Maha Gorton was in London when the borders closed. “I had started self-isolating for a few weeks already before lockdown started in London as I was in the early stages of recovery post-surgery. As a result didn’t really want to go out much anyway so I didn’t feel it as much as in Dubai,” she recalls. “The restrictions in London were enforced in a very different way to Dubai. it felt like a choice as opposed to something that was imposed. London is very much a walking city too and with the milder weather the whole experience felt much lighter. On the flip side, however, given how relaxed the imposition of the restrictions in London have been by comparison to Dubai, simple things like going to the supermarket or taking a walk in the park did feel very stressful when others weren’t following the guidelines,” she admits.

“It was so hard knowing that my children were minutes away but I still couldn’t see them”

As soon as she could, Maha boarded the first flight to Dubai, which meant a mandatory two-week quarantine. “I spent most of my time in the hotel reading or writing. I had a mini stepper in my room to get some exercise in and tried to structure my days so it didn’t just feel like a blur,” she remembers. “On some days though it was really difficult and I had lots of conflicting emotions. While I knew it was absolutely the right thing to do, I also felt very much in limbo. It was so hard knowing that my children were minutes away but I still couldn’t see them. In that time I become strikingly aware of how much I craved face-to-face interaction and desperately needed a hug. Not having access to fresh air affected me in a way I hadn’t expected too. Friends sent me care packages and flowers that made me smile and one would even just have their Zoom open so I didn’t feel so alone.”

On being separated from her family, Maha confesses, “It was a challenge especially when the flights stopped. Regular video chats, even if they were really brief, every day were essential. I’d have a quick chat first thing in the morning with my mother, and at the start of distance learning, I would wake up early and get on Zoom with my daughter. We would be doing our work separately, at her desk in Dubai and me at mine in London. We weren’t talking much other than for her to show me the work she had just completed and then she would continue. But it made the distance feel much smaller. In the evenings before bed, I would have one-to-one time with the kids on Zoom and I would read to them, in the same way I would have if I had been home.”

And when it came to reaching out for support, she reflects, “Being able to share emotions with a friend, my mother or sister on the other end of the line when I just needed to let it out really eased some of the heaviest days. Before schools closed, a friend of mine went to my house at 6am to paint my daughters face for a dress up day to give her a boost. It is the things like that that really lifted a lot of weight off my shoulders. Ultimately I had to keep reminding myself that I needed to put myself first. I was recovering from major surgery and things were taken out of all our hands.”

“Maha is now reunited with her children, and remains an example of strength and positivity for us all”

Maha is now reunited with her children, and remains an example of strength and positivity for us all. “It isn’t always easy, I must admit. There are days when I definitely don’t feel positive at all! Sometimes it has to be a conscious decision – the awareness of choosing to focus on something that’s good and be grateful for that, even if it’s just one thing,” she concedes. “Prayer and meditation have both been essential for me. We’ve been doing the Little Farasha Gratitude Challenge through Ramadan and that has really been a positive way to end the day. Every day I set myself goals of things I need and want to do. I make sure to include small and achievable things, such as calling a friend or listening to a podcast rather than aiming to learn a skill or Marie Kondo my whole house! I find that it makes even the most seemingly unproductive day feel like I achieved something.”

She adds,  “Journalling has also been a great way of keeping myself focused and keep anxiety relatively at bay. By planning for the future, fully aware that there’s a chance it won’t happen just yet, I have something to look forward to, get excited about and mentally transport myself to that time. And when none of that works and the positivity runs out for a bit, I try to accept it in that moment and remember that I’m not alone in feeling that way.”

Maha’s hopes for the world are simple. “I hope that the pandemic is soon a behind us! I hope that we come out of this as better versions of ourselves, individually and collectively in the world. I hope that the hit businesses and the economy have taken soon recovers. I hope that travel restrictions are eased soon so that we can enjoy the summer, and people who have been separated from loved ones can be reunited again.”

“The first thing I want to do when the lockdown’s lifted is give my mother a long hug”

And her hopes for herself? “The first thing I want to do when the lockdown’s lifted is give my mother a long hug, go for breakfast with my friends, head to the beach to swim in the sea, then jump on a plane and take that summer holiday I’ve been looking forward to!”

Maha Gortons’s gratitude list

  1. Technology is something that I have found a new appreciation for and it has definitely been an essential tool both practically and emotionally during this time. Video calls have really made the time away from family and friends much more bearable. Being able to see each other and be in constant touch has made the distance less and helped maintain those close connections.
  2. Having access to the open and fresh air is truly a privilege I never released how much I took for granted in the past. While isolating in London I had access to a terrace so it wasn’t until I was in hotel quarantine without windows that opened did I realise how much I needed and valued it. When I stepped outside after 11 days in one room, could hear the birds and breathe in fresh air I was shocked at the intense emotions and overwhelming gratitude that I felt.
  3. My health! I never realised just how grateful I was for it until two and half years ago when my health was compromised. When we are young and fit we take these non material things for granted, but when it is threatened we see that it’s the things with no material value that truly are the most precious.
  4.  I am so grateful for books. Whether it is stories of fiction that transport me to another place and time and allow me to see through different eyes, non fiction texts that challenge my brain and make me think or self enrichment books that provide me with tools and support, they all serve such an enriching purpose and stimulate my creativity that has really helped me through this time. Reading has really inspired me to write and this has been an incredible way for me to express and process my thoughts and emotions, or even escape from them albeit momentarily