Approaching 23:59 on 31st December 2019 (CAT, GMT, UTC, etc.), millions of people were waiting in anticipation of a new year. With resolutions in tow and hopes for a fruitful year, to many the start of a new calendar year is symbolic of the start of a new journey. While China’s medical personnel had identified an outbreak of illness and death that appeared to be caused by a type of pneumonia, most of global society was oblivious of what was happening to our fellow humans, and even more were unaware of what this meant for the rest of the world.
Fast forward all time zones to the detection of patient zero in different countries, the threat of this deadly virus became more real. This came with fear, panic and an uncertainty of what this meant for the rest of 2020 – physiologically, psychologically, economically, socially, academically…etc, etc, etc. People have had to learn how to cope with the repercussions – some of which have eased the pressure of life’s responsibilities, and others which have exacerbated them. Depending on who you are, what you have, and the format of life that has been ascribed to you, the process of adaptation has been vastly different. No single formula has eased this process as responsibilities, hashtags, challenges, and the 5th industrial revolution may have triggered old wounds, soothed the inner child, or activated the inner critic.
There has been a need for mental health practitioners to provide services to people whose psychological wellbeing has been impacted as a result of the corona virus. While many may not have access to these resources, there is value in personal introspection. In an endeavour to move forward, it is always important to look inwards by taking strides down memory lane. Reflecting on one’s past serves as a tool through which one can make meaning of their past emotions, thoughts and behaviour. There is a predictive value in understanding the patterns that existed before in order to make sense of the present. So, yes…the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken, rattled, destroyed, and empowered…many have lost, and many have benefitted. The way in which this catastrophe has shifted one’s mental health status may be a reflection of the collective trauma caused by this pandemic. However, it may also be a reflection of pre-existing intrapsychic conflicts. Human beings do not “become” in the moment – we each have a history, a collection of experiences and beliefs that frame the identities that we embody, and are concurrently experienced by members of our communities, and the broader social world.
Many mental health practitioners are successfully assisting people to be optimistic, and latch onto a sense of hope for a “good enough” future. While the thoughts here are not intended to fragment those ideals, one needs to remain cognisant of the realities that existed pre-COVID-19. It is likely that the reality that you are experiencing now may be a reflection of your unconscious self – the bare id, the “self” that you are when your superego’s energy has been depleted and you have limited resources to remain politically correct, or socially desirable. There is a possibility that you not only felt uncontained when the threat of a virus or a lockdown was announced. Many of us had intrapsychic alarm bells resounding whenever our leaders, bosses, relatives (the institutional authority figures that society has awarded power over us) devalued our experiences, identities, and abilities. Remember that feeling of satisfaction as you expressed your distaste of the “other” in your tweet? Remember that feeling of uncertainty when you received that “we regret” letter? Remember the dread of waking up to start your day before the sun rose on a winter morning? Remember that “win” when you got the position that others rallied for? Remember that decision you made after pledging to never make that “mistake” again? Remember that choice to take 5 packets of toilet paper knowing quite well that other people might also need them? That’s all you (and your history)…before COVID-19. We can’t forget those people, and pretend as if we were not them before this virus pushed us all into our respective corners. So while we are engrossed in the psychological and socio-political impacts of this virus, we can’t give corona all the credit for the anxious, depressed, manic, aggressive, traumatised and unequal society that we are. We are all being fed this virus in a unique and precarious way. The traits that we possess (i.e. impulsivity, narcissism, mindfulness, avoidance, sociopathy, obsessive compulsivity, introversion, etc.) are being activated and deactivated as per our predispositions. The collective nature of this trauma makes it more complex because many of us don’t know whose feelings we’re actually feeling today, since we may not have been aware of our selves waaaay back in normalville.
As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, it becomes more important for us to reflect on how this affects each of us as individuals and as members of communities. While there is a collective need for either stricter or more lenient regulations, everyone who is reverting to the paths that they had embarked on when their minds struck 2020 will experience this differently. We will all have to kick-start the journey into a new “normal” because the world has changed, and there is a processing of loss which is akin to bereavement that may need to take place. Meanwhile, those who have been working as essential service providers may have to review what it means for them that the streets and buildings and modes of transportation are becoming more populated. There is a need for us to be honest with ourselves and mourn the 2020 we were expectant of more than five months ago. Granted, there is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water, but we definitely need to re-evaluate our plans and timelines with honesty and practicality.
In part, this process may include analysing our illusions of the “back-to-normal” internal and external worlds. How much of the pre-COVID19 world contributed positively to your mental wellbeing, and which components had a tendency to impact on you negatively? Our unconscious was active before the outbreak, yet may have been experienced more consciously due to the events that have made us more aware of our individual contexts. There is a lot that we can learn about our experience or ambivalence of ourselves through this ordeal. Life may have been more predictable when we knew our systems. It may take some time to recalibrate those systems, and it may be even more challenging depending on how this pandemic poked holes in our Pandora’s boxes. The psychological aspects of a global pandemic require that we are more patient with ourselves – when we have the privilege to do so. While some are hoping for restoration, there is a process of reparation that needs to take place in order to facilitate a smoother transition of our inner selves back into the less predictable and more communal external world. This is a journey that can be embarked on through introspection, and the process of being vulnerable with oneself. After all, can one ever truly see themselves except through a reflection…?
Written by Amina Mwaikambo