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Coping in isolation: Time to Think
Coping in isolation: Time to Think

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Session 1: Getting used to lockdown


Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has become our ‘new normal’. Since January 2020, people worldwide have faced long periods in enforced social isolation or confinement, with no certainty of when it will end.

This is a graphic showing a group of white figures on the left and one single red figure on the right.
Figure 1 The Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has led to enforced self-isolation.

Take a moment to watch this short BBC film [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] which outlines some of the social distancing measures introduced by the United Kingdom (UK) Government in March 2020, in response to COVID-19. The restrictions you experience will vary depending on which country you live in, where in that country you live, your occupation, your age, your health, your income and other aspects of your personal situation. You may find yourself somewhere on the spectrum from denial to acceptance of these new restrictions, the loss of freedom and control over your life, and to the uncertainty this brings. Living in this new normal, you may wonder how others adjusted to enforced isolation and confinement in the past and what solace they may offer.

In this short course, you will hear the thoughts of Michael, an Irish Republican, and David, a Loyalist, who were imprisoned as a result of the conflict in and about Northern Ireland. In this context, the term Loyalist refers to those who want Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Historically, Loyalists supported the use of physical force where necessary to defend the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The term Republican refers to those who seek to end the partition of Ireland and who wish to bring about the reunification of the island of Ireland. Republicans have also historically supported the use of physical force where necessary to achieve this.

Between them, David and Michael spent 28 years in confinement or isolation in the Maze and Long Kesh prison in Northern Ireland. David and Michael are co-producing this course with The Open University (OU). They are also contributors to The Open University’s Time to Think archive. This is a digital oral history archive documenting the educational life journeys of those involved in Open University education in British and Irish prisons during the years of conflict (1972–2000).

As you progress in this course, you will be guided through the transition from freedom to lockdown or confinement. You will be introduced to strategies and structures for using your time and invited to explore, adventure and escape through your mind. You will discover ways to reframe this situation and become agents of positive change in your own lives and the lives of others.

You will also be able to listen to the stories of other men and women who spent years in British and Irish prisons during the conflict, and how they coped by using their minds and skills they developed primarily through informal and/or formal education.

But first, take a moment to reflect on your current situation. What resources do you have that can assist you in adjusting to the ‘new normal’ of life under COVID-19?

Activity 1 Reflection on how you are adjusting to the new normal

In the box below note down your thoughts on the following (no more than 150 words).

  • How do you feel about the new restrictions you are facing?
  • Can you think of any parallels with other times in your life where you spent a period of time alone, or with limited contact with others, that required personal adjustments?
  • Were there any skills you developed then that might assist you with coping today?
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You may have thought about your feelings when you had the flu, the measles or where you kept away from others or spent time alone in hospital; how you felt when you first moved away from home, emigrated, or started at a new school, or job or going to university or retirement.

For you and many others, life under the new restrictions of COVID-19 may feel like a strange or even frightening situation. It also presents all sort of challenges and opportunities. You may be facing different rules, new ways of living whether alone or with others, restrictions on your movement, a decrease in personal space, new modes of social interaction or new power relationships. You may have discovered your own ways of coping, some negative and some positive. You will have a chance to reflect on your answer at the end of this course and to add some new skills and ideas to help you through these challenging times.