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If you're feeling battered, it's worth remembering there are always bigger fish to fry

Opinion

When you’re holding your breath it can be hard to keep your head up, writes Rebecca Levingston

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Pick up the fish. That’s what I say when I’m under pressure.

It’s weird, but it’s what I whisper just before I go to air when I need to keep calm.

And in 2020, I need that mantra more than ever.

Things got a bit cray-cray this week. And, as Tay-Tay once philosophised, sometimes “you need to calm down.”

I know, I know, no one ever told to calm down actually did it. But let’s try because the alternative is pretty ugly.

This week, skybanners angrily trailed through the Queensland sunshine. “SHE IS HEARTLESS” was the message pulled by a plane shouting about the women in charge of Queensland.

Federal and state politicians blamed each other for border battles, which in turn amped up the distress. And I’m pretty sure the genius who fired off a death threat to the Chief Health Officer that prompted police protection at her door forgot to inhale and exhale.

Throughout recent history, trying to get people to relax hasn’t exactly been easy. In fact it’s been oddly passive-aggressive. Whether it’s a surly teenager saying “take a chill pill” or the British Government’s wartime motivation to “keep calm and carry on” sometimes just breathing may be the way to go.

To be fair, when you’re holding your breath it’s hard to keep your head up. And there are lots of people gasping for air right now.

You’ve seen the headlines capturing the trauma of separation and desperation. Funerals missed, accidents, illness and loneliness. Pandemic disruption has sapped our world of its usual compassion.

This week Gwen called in to my show to tell me about her daughter in lockdown in Melbourne. She wanted Queenslanders to keep perspective. Things here could be so much worse. Gwen cried when she told me that she doesn’t want her daughter to try to cross the border if something happens to her. She desperately wants to wrap her arms around her child but in the meantime she’s stoic and hoping for hugs in the future.

David’s mum is in aged care in Melbourne. He has two sons, one is a nurse in Victoria and the other lives in New York. It’s a constant combination of concern. He’s taking it a day at a time.

Cyndi’s stuck in San Francisco. San Francisco is on fire. Cyndi wants to bring her family home but her flights keep getting cancelled. She’s finding it pretty damn hard to stay calm, and I can understand why.

There are so many stories of financial and emotional heartbreak. But it feels like we’re so close to being ok. The numbers in Victoria are going down. Queensland is still a triangle of freedom for so many.

I wonder if we can keep calm, the quiet might create capacity for compassion so that the voices in the most extreme circumstances can be heard and helped. The obligation of our nation’s decision-makers in that lull is to listen and lead.

So, back to the fish. My strange little mantra when everything feels overwhelming. It involves a deep fryer and lashings of chicken salt.

My first job was at a fish and chip shop. It was the early ’90s and there weren’t a lot of food choices 20km out of town. On weekends, we were furiously busy. From about 5pm every weekend the phone would start ringing and wouldn’t stop for hours. Orders piled up and so did the stress level inside our sweaty little kitchen.

My boss rarely coped. I learnt very quickly that if I just picked up the fish, dipped it in batter, dunked it in the deep fryer and loaded baskets of chips, that we would always make it to the end of night.

Pick up the fish. We’re going to make it through the night.

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