The coronavirus pandemic has interrupted our lives and disrupted the status quo – that which confers normalcy and (feels like) security. As we have in recent months reorganised and adapted our lives to halt the virus in its destructive tracks we have been derailed from our personal and collective sense of forward motion (progression). Forced sideways into new territories (socially, emotionally, physically and economically) some of us find our individual plans compromised and in many instances, in tatters. Confronted by an inescapable sense of uncertainty our coping mechanisms have been given a significant stress test. The covid ‘reset’ has demanded a refocusing of our priorities and our attentions.
Disrupted from our familiar rhythms and rituals and suddenly with multiple roles overlapping (and potentially conflicting) parent, teacher, partner, carer etc, most of us have experienced a significant blurring of more familiar boundaries. Under ‘normal’ circumstances different parts of our identity have different social settings, work, school, gym etc. Without the scope for differentiation that all these settings and contexts confer we may feel somewhat untethered, cast adrift. “Who am I now?”
The illusion of individualism
The comforting illusion that we may be masters of our own destiny is now creaking beneath the weight of new and uncomfortable evidence. Our interdependence and connectedness were never more clear. When we experience a loss of control and feel the fear that it evokes we are confronted by our best and worst selves. We have all witnessed (in recent weeks) and been moved by, acts of supreme neighbourliness, altruism and humanity. We may have experienced these capacities newly in ourselves and felt enlivened by our capacity to express them. More disquieting, lurking somewhere in the dark recesses of our individual and collective psyches (activated by the same fear) lives its shadowy xenophobic counterpart, suspicious, wary and often hostile…. to difference, to change, to ‘the other.’
The uncontrollability of the corona virus may reflect something of the uncontrollability of a globalised world. Both highlight our mutual dependence and by implication our mutual vulnerability. At a time when a sense of universal unity might be prescient it is also a time at which it seems extremely unlikely. In a state of fear the instinct is to contract mentally and physically, to batten down the hatches against a real or imagined enemy. In a state of fear we may abandon our capacities for hope and for trust…. on a global as well as an individual level.
The necessity of conversation
The truth (about anything) may only emerge at the end of a long conversation (always subject to review). That is to say, a genuine conversation, not a series of scripted monologues (in disguise) masquerading as conversation. A genuine conversation is one in which neither party is certain of knowing what the end will be, since in the process of conversation each party is shaped by the other.
This notion seems antithetical to current political discourse. At a time when our political leaders seem unable to agree on a path ahead how important it is that we steady ourselves in the face of such polarisation and uncertainty.
What are the conversations we need to begin having…..with ourselves, with our partners, our children, our families and our community? How might these conversations become fertile explorations of what matters now? Whilst the disruption caused by the virus has undoubtedly brought tragedy to many, perhaps (in spite of itself) it might also bring opportunity. Fear and hope are inextricably linked, each counterbalancing the other. When there is no easy path ahead how do we retain a sense of equanimity and trust? How might we stay open to the important conversations that need to be had without closing down… our minds and our hearts. How do we retain our humanity when we fear for our lives. How do we hold on to hope?
Gerry Gilmartin is an accredited, registered and experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor. She currently works with individuals (young people/adults) and couples in private practice. Gerry is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice.
Further reading by Gerry Gilmartin