do is control our own response to the pandemic, to look after ourselves so we have the capacity to look after others, and to think about who else in our life and community we can help.

HOW TO DONATE

Tax receipts will be issued. If you are open to receiving your tax receipt by PDF, please include an email address with your donation.

• Online: RapidReliefFund.ca

• Phone: 250-381-5532

• Mail: Send cheques (made out to the Victoria Foundation) to RapidRelief Fund, Victoria Foundation, 200-703 Broughton St., Victoria V8W 1E2

The Rapid Relief Fund was created by the Victoria Foundation, the Jawl Foundation, and the Times Colonist to help people in need as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. CHEK Television, Coast Outdoor Advertising and Black Press are helping to boost awareness. Every dollar received from donations goes out as grants to the community.

Donations are being distributed through the Victoria Foundation.

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