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Due to the present COVID-19 outbreak, we’re all under Central Government Control. Control is a subject I’ve been discussing with my close friend Helen Davies for a while, so by the power of the internet, we’ve maintained #socialdistancing and brought our ideas together. Before we get started, here’s an introduction from Helen…

“My name is Helen Davies. I’m a Respiratory Physiotherapist working in the NHS, a wife and a mother to an energetic 5 year old. Writing is not my thing, nor is public speaking, but, despite my age, I have been both lucky and unlucky enough to have gained life experiences that others have not. In my work I see people from all walks of life, the haves and have nots, strictly religious to fully atheist, entrepreneurs, criminals and every day people. They all need something and I’m proud to be one of those people that can help them. I am a hard working perfectionist and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life. People often mistake my quiet manner for shyness, although I’m not the most confident it is more that I’m listening. I only speak when I have something to say….”

Helens words are written in Italic…

You want to have or be in it but shouldn’t take it, you fear losing it and you do not want it taking from you, but someone should always have it.

I’m talking of CONTROL

Control – verb to order, limit, or rule something, or someone’s actions or behaviour:

“It is a word we bat around in every day life without considering the true meaning, unless, like me, control is one of your issues. People react very strangely when I say this, I am by no means controlling, in fact I loath having absolute control over people or situations, BUT nothing scares me more than the thought that I am not in control, of me, of what is happening to me, of what will happen…

We all hope to be in Control – control of our own lives, control of our own thoughts and control of our own destinies.  When control is taken away from us, we react in many different ways.  Some complain, some applaud and some drift.  How we react will have a great impact upon our lives.

When I suffered Severe Frostbite in 1999, I was 30 years old, fighting fit and climbing hard.  In less that 48 hours I was reduced to severe injury, extreme pain and complete inactivity.  Everything I had done for the last 30 years of my life was taken away from me.  I tried to fight – fight the drugs, fight the pain and fight the bed I lay in, but my control was gone.  Professionally, my job title is “Control Engineer’.  I control the electricity network and have existed in an engineering world of binary answers for years (during this present crisis, I’m spending all my working hours helping others control their lives by keeping the lights on to over half a million households in the UK.) When I asked the doctors in Alaska if I would lose my finger and toes, they replied ‘we don’t know’.  This was an alien concept to me as all I wanted was a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.   I might not like the answer, but if I understood the reason, then I could begin to cope with the outcome.  It took me a long time to release my control to others, who would literally spoon feed me, brush my teeth and wipe my arse.  I was unable to walk, felt marooned in a bed and slept with my arms elevated as if being crucified.  It thankfully seems a distant memory now, but at the time I felt completely at the mercy of others and I was.  Here trust is everything and you really do need to trust others to help and control in a positive manner.  Unfortunately, it can also go the other way.  Rather than being positive, negative control can be destructive both mentally and physically.  We’ve all probably felt both and sadly the negative control is what people tend remember.

For me, I never even considered control in my younger years, it was implied that those adults around me had control and were trusted with it, to make the best decisions on my behalf – that is after all what parents and responsible guardians are for, to be trusted to make best decisions while in control

I work in health care, my patients presume I know what I’m doing and through the information I provide are able to give informed consent therefore ceding the control during our treatments. I know what I’m doing, I have my training, experience and when all else fails my team behind me – I feel in control and am happy with this. When a patient does not have capacity to make decisions we as Health Care Professionals are expected to make best interest decisions where advanced directives are not present. This surely is a very vulnerable position to be in on the receiving end and absolutely not something to be exploited – although we can all think of examples

Negative control is absolutely destructive, it destroys the trust, the relationship, the victim. The effects can be far reaching and more substantial than anyone realises

My expedition work has brought many other moments where control has been taken from me.  I’ve suffered an appendicitis on an ice cap, been half drowned as a boat sank in a jungle river , taken a fall off a Himalayan Peak and been reported missing in an avalanche.  This might all sound dramatic, but it becomes much easier to bear when you realise that all these actions are beyond your control.  What matters is how you come to terms with that shift and how you take control back.  I vividly remember a belay failing as I abseiled off Ama Dablam in Nepal.  I suddenly fell backwards, accelerating down a steep face, my hands clawing down the snow like a cat on curtains, until I came to a snowy stop.  The falling was out of my control, but the instinctive reaction to hold on for grim death was me wrestling control back.  Thankfully I managed to find safety, but numerous other abseils had to be achieved to get to camp.  I was scared witless but had to keep control of my feelings or stay and freeze on the mountain.  I entered camp late, but alive and that was enough for me.

These are actions based on medical necessity, physics and survival.  I find these the simplest to deal with, as we cannot change certain things in this world.  They happen, we deal with them, we move on.  We have to, otherwise we think too much and we can become stagnated and self destructive.

Control of the emotions, the heart and the soul are another matter.  We can easily take control of other people’s emotions and vice versa.  Again, trust is everything.  If you truly trust each other, then the world is your oyster, however there are many awful tales of trust being compromised and control being used to abuse others.  This is not acceptable but does sadly make the headlines.  The halfway house of Limbo is an area where no-one holds control, and this is a difficult (if impossible) place to exist.  Sometimes we look to others for answers in this world.  If we don’t get them, are shunned or feel undervalued and we can soon fall into Limbo.  No-one wants to be forgotten or ignored.  The whirlwind of stress and internal destruction can be unstoppable.

A relationship is the only time I can think of where you are most open to giving up your control. It creates a level of trust and dependence where without thinking you give someone control over your emotions, heart and inner person. You may not do this consciously, but by loving and caring for them, and giving love and care back, you open yourself. By opening up you are vulnerable to the best and worst of humanity, but in a state of Catch 22 you can only experience the best relationship by being vulnerable and opening up” 

So this is where we start a relationship. Heartfelt words with truthful meanings and all the care you can give. Can that be said – absolutely. Can it be faked – all too easily. My experience of negative control is unforgettable. Two years into a relationship I spent six months utterly under someone else’s control. Can someone change? Or is it just that they hid who they were?

People think I’m exaggerating when I say this, but he had control over me. I couldn’t think of being with anyone else. I forgot friends. I went to uni and was unable to make any meaningful relationships with flatmates or people on my course. One word from him would make me stop my work, leave the room, laugh, cry…

I wrote recently about the power of words.  Words can be used to control, and we should never underestimate their strength.  Listen to a well-trained orator speaking before an audience.  There is no need to swear or use offensive language.  Single words such as ‘disappointed’ or ‘concerned’ are used to great effect.  They can control an audience, their feelings and emotions with only a few syllables.

“I’m not stupid, I’m not gullible, I was just so well groomed. And then the physical control, not being able to leave the room without permission, not showering alone and then when I was able to get out, I had the opportunity to run, but being so controlled I was completely unable to ask for help. I’ll be forever grateful to the unknown man who asked me if I needed help in the early hours of 6th December 2008 while I sat freezing in my pyjamas on the steps of a church in Sheffield, but I simply wasn’t able to. Even without being present someone else exerted such complete control that I couldn’t accept the help offered. I couldn’t call my mum – because even as an ‘adult’ I wanted my mum. I couldn’t go to the police about what was happening

Control can be so absolute, I never want you to experience this, but until you do, you won’t ever understand

My life is now happy, perfectly imperfect, but my issues around control remain. I fear losing it, being out of control of myself, or the situation, or just the feeling of it – even if I am still in control

Be careful of the words you use and the actions you take – without knowing it or meaning to you can take control of someone and cause irreparable damage. More than anything else, be especially cautious around children. As Stephen Sondheim wrote – ‘careful the things you say, children will listen, careful the things you do, children will see, and learn. Children may not obey but children will listen, children will look to you for which way to turn; to learn what to be. Careful before you say “Listen to me”. Children will listen’”

COVID-19 has struck the world and suddenly we’re all struggling with its effects.  Governments are taking control to halt the spread of the virus, and that means human beings are under control.  Our physical movements, contact and future is in the control of others.  We might not like this, in fact some may openly rebel, but for many it is a must.  Your health is at stake and you cannot risk that.  You must be in control as much as possible.  The internet has provided an ideal medium for imaginative communication as people look for control and normality, but it must be used well.  Speaking is still better than typing (in my view), and we need emotional support more than ever.  Many people are feeling lonely, many lost, many controlled by something they can’t see, feel or taste.  This might feel like a time to run and hide, but it’s actually a time to wait, stand and fight (I’ve always found that people who run from reality tend to get lost very quickly). To fight for your control, to wrestle back whatever normality you can and to maintain those precious contacts, because when all this is over, it’s those controls and those contacts which will matter the most.

This is a time when you have to accept someone else is in control. COVID-19 is a real threat. Already I am seeing patients die, colleagues get sick – and die too, the hospitals are filling up, we are converting exhibition centres and arenas where we have watched concerts being turned into last resort hospitals. I see patients who are ‘high risk’ or ‘extremely vunerable’ ignore isolation rules and go out, as do my neighbours, all because friends, family and loved ones they trust do not believe this is as serious as it is

Accept the government’s control. Bide your time, isolate – when this is over you can have control back. But for the NHS to gain control, we need you to give it up, for a time.”


My thanks to Helen for her time and openness in writing this piece with me.

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