Covid Considerations: Caged bird turned freedom warrior

| Kath Smythe

In the space of a few short weeks, the coronavirus has turned the world inside out. We know that times of crisis can also be fertile breeding ground for radical change, but what happens next will be determined by the stories and the truths we choose to tell. A door has opened, and there is a chance to reimagine how we relate to one another. This blog series ‘Covid Considerations’ explores what those opportunities for change might be, told from the personal perspectives of people working alongside communities, no holds barred. 

This blog is written by Kath Smythe who has worked in local government for over 20 years. She uses her personal experiences and courage to bring innovation and creativity to the public sector, engaging, involving and supporting others through change.

I’ve been inspired to write this blog after reading the fabulous article by Sam Coniff “Lockdown lessons learned from life inside” where he writes powerfully about how when your freedom is taken away, once you get it back, how you use it becomes a choice. I’ve never been in prison, but I do know what it’s like to have your freedom taken away. And I know the courage it takes to choose a positive, optimistic and daring life when you get your freedom back. I hope that by sharing some of my story here, it just might inspire some of you who are experiencing lockdown and perhaps pondering what life’s all about, to dig deep and find the courage to follow your dreams when we’re through this.

‘Gaslighting’ is a term that’s relatively recently entered our language and understanding.  Perhaps this is why I always struggled to understand what I was experiencing.  Why I always told myself my relationship couldn’t really be abusive, because it wasn’t physical.  And then it got physical and all my excuses fell away. 

Gaslighting is where someone undermines you and your reality through manipulation. It turns you against what you think, what you feel and who you fundamentally are as a person. Gaslighting creeps up on you, slowly, slowly over a very long time so the truth is, you don’t realise it’s happening. You don’t notice that all your decisions become based on thinking about how your other half will respond. That you see less and less of your friends because the moods and sarcasm from your spouse for the rest of the weekend just aren’t worth the bother. That you feel anxious with every visit to your family and frequently drive the two hour journey home in tears because it’s been such a stressful experience. You get used to the demands to be obediently seated ready to watch TV every night by 9pm regardless of whether that’s what you want to do. 

Even worse, you don’t realise that your children are increasingly anxious because they don’t want to make Daddy shout. Your anxiety blinds you to reality.  And then, one day, you find yourself walking down your street, going home after work, back to your kids, your husband, your lovely home and you realise your pace is slowing because you are full of dread with what will greet you when you get through the door. You are overwhelmed by a feeling of empathy for what it feels like to be a caged bird. You get an overwhelming need to fly. To be free. To make it stop. And that’s when you have to dig deeper than you’ve ever dug before because the road to freedom is long, and dangerous and more stressful and painful than you could ever have imagined. 

But as I started to come through the worst of that journey, something amazing started to happen.  Something that illustrates the resilience of us humans and our ability to recover from adversity. I realised that I didn’t know who I was anymore at a very fundamental level – what mattered, what I believed in, the life I wanted to lead, because I’d not been “allowed” to think for myself for a very long time. My decisions had come from a place of fear and anxiety.  Where had the strong, independent, rebellious young woman that I’d been when I met him disappeared to?  That experience of completely losing my sense of who I was meant I had to take the time to work it out and to get “me” back. What emerged was four simple things, values if you like, that I now hold close and tight and that guide every part of my life: 

  • Freedom –  of mind, of spirit of action.
  • Strength – to stay resilient, to continue my journey, to be there for my kids and to live courageously.
  • Positivity – to see the best in people, to look on the bright side, to live my life with optimism; and
  • Love and loyalty – to my family and friends because at the end of the day, they are the people who matter most.

Once I’d worked out who I am, decisions become easier.  If something aligns to my values, I do it.  If it doesn’t, I don’t. I choose how I use my (relatively) new found freedom. I’ve found the courage to dream again. I’ve found my voice to speak up, to offer up ideas, to be creative. I choose to see the best in people and to invest time in supporting them to find their path – whatever that may be. I’ve got to know myself again, learned to like myself and I’m sure as hell not going to let anyone stop me being me again. True freedom is hard won, but the tough journey is worth it. The result is powerful liberation.

We are all experiencing limits to our freedom right now. I hope we can each use this time to dig deep and work out what really matters to us and think about how we’ll use our freedom with courage to build a better, fairer world when we get it back. I’m sure that there are many people questioning their lives at the moment – how you spend your time, who you spend it with, what matters most to you. When times are tough, we lean into what matters. So notice what that looks like for you and use it to help you think about what you want your post-lockdown life to look like. I’m not suggesting that you can turn your life upside down overnight, but by knowing what matters to you and choosing to use your freedom wisely, you will make different decisions and those decisions will take you closer to your dreams. 

Follow Kath on Twitter @KathSmythe

If you have been affected by any of the issues written about in this blog you can access more information and support from organisations like Women’s Aid, Relate and Refuge.

Photo by Zui Hoang 

Share this article:

Similar articles