And just like that, we’re back to stay-at-home orders.
My Twitter feed is full of emotionally-charged anger and so much hate – and no, I’m not just talking about events in the USA. Bitterly divided into camps of COVID deniers and believers, the platform is awash with the gaslighting of scientists, academics, health professionals and virologists, trolled for the evidence they present and the messages they share.
And if there has already been a common thread in my early 2021 therapy sessions, it is the fear and anxiety associated with another lockdown, as well as the pandemic grief, isolation and depression still being felt since the last one. It’s affecting ALL women, at every stage of womanhood, in different ways. And as the utter dread of homeschooling kicks in again, so does the loneliness, the anxiety, the isolation, the financial cliff-edge, and that all too familiar fear of not being safe at home.
This time round though, things are different in many ways.
Same, same – but different
Firstly, there’s a whole lot of denial out there, more so than in March 2020 – an expanding mass of COVID deniers who insist this virus is still no different from flu. These are people who cannot and will not accept the reality, even when presented with fact-driven, scientific research-based information.
Their attention bias is so fixed on the reality they have constructed in their own minds, they feel that the rules simply don’t apply to them. They feel aggrieved, certain they are safe from the worst ravages of this contagion. But the truth is that this virus affects us all.
Denial is a defence mechanism, designed to help us cope with fear and uncertainty, not to mention all the other emotions associated with living through a pandemic. That fear can manifest itself in a whole host of different ways, essentially allowing us to construct our own realities about what we choose to believe, creating an attention bias for the reality we have constructed and, in the process, minimising the threat COVID poses. We then surround ourselves with others who believe what we believe – which confirms and validates our own truth bias. Conspiracy theories then become a way of reinforcing those beliefs.
Whilst in lockdown one we were clapping for our key workers and frontline NHS workers, this time around we are watching them get gaslighted. And it hurts, for these are the people who have risked their own lives, day in, day out, over the last ten months to keep us all, even the deniers, safe. They are exhausted, and they need our kindness and compassion, now more than ever before. Because as Twitter rages, they are still out there, on the frontline of the battle against this virus, witnessing the devastating reality.
Experience is key
Secondly though, and more positively, this time round we are going into lockdown with lived experience. We have developed an additional layer of resilience. We know, in many ways, what to expect, and while I’m acutely aware that this resilience is paper thin, that lived experience gives us insight. We know what worked for us last time round, and what didn’t.
This is our blueprint for self-compassion. We know what we need to do to keep ourselves emotionally and mentally well. The challenge is doing it.
Personally, I know that deleting Twitter from my phone to limit my ability to doomscroll will help me. That focusing on the future, on the things I actually have some control over, is food for my soul. I started my psychology masters in 2020, alongside my therapy work, and by the time we emerge, be it in spring or summer, I will have finished it. Study really has been my saviour through this pandemic.
That’s not to say that I, too, haven’t been dealt a few blows to my own coping mechanisms. I’m also dealing with a fractured hip, and with my hip replacement surgery looking like an increasingly distant goal, my go-to lockdown one walks have had to be put on hold.
That means, however, that I’ve had to find other ways of keeping myself healthy, connected and supplied with endorphins. Dressing happy helps me, applying a daily red lip for my steady walk into my office each day to help support others who are struggling. So, too, does trying to keep healthy by eating nourishing food and getting enough sleep. It’s not always easy with a three-year-old, but I know what works for me. And looking after me is my priority in 2021. Because there really is only me who knows how.
Be your own champion
There will be a plethora of advice coming your way on things you ‘should’ be doing. It will come from well-meaning people, but that doesn’t mean it will do well for you. You are your own best advocate, so please don’t feel pressured into doing something just because others are. If having a challenge works for you, go for it. If hibernating for the next seven weeks sounds better, that’s grand too. Bake banana bread every day if it makes you happy. But if it doesn’t, don’t. The world is plenty well-stocked with banana bread already.
Focus on the things in your life that you have some control over. However small and insignificant you think they are right now, they matter a lot. Tap into the things that you know will help you through this next lockdown. I for one, won’t be on the Zoom quiz bandwagon this time, and Twitter will remain deleted from my phone.
And most of all, remember that while we are all viewing life right now through our own unique lens, we really are all in this together. Compassion, community and connection are the common needs that will help us all through, collectively.
So, think about what those three Cs mean for you, and ask yourself how you can weave them into your day-to-day. And when it comes to your mental health, please ask for help. Don’t let it get to crisis point.
You are not super-human and neither are you a burden. You are not failing in life simply because you can’t carry the entire weight of this on your own. Asking for help doesn’t expose your weaknesses or your flaws, it shows that you are a human being, just like everyone else.
Underneath the external veneer you see presented online are people who also aren’t coping. No, really. Everyone is struggling on some level that is relative to them.
So please, promise me that you will reach out and ask for help when you need it. Because the one thing we know to be fact is that carrying the entire load of this pandemic on our shoulders is impossible – and there’s no Oscar to be won for the performance.