Since March 2020, the way in which we live has changed in every capacity of the word. Uncertainty has brought the people of Ireland to look at how people think and feel. Love and connection have changed on many levels, and this has brought the whole nation into struggle. This struggle has played out in many ways, depending on how people cope. People have had no choice but to face how they think and feel, and this is creating a difficult reality we seem to be struggling to talk about. A silent crisis that needs urgent attention. As a mental health practitioner, I can give a brief overview of the most common symptoms presenting to therapists around the country.
With the lockdown measures that were applied and restrictions around seeing family and friends, as well as limits on normal social activities, many people have experienced a loneliness that is still quite present in people. This is going on in 4- to 80-year-olds, and very few have the capacity to talk about it. Having no words for this and nobody to talk to or understand this can be very difficult to sit in, often bringing up dark feelings and thoughts. You may have felt like you are totally alone and frightened in this world that is changing by the day. You are not alone in this; you may feel alone but you do not have to be on your own anymore.
With the lack of socialisation and having little to stimulate you outside, there is only so much you can do at home too. Due to the lack of social interaction, people have become tired and withdrawn. The energy to do otherwise normal tasks may have felt like a huge burden on your energy and things seem to be piling up on top of people, or this is what it feels like – which in turn can exhaust you further even thinking about things to do including our basic needs, like cooking or even getting dressed for the day. This would be a healthy response to the place we were left in, in society. Socialisation is a necessary part of our worlds; it is as important as food so being denied that can have a major effect on our internal worlds and tiredness can be a symptom of it.
Due to the confusion and chaos, we are currently trying to understand and cope with, many families have become split or separated around certain issues arising since March 2020. These indifferences, on top of an already stressed internal system is causing families, friends, and couples to fall out over the smallest of things or worse, the relationship breaks down and becomes sour. Indifference is healthy, we are all unique in our own way and having a difference of opinion is ok. Having different feelings about things is also ok, we just need to give ourselves permission to be ok with our differences. How can we learn to love and respect differences? This is not about being right or wrong, which is where these splits seem to be happening, it is about understanding that we are all coming from a unique place inside which informs us differently. You are not right or wrong, you just have a different opinion and that is ok. Can we think about accepting difference instead of fighting with it, this would help relationships recover from an already stressed place just coping with the uncertainty we are all suspended in.
Lack of Tolerance
Again, because we are all struggling to live with the uncertainty and ever-changing world, our tolerance for each other seems to be lost. Where we would otherwise turn a blind eye to minor struggles, these seem to be creating major conflicts between loved ones, often isolating people from the support they need to cope in this struggle. This is present in families and has caused grief and trauma in otherwise connected families. Tolerating other people’s struggles in this as well as your own is tough. You may be saying things you don’t mean, acting out in ways that would not be like you. This is understandable in the circumstances we are trying to recover from now. Perhaps you could acknowledge this inside and make peace with yourself for struggling in a world that has become confusing and frightening.
During lockdown, a common symptom was the loss of interest. This was present in the school, college and workers who are expected to perform to full capacity while sitting alone at a computer, being denied the experience of the class or workplace. Having your classmates or colleagues around can help with the stresses of work and schooling as these relationships often help us cope better, knowing someone else is in the same boat. With this all being sent into your bedroom or shared space at home, people were slowly losing interest in their jobs and grades. Leaving cert students for example seem to have lost the desire to get those grades that will assist them on their way to their dream job or desired promotion. This again was a healthy response to being cooped up at home with the demands of work/school life being addressed only by you with nobody around to stimulate your encouragement or simply understand your struggle.
Having space now to move from the confinement of home or relationships, interest in life is slowly returning, yet we haven’t fully recovered. The trauma of the past two years has yet to be realised and addressed, people are still anxious returning to the office with so much time spent in the comfort of home. Socialisation is helping greatly in this way as people can now start to think and talk about how they were impacted.
Anger and Aggression
nger can be seen as dangerous when it is a result of feeling hurt, or a result of unprocessed pain/grief. Anger is a healthy emotion once expressed that way, we often get angry instead of talking about feeling hurt as this makes us vulnerable. It would be fair to say that most of us have felt vulnerable throughout this and feel angry due to the lack of understanding or safety we cannot seem to find at home or in society right now. Anger is an energy, it’s important this energy is released as it can cause more complex problems if it is internalised. It would be wise to scream it out if you feel it or express it with someone you trust.
Aggression is often connected to a feeling of having no control, it can be destructive and frightening to the person experiencing it or the person at the receiving end of it. Again, another healthy response to the world we are expected to live in. It’s ok to allow your aggression out, it can be a creative energy once channelled properly – you could clean out that rubbish you’ve been holding or punch a pillow until you feel at ease inside. If someone you love is acting aggressively, just give them space to let it go, try not to interrupt them, or tell them to calm down as this just isolates them further in an already distressed place. They are frightened and don’t know how to say it, so it acts out in this way, so try not to leave them alone in this. Wait until they calm down before you check if they are ok.
With the daily delivery of fear and change being suggested, confusion is what people are left in. It is incredibly tough trying to organise your thoughts and settle them down when trying to keep up with the current social and medical climate. We are not designed to be living with so much fear and uncertainty and it is leaving us confused and often making mistakes. This is ok, it is also ok to forgive yourself for making mistakes while in this space. If you find yourself overwhelmed with confusion, taking a walk can often settle thoughts and clear them. Writing out your thoughts too can also have a similar effect so consider journaling if you prefer to do it that way.
A common presentation to the GP’s and therapists is our children and how they are coping with changes to their structures and social settings. Not having a playground or school to go to or coming to terms with the changes in school or society, that no child has the tools to cope with never mind understand has caused stress in our children that they cannot cope with. It would be healthy for children to be naturally affectionate with each other and their families. This change in children’s lives and an inability to understand has caused our children to regress. We had 4 yr. olds going back into nappies and 11 yr. olds behaving like 8 yr. olds. This again is a healthy response to an unhealthy set up that they were expected to function in.
Children only understand desire so asking a child not to desire the love and affection so normal to them is like asking a child not to want to play. Sadly, regressed states are where they are getting comfort in a world that has become confusing and frightening. Parents are struggling to cope with this too or understand why their child is going backwards instead of progressing forwards and it is very difficult on parents. Children need certainty and plenty of reassurance in a normal environment, they may need extra care and attention while going through this change taking place. Once they know mammy and/or daddy or a primary care giver, is taking care of things, they get their certainty from that. Never take for granted your child is feeling loved or feeling safe, telling them every day can lift the burden of stress from them in this. Ask them do they feel safe and maybe try to reassure them when they speak. Listen to them, they mean what they say in their innocent ways. A hug and comfort are all they need to reconnect with the sense of safety and love again.
With everything mentioned above, the biggest problem presenting right now is that people don’t have the language to describe what is going on inside them. Emotional language is difficult enough without the pressure of the unfolding struggle that is developing. Some people lost the capacity for a simple conversation due to sitting in the isolation for so long. This extends to every age and gender. What would it be like to reach to a family member or your neighbour or a friend and ask are they feeling this way too, understanding that everybody is different and so is the way they cope? One try could open a chain of hope and kindness.
If this is too difficult perhaps a doctor or a therapist could help you move towards the courage to speak about it and help you resolve this difficult place you are in. Reach out to your local services, they are there to help you. We have all been thrown upside down, we can all come together and help each other to get through a reality we are all facing.
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Photo by Kristina Tripkovic