The pandemic and our collective grief

The pandemic and our collective grief

This column was published in the NZ Herald on 30th September, 2021

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and as a result you’ll probably be inundated with well-meaning – and largely helpful – ideas about all the feel good things you can do to increase your mental wellbeing.

But Mental Health Awareness Week should be more than an opportunity for online influencers to bust out some new wellbeing memes on Instagram.

Mental health and resilience is always a balance between doing things that make us feel good – and staring reality in the face. This can be hard when the reality we are looking at is not what we want to see.

Psychotherapy is a search for the truth – regardless of how painful – because so many of us are in emotional trouble due to the convoluted ways we try to avoid the truth.

This last week has seen a fresh flurry of opinion pieces demanding certainty, screaming for a clear date when we can travel, when our people overseas can come home, when we can “go back to normal”.

Or claiming that our Government is “using fear” to manage the pandemic response and breathlessly drawing parallels with North Korea.

The truth is Covid really sucks at a scale we’ve never seen before. It sucks at a global scale.

We’re in the grip of a pandemic, an event most likely to be remembered as the worst years of many of our lives. Our children will recall it for the rest of their years, and in terms of historic events the pandemic is likely the defining feature of the first half of the twenty-first century, like the World Wars were for the twentieth century.

And coiled around the anger, the demands for certainty and the never-ending demands that we just move on and “live with the virus” is a collective denial of the overwhelming grief we must all face into.

Grief for many aspects of life that are gone.

The freedom to travel anywhere in the world at a moments notice. The ability to make plans for next week, next month or next year with confidence. The privilege to know the future is a safe and predictable thing we can rely on.

Big and small we are all losing the future we thought we had, and it hurts, and angry denial is understandable. But left unchecked that denial kills, through not adjusting and doing what is required to protect us all from what is a terrible, at times overwhelmingly terrifying invisible virus.

In bringing our attention to this through modelling, science and an openness about the thinking they’re using to plan, our Government isn’t ruling with fear.

It’s governing using reality.

So this Mental Health Awareness Week by all means find reasons to be grateful, or connect with nature, or whatever makes you feel good really.

But also make some time to be aware of the grief, just don’t do it alone. Because the silver lining of this grief is that it is a collective grief. We are all in this together – no matter how shitty it gets.

And ultimately our together-ness gets us through, and gives us the strength to face down the grief together, and ultimately adjust, change and embrace a new future we haven’t yet met.

Click here to see the original article on the NZ Herald site…

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