I have found the Clash’s song of this title playing over in my mind when thinking about the current easing of the social lock down in the UK. It seems to me that we all, to some degree or another, now face a dilemma whether to stay or go.
Straight away, it is important to acknowledge the relationship of this dilemma to levels of freedom and privilege. It is true that some people have little or no choice about whether to go back into their workplace. We all face very differing health concerns, with those in the ‘extremely vulnerable clinical group’ likely to feel greatest levels of concern and anxiety about going outside. There has also been concerning, though unsurprising, expositions of inequalities in terms of health risks, with poorer and BAME people having greater chances of fatality.
However, in my experience these will not prevent them from experiencing similar kinds of conflicts at this time. It is a reality that a great many of us will, to some degree or another, be starting to wonder about how or when or whether we return to ‘normal’.
I have been wondering myself about this dilemma but I am also interested in how it might tap into broader questions about how we think about ourselves in relationship to our worlds – both outside and inside.
There is no doubt this has been a strange and disturbing time and of course we are no way through it. The sudden exponential growth of the virus and pandemic was frightening, and many felt traumatised by the level of crisis and what felt like an intense threat to our mortality. The war metaphors and imagery referenced by our government, while perhaps intended to help rally a ‘blitz spirit’, in all likelihood, simply added to the terror already felt by many.
The orders to lock down came as a relief for many people. We had permission to retreat and protect ourselves against what had suddenly become a hostile world. This was and is a necessary response but one that also exacerbated the fear of the outside world engendered by the virus and the rhetoric used about it.
We all responded differently to the retreat and this of course varied at different times. There are those who found and continue to find the lock down liberating, others who found and find it oppressive. Of course, we are also living in different circumstances which add or detract from the benefits of the protection it offers. For example, it has been widely reported that incidents of domestic violence and abuse have increased during this period. Many were able to work easily from home, many were not and there was, and is still, differences between the level of risk for those going into work. And many have lost work or continue to face this as an increasing prospect.
External factors aside, our relationship to the pandemic and the lock down response will also key into aspects of our own internal worlds. A reluctance to move out of lock down could arise for those of us who tend to use retreat as a defence. It makes sense that the bubble offered by the lock down could tap into and heighten historical ways of managing difficult realities through strategies of self-seclusion. At the same time, those of us who have particularly found the lack of purpose and activity in the lock down difficult may have developed defences around keeping busy as a means of warding away difficult or painful feelings. This could lead to a manic response to the easing of restrictions – perhaps a rushing quickly back into the world and ‘normality’.
Of course, both states may be at play in us at different times, but I am wondering about our overall tendencies that will shape how we are likely to interpret, and respond to, this shift in government advice.
Reflecting on my starting title, I wonder now about the aptness of the Clash song. It seems the transition from lock down to ‘normality’ (whatever that means) is not going to be as either/or as staying or leaving a relationship. It looks likely anyway that we are going to experience further Covid outbreaks with many expert views suggesting the current easing as premature and a second wave imminent. We can therefore most probably anticipate more lock downs, perhaps even soon.
So, it feels more appropriate to think about a dialectic in/out situation we find ourselves facing requiring complex navigations. How we proceed and find our way through these difficult and disturbing times and those ahead, will be dictated by many external factors but also our own internal worlds and their responses, conscious and unconscious, to the different experiences of this pandemic.
Claire Barnes is an experienced UKCP registered psychotherapist and group analyst offering psychodynamic counselling and psychotherapy to individuals and groups at our Hove practice.
Further reading by Claire Barnes
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