Former hostage and captive of 5 years, Terry Waite CBE offers his advice on how to manage self-isolation
A quarter of the world is in self-isolation, according to the BBC World Service, and we here in the UK are in Week 2 of lockdown, so we are learning how to live totally different lives as we stay home and stay safe during this pandemic.
I was so honoured to have interviewed Terry Waite, CBE during such a strange, unchartered and unprecedented time of our lives and I would like to invite you to watch the 45 minute interview and to share it with whomever you feel it will benefit (video link at end of article).
I saw Terry speak at an Essex village church last April as he told us about his time in captivity before doing a signing for his book Solitude. The queue snaked around the pews as every generation wanted to shake his hand and to get this national treasure to sign their copy. Wow, that seems such an eon ago, physically being in groups of people and even shaking someone’s hand!
I have often reflected on what he told us about those 5 long years he spent in solitary confinement when he was captured as a hostage in Beirut in 1987. I felt compelled to track him down and to invite him for an interview as I believe he is possibly one of the best placed people in the world who can help us come to terms with self-isolation and how to manage our time alone as we live much more restricted lives.
He was incredibly giving and forgiving on the interview especially as he busted a myth: I had heard that during his time imprisoned, he was chained to a radiator. This was not quite true he told me, he was chained to the wall in the underground cell and didn’t even see daylight as he had to be blindfolded each time a guard would come in. His total time in captivity was 1763 days. We are on Day 8 of lockdown, so we have much to learn from him.
PRIDE IN YOUR APPEARANCE
I write this dressed in my favourite cobalt blue suit jacket, black trousers and bright turquoise Nike Airmax trainers. I’m wearing my contact lenses and makeup so am looking as though I am about to go and do a day’s networking in London.
The only thing is, I am not physically seeing anyone today. Only my dogs will be seeing me today and I am not sure if they appreciate the efforts I have made with my appearance. However, I certainly appreciate it as it has set me up for the day and I am feeling productive and empowered.
Looking after your appearance, maintaining your dignity and pride in yourself has been the most mentioned tip that viewers of my interview with Terry have told me. He recommended getting dressed as normal and not slopping round in slippers and dressing gown all day long.
Terry told us that whilst the guards could take away his freedom, the daylight, news of the outside world, his writing materials and any comforts, they could not capture his soul. And maintaining his dignity he managed this by putting his day clothes under his thin mattress overnight in order to ‘iron’ them.
I told Terry that I had donned my leopard print boots, smart shirt and jacket even though he wouldn’t be seeing them on the screen, just so that I felt ‘professional’ whilst interviewing him from my sitting room!
DIAL A FRIEND WHEN IN NEED
Each time I think about the loneliness of self-isolation or how unfair it is that I can’t go and visit my mother (and comfort her for the death this week of my stepfather, non CV related) I reflect back on what Terry said when I asked how we should manage the moments when we could find ourselves plunging into despair. He said that most of us at one time or another will have sad or lonely thoughts and the best thing to do is to get in touch with someone close and to chat your feelings over. This is the benefit of being so well connected that we can reach out on social media or via the old-fashioned telephone. Yesterday when feeling low about the news of the death, I messaged a friend who too had lost her father recently, I then took myself off for a walk, cried on the hill, the dogs nagged me to throw balls for them all the while I had tears streaming down my face, but when I came back home I felt SO much better, and that evening the whole family – grandmother to grandchildren all joined a Zoom call from our different places in the country. We all went to bed that night feeling closer and connected.
JE NE REGRETE RIEN
When Terry was first incarcerated three thoughts came to his mind, and thanks to these words, he has helped me.
Firstly, we are not to have regrets on what we have done, the best advice is to have acceptance. For example, he could have beaten himself up for going to Beirut and putting himself into danger, to thinking he could have been a better husband or father or colleague but this would have made him be subsumed in self-pity. Accept you are where you are and make the most of it.
Keep your mind and day busy and don’t start to feel sorry for yourself as there will always be people in worse situations than you. This is so true, I was out doing my daily walk the other day when it started to horizontal hail, my hands were freezing and I was lost on my dog walk as I was exploring new routes. As soon as I started to feel sorry for myself I checked myself and thought about the refugees in campsite cities with only flapping tarpaulin to protect them from the elements. I was going back (albeit alone) to my warm house where I could cook a meal and watch Netflix if I wanted to. Terry was in a darkened cell for nearly 5 years, and if we are lucky enough, to own them, we are in our houses where we have freedom at least to wander about and pick up a new hobby or read those books we’ve been storing up for years. Make good use of this time alone he recommended and do that thing you’ve always said you’d do if you ever would have spare time….
And my final takeaway that really keeps me going is to keep hope alive. Whilst we are in lockdown and our lives are so restricted, every day I know that this too shall pass. As Terry said, that there will be a vaccination available one day – be it 12 or 18 months or whenever and laboratories are working day and night. In the meantime, we are to keep our hopes going that we will have our freedom back sometime soon.
Such a kind and generous soul is Terry, that when we’d finished our interview, he said that he hoped I’d got it all, and I told him that I had put up two notes to remind myself to press record. Phew, we both sighed. However, I went into my Zoom recording library and could not see the interview being processed and was starting to panic that it was lost forever. I messaged him to thank him for the interview and that it was potentially lost. I wasn’t hinting to re-record, I was simply telling him. He responded by saying: “Amanda I will not let you down. We can do it all again tomorrow”.
Wow, how kind is he?
You’ll be pleased to hear that it was a slight technical glitch and the original recording was emailed to me. All the while I was keeping hope alive, and yes, it worked!!
Here are some takeaways from other viewers:
There’s much to learn here about mindfulness and gratitude and how to cope with solitude. And it’s just lovely and human to watch.
What he has to say in how to deal with the current self-isolation we all face is worth 45 mins of your time. A really insightful interview. One big take away - don’t slouch around in your pjs all day!
If we are lucky, we are at home safe with our families, yes financially it's not a good time and a lot of people are really struggling right now and it's a horrific thing to see so many people passing away, the words from Terry really summed it all up, be happy for the moment. None of it actually matters.
- Use self-isolation as an opportunity to learn something new (possibly about yourself through poetry or writing).
- This time is a reminder that we need to find harmony within but also with the environment and other people
- Live not for yesterday or tomorrow, but for today. Do the things you've always said you'll do 'one day' because 'one day' is today!
Watch the interview here: http://amandapr.com/terry-waite-interview/
Buy Terry’s book Solitude here: https://spckpublishing.co.uk/solitude