Lie low to the wall

Photo: Toa Heftiba

As lockdown drags on and deepens, Youth worker Hannah Woods says we all need to create safe spaces for ourselves and our loved ones.

As we started Lockdown 3.0, I was filled with so many emotions (I’m sure we all were!)

Then school closures were announced. Anxiety, fear, claustrophobia – the thought of home schooling two primary aged children whilst working from home, solo, because my husband is also a key worker, was daunting.

I love my children and my vocation, but juggling home schooling and working from home has not been a picnic (for anyone).

I led a youth team meeting shortly after the school closure was announced. We’re usually a cheery bunch but we were all a bit flat: loneliness, working from home in isolation, returning to online youth work – all of it drained joy. The cold, grey rain outside didn’t help much either.

Several weeks into this ‘normal’ and a tentative rhythm has been established for this week (next week is all to play for!) and I have been musing on how to keep it all working.

My first thought is that we are all TIRED. We as youth workers, children’s workers, parents – as human beings! – have innovated so hard for so long these past months.

Now is a good time to coast. Create safe spaces for our young people, our loved ones; ourselves.

There’s a great poem by John O’Donohue, the first few lines are:
“This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

This has become a marathon – it’s no longer a sprint or a Sunday afternoon amble – and we need to adequately rest and refuel or we won’t make it through.


Friends of mine take part in ultra-running; races that are a minimum of 31 miles and can go up to 3,100 miles (A beginner’s guide to ultra-running).

I found it helpful to explore this as an analogy for our current pandemic-bound situation. Ultra-runners could be running for hours, over all sorts of terrain, sometimes through the night.

This requires a different approach to eating and rehydration. ‘Food admin’ becomes very important, ensuring an adequate quantity of the appropriate kind of calories are consumed at regular intervals.

In my research this blog post on personalised hydration solutions reminded me that looking after ourselves needs to be tailored to the individual; it really isn’t one-size-fits all.

A re-assessment of the norm is also necessary when survival hiking; what the bag starts out weighing is not what the bag ends up weighing. It feels heavier the longer you hike.

Our current circumstances are not ‘normal’. We need to examine our expectations of our own performance under these conditions. We need to look at what we’re carrying in our metaphorical bags and Filofaxes and heads.

We may need to put things down or introduce new ways of sustaining and fuelling ourselves, and we need to examine what refuelling actually means for us – not what we think it means in some cute Instagram post kind of way.

Juggling plastic and glass balls

One method I’ve found helpful for reassessing this is this analogy, adapted by Nora Roberts.

The theory goes that we are all juggling balls, which represent our responsibilities. Some are glass, some are plastic. You get glass and plastic work balls, and glass and plastic family balls – things it doesn’t matter if we drop, things it does.

It matters when someone is trying to tell me about something important and I’m the person they most want to tell, whether that’s a young person within a work context or one of my children within a home context.

Other things might not matter: sending an email a day late, not perfectly filling in every session planning sheet.

The trick is to work out which balls are plastic and which are glass.

And maybe now is a time to watch plastic balls plummet, to reassess how we refuel and what we carry – to create safe spaces for ourselves and our loved ones, and ‘lie low to the wall until the bitter weather passes.’

Hannah Woods is Lead Youth Worker for Doorsteps, Viva’s partner network in Oxford.