TT he year was 1918. The Spanish flu wiped out millions of people worldwide. A century later, another invisible enemy threatens millions of lives, without choosing an age group, social class, or region on the planet. Since the coronavirus began to affect our daily lives, calls have been common, on the streets and on the internet, for everything to be as it was before.
In fact, the pandemic has not only brought about the constant fear of death, but it has also shaken people’s mental health, contaminated or not. Social isolation, for a species that has the need for aggregation in its psychic structure, is devastating. Confinement, for those who were used to exercising their right to come and go, too. The deprivation of the worker of what dignifies him and makes him feel useful has brought financial instability and fear for his own survival.
Inside the houses, the longed-for family life, now forced and added to emotional tension, resulted in an increase in the number of divorces and cases of domestic violence, especially against the most vulnerable groups (women, children, and the elderly). After all, people complain about the difficulty of managing their time; some for not knowing how to occupy it, others for having their demands tripled in the home-office era.
And what about the feeling of helplessness of those who could not even watch over and bury their loved ones who left unexpectedly, without even saying goodbye? It’s not just the lungs that hurt because of COVID-19; the pain is much more comprehensive, intense, and severe than you think. More than shortness of breath, there is no reason to breathe.
Will we get back to normal?
But what about when the virus is “extinguished?” Will everything be as it was before? The answer, however obvious, is still denied by many. No, nothing will return to its previous state. It is impossible to go through a pandemic and remain the same. Even with the reopened establishments, schools, and universities full of students, and churches holding their services, all of this will be readapted and limited with a view to public safety. And in the minds that have witnessed the worst of this war, losses will still be recorded, whether material or emotional.
It is not surprising that there is an increase or worsening of depression, anxiety, panic, and stress conditions in view of the uncertainties about the future resulting from the crisis experienced. And every crisis requires readaptation; the development of mechanisms to respond to the new reality. When the subject fails to establish a minimally healthy way of responding to a critical situation, it will be recorded in their memory as a traumatic episode.
In psychology, trauma is an emotional discomfort related to remembering some past event. Its effects range from fear, anguish, and exacerbated worries to physiological symptoms such as tachycardia (increase in heart rate), tremors, sweating, changes in sleep, and changes in weight. Behavioral changes can also occur, such as severe isolation and difficulty in resuming some routine activities. In more serious situations, it is possible to have visual or sensory intrusions that give the individual the illusion of reliving that moment of pain.
Within the classification of mental disorders is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. You may have already met someone who, after witnessing or experiencing a situation of extreme suffering, violence, an accident, or even death, started to isolate, become more introverted, cry constantly, feel fear, have involuntary memories of the event or even forget important information about it. It is also common for people to blame themselves for what happened and try to remedy it to reduce their pain and that of the others involved. The picture of post-traumatic stress usually appears in the days following the event and lasts about six months, and requires specialized help. It is quite expected in the post-pandemic reality.
Growing up with pain
Despite the pain, it is in moments of greatest emotional upheaval that the subject develops more significantly. For the German psychoanalyst Erik Erickson, this is the crucial moment when the person needs to seek balance points that allow them to grow, or they will reach a state of vulnerability and illness that requires greater care. It is not a conscious and intentional choice, but it results from the individual’s mental state and how they view life.
But, in practical terms, what attitudes and perspectives can the subject adopt to grow in the face of suffering? How can they deal with the trauma and emotional results of a period such as a pandemic, for example? Let’s look at some alternatives.
Recognize the symptoms – Denying suffering or signs of illness is an ineffective way of coping. It is necessary to understand that this state does not imply weakness, but a completely natural fragility in the face of such difficult situations. No one is prepared for the crisis, so one cannot expect to deal with something unusual in an ordinary way.
Seeking help – No one can better understand the proportion of suffering than the mind that houses it. You know your pain and your limits, and you need to identify when your body is showing signs of needing care. And never classify yourself as weak for that; understand that this is just a state and therefore changeable. An external look can bring perspectives and methods to deal with the crisis that never crossed your mind.
Accepting differences – At a time like the present, when values change and adapt to normality, it is possible to mature, acquire new knowledge and skills, or develop symptoms that lead to emotional vulnerability. Do not compare yourself with others; people survive the same crisis in different ways. To generalize the pain is to cancel the singularities.
Understand the didactic role of time – A child’s development is characterized by phases; there is an ideal time for each type of learning, as they will have enough experience and maturity to absorb it. Likewise, the adult needs to understand that time is needed to extend their limits and achieve the results of an experienced period. The patience to put events in their due phase will bring a greater understanding of the attitudes to be taken and the memories to be worked on. Cycles close, others open, some return and others need to be abandoned. It’s all part of the experience.
Adjust expectations – Thinking about the future with the same expectations of the past, forgetting that a pandemic crossed our path, is an illusion. Yes, 2020 will leave its mark on the history of each one of us. We will never be the same. Plan the future from the new reality; develop new methods and a new routine. Create expectations from who you have become after experiencing all this, understanding your pains, accepting your marks, and taking care of your fears.
Exercise faith – When everything gets out of control, or even when you feel tired of fighting, seek refuge in the arms of him who has dominion over all things. God will not deprive you of experiencing suffering but will give you the comfort and strength needed to face it. Faith is not a state of inertia and accommodation, but a form of coping. Fight with your hands, but in the divine arms.
And remember: Nothing will ever be the same again. We are no longer the same people that we were even seconds ago!