Updated: Oct 14, 2021
For the past 20 months, many individuals have struggled with COVID not just for health or idealistic reasons, but also due to significant loss, disconnection, and isolation. Below I discuss thoughts on disconnection, as well as ways to reconnect.
Disconnection and Isolation
I am not the first or the last to discuss the social, emotional, and mental repercussions of COVID, so I will add some thoughts that I have been holding. Everyone I know has had such a subjective, personal experience that it is impossible to understand how this will effect us in the long term.
Many family and friends have gained or lost weight, got a dog (I am happily guilty of this), had a baby, engaged in new hobbies, developed new relationships, changed or lost jobs, lost a loved one to COVID or other reasons, and found themselves in the difficult task of facing themselves. More than anything I frequently witnessed how people disconnected from one another, due to health reasons, personal beliefs, political values, religious needs, and just basic fear.
Some of us merged with our fear of mortality, for ourselves and our loved ones. The never-ending overwhelming sense of uncertainty drove many to isolate and reject others who were not in their "pods" or safety circles. They allowed their fear to dictate what they perceived as safe and engaged in fruitless competition over who was more or less protected from an unseen enemy. Others rejected the idea of COVID altogether as the isolation was more terrifying than mortality itself. Being alone with thoughts and without comforting distractions led some to participate in possibly risky behaviors.
The problem was that we did not acknowledge the fear, but reacted to it and were led by it. Though we attempted to share the isolation with others through online party apps, TikTok dances, phone calls and zoom holidays, it was not enough. We forgot how to connect and how to emotionally come together.
Somehow I survived the COVID months, and I had a lot of time to reflect on how. What brought me resilience and growth, while others fell apart and sunk?
There was no secret potion or magical ritual and it took a lot of hard work. I entered the world of DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) both using it in practice, and individually for myself. Not only was I one of the lucky who was able to continue working, it provided me growth, purpose, community, and engagement. I used the skills I taught, because as they say "practice what you preach". I also got a dog, found spiritual connection, and started new hobbies. I worked out religiously, because what else was I to do at home? It was not one thing, but a collection of everything.
Most important, I actively, daily, and mindfully connected with others. I called people who I had not seen or heard from in years, I reached out to those who I missed as well as those I had no obligation to meet (what a relief!). I sought out deep conversation and developed closer connection. For those of you who went through this period with me, you saved me.
In such an environment of disconnection, it can be challenging and confusing to reconnect with others. Many of us forgot how to connect, how to reach out, and what to do when we are not in our personal comfort zone. Suddenly we have to put on pants and leave the house, and it feels unsafe and alien. It makes complete sense - connection and the skill of communication takes practice, it needs patience, and it can be time consuming. We became used to being alone and in our heads, or used to the same people as if we were on an island. The longer we stayed inside, the more threatening the outside and the other became. The more we watched the news, the more angry and divided we became.
So how do we get back on the horse?
There is no one way to face our fears, but it starts with us. As an entire species, we experienced a trauma. We may have felt the pain of rejection and isolation, and may hold resentment for those with opposing views on safety and health. We may have had close encounters with mortality and experienced intense loss and grief. We may have forgotten how to interact and feel paralyzing anxiety just thinking about meeting face to face.
In accepting that everyone copes with trauma differently, this implies that people cope with fear differently. Can we find empathy for this? In choosing to reconnect, we may need to acknowledge our own fear of uncertainty, and challenge the internal sensations of being unsafe. In choosing to reconnect, we may sacrifice certain safety for mild risk, e.g. locking yourself inside vs. going outside to open spaces with close friends who you feel are low risk and wear a mask. In choosing to reconnect, we may put our ego aside and agree to disagree on highly held beliefs.
I believe this is the time to let go, accept others in their process with fear, and when possible forgive. We can't judge others for how they deal with trauma, but we can definitely bond over wanting to heal from this time.