Navigating the pandemic roller coaster
Words: Kaisha Scofield
This pandemic has been scary—scary like a slow-moving but never-ending roller coaster that suddenly whips around, turns, but then lingers in the loop-de-loop, leaving us upside down and holding on for weeks on end.
Do we even know what’s around the corner, or if there’s a splash zone? Unless you are over 100 years old and lived through the Spanish Flu, it’s likely that until recently you have successfully avoided the seemingly endless and undulating fear that comes from experiencing a global pandemic.
One of the most difficult emotions we have had to grapple with is fear. We have carried the weight of this pandemic with our fingers tightly crossed, hoping that those five minutes in the elevator with a stranger won’t lead to infection. With every announcement and restriction, our fear rises and falls until it settles deep into our core.
Navigating the world in such a scary and unpredictable state can have profound and confusing effects on our mental and physical health. Mental health reactions can show up as heightened anxiety or depression, mental fatigue, unpredictable irritability and lack of motivation toward tasks that were previously routine. Physically, we can experience digestive irregularities, unusual cravings, appetite suppression, increased appetite, hormonal irregularities and fatigue.
What we have experienced is a collective trauma, a global trauma, and this can show up in our lives in unexpected ways. A common treatment for sufferers of traumatic and emotional events is to form and connect with a supportive community, and the unexpected silver lining of living through a truly global pandemic during the age of connectivity is that the communities we can connect with are more expansive than ever before. We may be going through traumatic life events, but at least we are all going through them together.
We face this pandemic collectively: even in isolation, we are “separate but together.” Our remote connectivity has, for many, been a saviour in this otherwise dark time. The first Zoom Christmas may have been bleak but it was far better than nothing. All of this extra time spent in physical isolation has led us to spend much more time on digital connections. As our physical connectivity contracted, our global connectivity exploded, and this new connectivity might be what pulls us through or even propels us forward.
For many, the depth of the pandemic-induced connectedness was first realized when the Harvard Business Review published an interview with grief expert and celebrated author David Kessler. He suggested that this dull sadness were all feeling was grief. The response was nearly universal. We immediately recognized our own familiarity with grief and knew that he was onto something. We then took to the internet and shared our experiences and the world opened up. Collectively we grieved, still separate but together.
Soon after we settled into our shared grieving, we learned a new word: languishing. A brilliant New York Times piece introduced us to this new concept of not quite depressed but not quite flourishing, describing it as the “neglected middle child of mental health.” Languishing is essentially a more concrete word for “meh.” This too resonated with the masses and we spent weeks discussing our shared feelings of malaise. Our collective yet dispersed global support group solidified and that sense of camaraderie expanded.
Experiencing such big feelings collectively can diminish their hold on us. Grief, anxiety and fear can produce huge emotions, but it is often the isolation in which we experience these feelings that causes the real damage to our mental health. Because we have the ability to share this grief and fear with billions of other people, we may have a greater ability to learn and heal more completely. We have an army of support behind us, and this may provide us with the ability to lean into the emotions and release the power they have had over us during the pandemic and beyond.
Maybe this brutal world event has taught us something about our own tenacity and that if we can weather this storm, previous life events or big steps that felt so overwhelming pre-pandemic suddenly seem manageable. You may have noticed people around you taking chances, making moves and going after their dreams. It’s as if surviving this pandemic and watching the community of support blossom around us has provided a shift in perspective, igniting our bravery and solidifying our resolve.
There is no doubt that this pandemic has been unimaginably difficult and we are not out of the woods yet. Our steadfast leader through these pandemic times, Dr. Henry, has hopes that we will be back to normal in a matter of months, and while this certainly provides a degree of relief, we are only just glimpsing the light at the end of that tunnel.
In the meantime, as this roller coaster slides into the dock, we can tentatively peek at the world and catch a glimpse of the profound changes all around us. We can continue this incredible emotional revolution of connectivity by sharing and supporting each other close to home and across the globe—something which may ultimately lead to a brighter future for mental health and a more compassionate social community.
If you are in need of additional support with mental health and/or trauma please reach out to: The BC Mental Health Support Line, 310-6789, heretohelp.bc.ca/get-help or, Indigenous-specific BC Wide: KUU-US Crisis Line, 1-800-588-8717, kuu-uscrisisline.com