Emotions in Challenging Times

I am not sure if there are more tragedies in our world, or if we are just being made more aware of them. The age of mass media has meant that the average citizen is exposed through television and media to many national and personal tragedies. We have witnessed shootings, bombings, and endless national and personal tragedies from our arm chairs, with the ongoing aftermath of such events through follow up reporting and analysis. It seems unbelievable.

While we were concerned when this virus started in Wuhan, China, one oft-repeated comment by many was “We didn’t think this could happen here.” We insulate ourselves by assuming that we are immune from things like this. Tragedies happen to “other people”, or “somewhere else”.

So when disaster does strike, there is often a sense of disbelief. Many of the assumptions that we held about our “invulnerability to tragedy” can be shattered, causing a sense of insecurity and anxiety that may surprise us. Dr. Therese Rando describes it as “the violation of our assumptive world.”

This pandemic has brought many losses, including death, disease, disruption, discomfort and difficulty. It has been described as a crisis, and in many ways it is. However it is important to understand one very important principle:

A crisis is not an event; a crisis is our reaction to any event.

In other words, it is an individual or community’s response to what has been lost through such situations that constitute the crisis. It is not the event itself, but the person’s perception of that event that determines whether or not this will be a crisis. This explains why, in one and the same situation, some seem to cope well and handle things, while others appear to fall apart. A crisis occurs when a person’s coping mechanisms are overwhelmed.

In short, a traumatic event like this pandemic can cause a reaction which may or may not result in a crisis, depending on how well the individual’s coping mechanisms are able to handle the traumatic stress that they are under as a result of the event.

Of course, it would be a massive understatement to say “a lot has changed” in the time since we first heard news of the pandemic. In many ways these are surreal times, and there is a vast range of stories relating how this virus is being experienced by people in many countries around the world.

For many, it has been an absolute nightmare. Every world citizen has been confronted by the possibility of their own mortality, whether they choose to accept it or not. Some have faced the illness themselves while others have had to deal with the infection or death of someone they knew and loved.

Added to the trauma of the illness itself has been the reality of social distancing which has put care homes and other facilities into quarantine. We have all observed sad scenes when families were unable to visit their loved ones to comfort the sick or companion the dying, leaving a range of emotions over not being able to say “goodbye” or even to hold a meaningful funeral or celebration of life with friends and family.

It has generated fear and paranoia in many quarters, especially among those frontline workers in essential services who go to work to ensure that the population is cared for when they are sick or elderly; or who go to work to provide food and other necessary supplies. And that is without raising the ever present specter of lack of essential supplies like masks, gloves, gowns and other PPE’s.

The situation has certainly caused anxiety with those who have lost their jobs and are being forced to navigate through stormy waters of financial insecurity and hardship, unable to pay rent or provide the necessities of life.

Many are juggling their demanding jobs from home while caring for their children in the house 24/7. Stressful only begins to describe it!

Here is the dilemma. Some are welcoming the pause and the opportunity to reconnect with themselves and their family and to do the things that they had long promise they would get to “one of these days”.

But for others, this has been a living hell, isolated in homes where relationships are strained and possibly even finding themselves in unsafe situations, or at the very best overwhelmed by the hierarchy of needs that daily demands their attention, and finding ways to cope.

But for most people, their experience is a combination of all of the above.

So let’s shift the focus of our blogs from facts to feelings.