As we enter the second year of this pandemic, I have been witnessing a lot of what I call “secondary casualties”. Can we even begin to assess the collateral damage of the crisis? It is important to understand the long-term impact on society as a result of current actions either forced or self-imposed to contain the crisis. Millions of people worldwide have sadly died from the coronavirus, but there has been enormous intangible loss as well. Companies and businesses have shut their doors, people have moved to other countries to find some solace in re-building a life, and relationships have been torn apart. From where I stand as a mental health practitioner, the loss of relationships has been the most unbearable part for people to bear.
Writer: Shruti Tekwani
Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Certified Coach, Choice Theory & Reality Therapy Trainer
Initially when the world locked down, people feared the unknown and long-distance relationships were tested. There seemed to be this energy worldwide that was filled with anxiety, curiosity, a touch of productivity for some. People cleaned out spaces they had not touched in years, they signed up to learn languages virtually that they had always dreamed of learning. There was an interest in using this time wisely to do things there would otherwise never be time for. The mentality seemed to be “since I’m stuck at home anyway, I might as well make the best of it”. Then as the weeks went by, almost every relationship in our lives became a long-distance one. If you had a ritual to have a glass of wine with your coworkers every Friday after work, that ritual stopped overnight and the time with coworkers stopped existing as well. Some made the effort to continue relationships over Zoom and others experienced Zoom fatigue very quickly, making it difficult to continue those relationships.
While catching up with loved ones all over the world on Zoom, I noticed very early on that although we were all in similar situations, we were still experiencing the pandemic very differently. Friends in India were in complete lockdown and not even leaving their homes for groceries because they had delivery services. Friends in the states were working from home and limiting all social contact without the need of consequence from the government. Here in Curaçao, we were restricted to our homes and only allowed to leave for essential activities on our license plate day. All through this, parents and guardians were learning how to support the kids in their lives with distance learning. While that time may seem like it was in the distant past for us islanders, for some the memories have come rushing back in the past few weeks as we have returned to that phase of lockdown.
Since it has been over a year that we have lived this new way of life, it has been interesting to look at people’s perceptions. Perception not only creates our experience of the world around us but directs how we act within our environment. Each of us has different experiences and thus different understanding to interpret how to handle the current situation. There are people all over the world who are doing whatever they can to get vaccinated; yet there are those passing up the chance at the vaccine as they do not believe in it or are not quite trusting of it. People are tired of locking down and ask if all of this is worth it if it is inevitable that they could get sick one of these days. There are also people who have stuck to their rituals of safety from the beginning, who have self-quarantined and maintained distance from others. They continue to wipe down groceries with alcohol before bringing it into the house and make sure they keep 6 feet apart from anyone. Who is to say which one of these practices is right?
When I think about it from my perception, of course it seems like I am doing the right thing. I am wearing a mask, not hugging people unless I live with them, I traveled only after I was vaccinated and followed all protocols the best I could. I admit it is frustrating and unnerving when I go into a store and see an employee wear a mask that does not cover their nose, or they pull their mask down to talk to me. In my perception that defeats the whole purpose of wearing a mask thus directly exposing me and making me more vulnerable. I try to remember that everyone is doing the best they know how to do given the circumstances. What I think is right is not necessarily right for someone else, and they may have their reasons for doing what they do. In that same line of thinking, I know families have been torn apart because of different views. I have many friends who are staying away from their elderly parents and grandparents so as not to expose them. Yet when I speak to the grandparents, some of them are not in agreement with social distancing because they would rather prioritize their mental health over their physical health. They would much rather take the risk and see their families than continue to isolate indefinitely.
All through this, I am reminded that we are all individuals who behave in ways in order to get our basic needs met. Some of us have higher survival needs than others, and for a lot of us our need for love, belonging, and connection has really suffered this past year. Just as Curaçao was starting to feel like the pandemic was easing up a bit, we are forced to prioritize our survival and physical needs before our emotional and mental ones.
It is not easy to be kind to people who are behaving in a way that is opposite from what our own values are but keeping in mind that everyone is acting from their own perceptions has been helpful to me. I always have the option to remove myself from a situation if I feel at risk, and in the meantime, I would rather choose connecting with people than disconnecting over disagreements on how to survive this pandemic. Everyone can only be the expert on themselves and no one else. If we all conduct ourselves from a place of kindness and trust we are all trying to do our best, it is a step in the right direction.