COVID-19: Your problems matter
Life has not taken a day off. In the storm of COVID-19, in the frenzy of daily updates, media reports, hand washing, social distancing, and watching the daily death count rise with horror, it can seem like nothing else exists.
The impact I find with clients and myself is that it can often cause us to put to one side our difficulties under the mindset of, “how can I possibly complain with what’s going on out there”, when in fact, what is going on out there and the survival of the world, solely depends on all our difficulties and problems being important.
Imagine for one moment that COVID-19 never happened. Right now all our health services would still be under incredible strain. There are millions of causes of suffering such as physical ailments from ageing, accidents, to disease, and/or mental suffering from poverty and inequality, abuse, neglect, illness, stress, relationships, bereavements, anxiety, and depression - all of which existed before, during and will remain after COVID-19.
“People have it much worse off than me”
Beliefs like the one above are the cause of the recent rise in people avoiding seeking medical help during the COVID-19 crisis, not wanting to ‘bother’ the NHS. Where did we digest the beliefs that our problems aren’t important, not to cause a fuss or be a burden, and “pull our sock’s up and get on with it”?
In relation to COVID-19, it partly comes as a bi-product from the messages we hear from our governments of “sacrifice” and “not burdening health services” but, it also stems from the rise of individualism in widespread modern culture since the 1970s.
Individualism is based on the belief that the individual, that is each and every one of us, is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in our tiny little worlds.
Whilst this popular belief system has helped some individuals thrive by empowering them to be their own agents of change, specifically in economically driven societies, it's the great myth, however, that we only have to try harder, think differently, be more positive, and all our difficulties will be cured.
Sadly, individualism fails to reflect the wider reality many people face in the world. It neglects to acknowledge the things people have no control over such as the lottery of the body they were born into and it's limitations, the family that surrounds them, their upbringing, community support, schooling, healthcare, employment opportunities and policies implemented by their government.
Individualisms best friend is positivity and it drips like treacle into our ears, “Just do it”, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, “Failure doesn’t come from falling down, it comes from never getting up”.
The dark side of this positivity is that it not only sells false dreams to those who don't have the capacity or context to achieve them, but, it lets off the hook the very real barriers and injustice people face in living well, and leading to what this article started with; self-blame, low-self esteem and self-neglect.
How does individualism and its counterpart positivity play out in COVID-19?
For example, a person may find working from home during the current pandemic difficult after having their freedoms taken away by force, their places of rest now being filled with work, an infectious disease on the rampage, and expectations to be able to work just as much or even more than ever with a smile on their face, and no significant compensations or adaptations to support themselves.
Surrounding them, they may hear lots of positivity about the many great benefits of working from home, how it's more efficient, not to mention receive lots of praise for how well everyone is ‘adapting’.
They may look around at their colleagues hoping for some sign of, “is it just me or does this feel really wrong and too much”, yet, their colleagues under the same fear and precarity, keep a smile on their face because no one wants to pop up and look like the weak one.
Employers, on the other hand, are sadly subject to the same financial and life-threatening precarity, so they too are stuck, and dare not mention the elephant in the room, forcing them to, in many ways, 'gaslight' their employees and pretend like everything is fine.
Essentially what can be created is a culture of silence, leaving the true suffering unacknowledged and left to fester. People become trapped, suffer alone feeling bad and broken, and paralysed in seeking out help for fear of being seen as stupid, weak or a burden.
“Everyone else looks fine, something must be wrong with me then?”
So what can we do if we are stuck with the pain of suffering, yet paralysed to act for fear of being bad, wrong, a burden, or causing a fuss?
Let’s look at comparing your suffering to that of another person for a moment by looking at the thought of, “People have it worse off than me”.
So when we think this thought, we may unconsciously hold the belief that a problem has to be much worse than anyone else’s for it to matter. Ask yourself to what end? How bad do things have to become for them to warrant acknowledgement, help and support?
Truth is, there will always be someone worse off. With logic, we can see how outright dangerous this belief system can be. It’s not only a recipe to increase suffering but if we all followed such a belief then there would be only one person in the world worthy of help; the one who suffered the most.
Imagine there was a giant set of balancing scales. On the one side, we had all the world's actions which lead to more suffering, and on the other side, we had all the world's actions which lead to less suffering.
Imagine, you're standing next to those scales and you only have one choice to make in the next few seconds; to either acknowledge that you matter and deserve support to live a happier life or choose that you don't matter and deny yourself that chance.
Choosing to acknowledge your suffering, your worth as a human being, and taking care of yourself is helping the entire world. Genuine self-care is selfless.
All the world benefits from you seeking support so you can find some peace and contentment in a world which is not fair or just and can be harsh.
The entire world is a better place with you feeling cared for, comforted and supported to navigate your suffering.
Everyone in your social circle benefits from you being happy and well, everyone in their social circle benefits from that, and so on and so on. Don't wait for the wheels to fall off or to be on death’s door before you seek help.
If you are sitting there thinking that you would benefit from therapy, then don't put it off. If you have the financial freedom to start therapy privately don't wait. If not, perhaps speak with private therapists who offer concessions or find out where your local free public therapy service is and request a referral. This can be done by a google search or by speaking with your GP.
Whilst waiting lists can be very long and disheartening in public services due to the lack of appropriate funding and support, every second that passes is a second closer to getting help if you're on one.
Your difficulties matter. The fact that you suffer does not mean you are faulty, weak or broken. Helping yourself is helping the world.
- Jackson & R Rizq, 2020.
- The Industrialisation of care: counselling psychotherapy and the impact of IAPT: PCCS/Monmouth.
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