Dear Therapist..."Freedom Day Was a Misnomer – Life Still Feels Dominated by Covid"
‘The return’ after summer holidays always brings a bit of sadness for me but this year it is full on dread, and I worry I’m becoming depressed. To be honest, there’s been a heaviness building since late July when it became clear that ‘Freedom Day’ on the 19th was somewhat of a misnomer – there is so much of our daily lives that still feels dominated by Covid. Reading all the latest press has me fearing what happens to the virus in the winter, that even the freedoms we’ve gained may be short-lived. The thought of returning to home schooling at some point in the future brings me to the verge of a panic attack!
Back to School Blues
I read an article recently in which the author discussed a ‘collective homesickness’ we’re all experiencing these days as we realise the world has changed during Covid and it’s not going the be the same as it was. And with this ‘homesickness’ comes a grief for what we’ve lost. This really resonated with me and with what I’m seeing in my client work. We’re all in the next iteration of our adjustment to the virus, very much in line with what you describe – adapting our expectations about what ‘freedom’ really means in our efforts to go about our daily lives while still cohabiting with the pandemic.
Clients have described travel debacles over summer holidays, restricted abilities to see or help family members abroad, the beginning of event cancellations for fall, and, yes, many fears about what restrictions may be re-imposed over the winter. It’s a lot to sit with.
The first step is to acknowledge this, and to take a few deep breaths to ground yourself in today and try to set aside worries about what may be in the future because the reality is we just don’t know. The desire to know and plan and control all is understandable but ultimately futile. Even worse, it can add to anxiety as we try to know the unknowable. I invoke the words of the Persian poet Hafiz: ‘Now that all your worry has proved such an unlucrative business, why not find a better job?’ So, what might this look like?
A focus on two aspects of our Covid experience tends to fuel negative emotions: 1. What we’ve lost (and miss!) because of the pandemic, and 2. What we’ve ‘gained’ but wish we hadn’t in terms of new restrictions and regulations and things generally making our lives more difficult. We may not have control over how long this virus continues to disrupt our lives, but we do have control over where we direct our thoughts and so energy (Recall the truism ‘Where attention goes, energy flows.’)
What if we flipped both of the above around and instead looked at 1. What we’ve lost and are pretty darn glad to see go, and 2. What new things we’ve gained and are glad to welcome into our lives? Make a list of both. Routines, relationships, perspectives or habits that have transformed over the last 18 months in a good way; positive changes we’re not yet fully appreciating. Even when the outside world can feel very stuck, there is still much that is shifting and evolving in our inner landscape.
None of the above is intended to paint over your current difficulties, or to minimise the sadness you are feeling. We need to make time for all of our emotions, even the uncomfortable ones. But we can also acknowledge that these aren’t the full story either. That some losses are good ones, and that from our current period of transition also comes welcome change, and maybe even personal growth.