Life in the Time of Covid
When I started this blog, I had Grand Plans to post about some of the intersections around politics and therapy. Maybe a post a month, touching on different themes, flagging up things that felt current.
It’s been over 4 months since my last (first) blog post and I’ve yet to follow up on that plan. This year has felt relentless. It’s hard to know where to start, when the world is changing with such alarming speed.
It’s OK to feel exhausted by it all.
One of the things I value most, about the work I do, is that it allows me a small glimpse into the breadth and depth of human experience. I have learned that the pandemic and lockdown has impacted on every one of us, in uniquely complex ways. In the same way that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to counselling isn’t helpful, because we are all individuals with a distinct set of circumstances, the impact of lockdown has affected us all differently.
Most of us are juggling multiple commitments, whilst also trying to adjust to a vastly different way of life, of working, of interacting with loved ones. Many of us are struggling with isolation and ill-health. Badly needed medical treatment is on hold. Our experiences of birth, life and death have fundamentally changed this year and we haven’t had the time or capacity to process any of those changes.
The inequities in our society have been brought into sharp focus – past arguments about the logistics of accessibility have dissipated in the face of the majority needing those same adjustments. Remote working and furlough highlighted just how much our society depends on insecure, low-paid labour. Disparity in internet access, equipment, and safe, stable home environments, has impacted on so many of us – whether for work, school or in therapy sessions.
Then there are those who were already falling through the cracks before all of this: people living on the streets, in shelters and refuges. Asylum seekers and refugees trapped in detention centres across the UK. People of colour struggling to survive in a society weaponised against them. Trans and non-binary people facing increasingly hostile rhetoric. Across the board, marginalised and vulnerable groups in our society have had to continue to push back against the seemingly limitless desire in the political and public spheres to strip away their rights, access and, for some, even their right to exist.
The struggle to survive doesn’t just stop, just because ‘normal life’ has changed.
It’s OK to feel tired, exhausted, overwhelmed, stuck.
As a species, we aren’t built to endure this level of stress long-term – and it has been long-term. Even before the pandemic, we were a few years into the Brexit battleground, with multiple cliff-edges and moved goalposts, and all the anxieties that went along with that. Similar political and social contexts can be applied to most countries.
Lockdown arrived when we were already experiencing fatigue and overwhelm at the uncertainty of the future.
We are all experiencing this long-term stress - mentally, emotionally and physically. Our bodies are trying to endure continuous ‘fight, flight or freeze’ responses, whilst also trying to free up spare capacity for adapting to our new circumstances – and still continuing to maintain our everyday functions and abilities.
It’s OK if our bodies are struggling to cope with all this.
One thing I try to encourage in all of my relationships – therapeutic and personal – is in offering ourselves compassion. The last thing our bodies and minds need, whilst they are working so hard to support us through all this, is for us to attack ourselves even more. Self-deprecation, guilt, comparing ourselves unfavourably to others or denying our right to feel certain emotions - many of us have learned to be hard on ourselves, in order to survive, but surviving is extra hard just now, so we might need to offer ourselves some slack.
We may be able to rationally see that our individual circumstances ‘could be worse’ and, sometimes, there can be value in applying perspective to help us continue. However, if we can allow ourselves to feel however we feel, without judgement, and offer ourselves compassion in those moments, it can make it easier for us to see beyond them. Placing restrictions on our feelings, denying them, bottling them up or dismissing them, stops those feelings from moving. By allowing them to just be, it can create space for other feelings to exist.
This IS hard. The reasons will be different for each of us, but those reasons are REAL and it’s OK to feel however we need to feel about that.
If we can admit that, to ourselves and to each other, there is real potential there for solidarity, for comfort. Every time I have opened up about how bad I have felt about life, this year, people around me have – without fail – risen up to meet me in that space, sharing the same feelings. We are all in this, even if the impact differs. The worst fears and feelings we hold inside, are shared by more people than we may think, but when we are so caught up in minimising our distress, in comparing ourselves to others, we can miss an opportunity for connection.
By allowing compassion for ourselves, we can also extend it to others.
By recognising all the ways in which we are uniquely impacted by all this, maybe we can gain some insight into how to do things differently, in future.
("I'm Fine" image from Gunshow webcomic)