Be kind to yourself
A disturbing consequence of the coronavirus pandemic has been the way many people have felt they ought to have had more control over the anxiety or low mood they’ve been experiencing.
Quite often, it has seemed that shame about their feelings became more of a problem than the feelings themselves. However, it would have been more unusual not to feel some anxiety and depression in relation to global events, never mind the way individuals are experiencing them. The uncertainty about health, jobs, housing, finances, education, loved ones and the future, in general, is enough to make anyone panic, as many of us have had to face huge challenges to our everyday lives, which remain pretty uncertain.
It’s impossible to remain unaware or untouched. Even those of us who have not been personally bereaved have been deeply moved by the stories of those who have, and the sheer numbers of those affected. This is normal and, though the feelings can be profoundly unpleasant, they are better managed by being shared and expressed than bottled up and denied.
The weekly clap for carers gave communities a chance to feel connected both to each other and to the people who have been keeping the country going. Nonetheless, there remain many people who don’t feel as though they’ve been cared for, some of whom feel as if they’re in free fall. This is particularly true for some people living alone or with health symptoms which need a diagnosis or who are awaiting treatment. It’s easy to feel forgotten and then to feel guilty for minding when the news suggests others are going through ‘much worse’. But this kind of thinking is really unhelpful to anyone. Not seeking help for oneself doesn’t help other people who are having a tough time and may make life harder for both ourselves and those around us.
Indeed, it could be argued that attention to self-care is essential if we are to be available to help others. Some people are brought up to ignore their own needs, they ‘just get on with it’. But this feeling that their own needs aren’t important leaves people limping along feeling bad because they feel bad, rather than identifying their feelings and dealing with them.
Anyone who has experienced any form of oppression may have felt triggered during lockdown as there have been so many judgemental posts on social media, with neighbours monitoring one another’s movements and official advice being confusing. Some groups who have turned out to be more susceptible to coronavirus may feel disregarded and alone, or that they shouldn’t have or communicate their needs. Many people have felt unable to express their identity during lockdown, as they are separated from the groups with which they identify. This is so much worse if they are living alone or, perhaps, with people who don’t share their views, don’t even know how they’re feeling or might disapprove if they did. Some people have been cooped up with others who are abusive to them or each other, with their well-being seriously threatened. They may be unable to seek help and, as a result of their abuse, feel undeserving.
The point is that the more we fail to acknowledge and share how we feel and feel entitled to support, the more we judge ourselves and the worse we feel. For many people, the very idea of feeling, let alone showing, any vulnerability or need is appalling. They fear being judged or of burdening people. This often begins in families which deal with vulnerability through unintentionally shaming banter, or where busy parents dismiss or misunderstand their children’s needs. Often, though, other people would be only too willing to share their own experiences and hear yours, as it makes you both feel less alone.
The least helpful way to behave as we exit lockdown is as if nothing’s happened. Not only have our individual lives been unprecedentedly different for months but we can see from news reports that the world around us is changing. Many people have been more lonely and scared than ever before, many of us have longed for a hug and missed those we love with all our hearts. Many of us have experienced exacerbated grief as we’ve been unable to be with loved ones as they die or to attend their funerals. Many of us have been seriously ill and are finding the return to health is a long and depressing journey. Many of us are just fearful. All of this is completely natural. It’s not natural to blame yourself for normal emotions or try to avoid them.
Talk to others and seek professional help if you need more. Admitting you feel grim or need support is not a sign of weakness - it’s brave, proactive and human.
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