When was the last time you were honest with yourself?

You’ve got to know you’re in a hole, before you can climb out.

Sitting in the bath - be honest with yourself - Petros

I am sitting in my bath crying.

I’m not dirty, I had already had a shower earlier that day but, mentally, I needed the space. The bathroom is the only space during lockdown which allows me privacy. I am away from my husband and two teenage kids. It’s the only place I can hear myself and connect with whatever reaction I am having. I am a key worker and I had just heard that I was required to return to work, despite all the warnings about the coronavirus.

Before this moment I had risen to the challenge of lockdown. I had a number of “shoulds” in my mind, which were driving me: I “should” cope well with this situation, I “should” be able to help those in my local community (I ended up being one of the first to volunteer for the local Covid-19 support group), I “should” manage home schooling to ensure my kids won’t be spending all day on Fortnite. Most of all, I “should” use this time positively and be strong. However, one of life’s rapids was just around the corner.

The story of the future I had been telling myself (the one about me being super mum) was now challenged by a text message from my employer. I work in a secure hospital. The text explained that I was required to go into work and IF a patient on my ward had coronavirus, I would have to remain on that ward to support them and the rest of the team.

The waters around me began to swirl… RAPID ALERT!

In parallel with this news I also had to “be OK”, after all I was busy being super mum; a combination of Joe Wicks workout in the morning; trying to get to grips with two separate online schooling systems; forcing both my teens to cook cakes with me; creating a schedule (which, by the way, lasted a total of one day), Face Time my mum and discuss what she was planning to do and then navigate my way around a tense supermarket. All the while, the rapids are swirling, leaving me off balance and battered.

So, back to the bathroom.

I needed to know what was going on for me. Something we refer to a lot at Petros is the idea that, you can’t look after others, if you don’t look after yourself. My bathroom timeout was the first time I had forced myself to be honest. I found that I was NOT OK. In that moment I was not the hero. I had no desire to sacrifice myself, or, more importantly my family’s health in order to “do my part.” I felt conflicted, particularly after hearing the tragic rising death toll on the news. I was out of control and petrified.

And at this point, however, by confronting my fear I was able to calm it. Almost immediately I heard myself say, “What’s important now?” It was clear, that what was important for me was to feel safe and protected. All day I had been trying to meet that need by creating a sense of control at home, but my fear revolved around work. Understanding this helped me think through how to keep both myself and my family safe when I went to work; what was negotiable and what wasn’t. I spoke with my partner, which also helped me tease apart my justifiable fears and those more irrational ones, like the long-awaited zombie apocalypse, it’s going to happen right?!

When I think back to the bathroom moment, it has since struck me how important it was for me to REALLY be honest and understand what I was experiencing, before being able to manage it. I was a scared person trying to pretend everything was OK and, worst of all, doing a good but dangerous job of convincing myself that I was alright.

Emotions can sometimes get a bad press but, by being able to accept that I was petrified and by really listen to how I was feeling, I could find calm water in the rapids, regain my footing, think straight and act in the most appropriate way for myself, my family and my work colleagues.

I could be strong, but that strength came from self-knowledge and the courage to sit in the bath and be honest with myself.

Tracy Brookes is a Registered Forensic Psychologist.

Discover more about Tracy Brookes and her work with Petros.