The Difference Between Denying Pain and staying Positive
We are living in an unprecedented time. Our future is unclear, and our fragile grip on the world is threatening to be lost entirely. Though of course we have read about viruses and diseases ravaging the human population in history, never in our lifetime have we experienced a pandemic that has impacted the lives of every single person in the world. When we heard about Ebola or Zika it felt like a far off problem that was not relevant to our lives. Sure, maybe we read about it on the news and felt a pang of sadness or concern, but then we got distracted by the next headline. It was dinner table conversation. Coronavirus may have started off like that, as they all do, but now it is undeniably a force that we cannot ignore. In our current world post-coronavirus, we must decide how we want to live our lives, and how we will make sense of this state we are in. Some spend hours tirelessly pouring over news articles, becoming increasingly fatalistic and catatonically anxious. Others make light of our situation, creating relatable and self-deprecating memes about the unproductivity of quarantine and how we will all inevitably forget how to socialise after this is over.
I was recently talking to a friend on a video call during our lockdown period. We updated each other about how we were doing and what we were doing to keep busy and stay sane. I told them that when we were older and this was all a memory I would look back on this time and say “It was bad, but we made it through.” An eternal optimist, they were taken aback by that and said “really? I’m not going to view it like that, this is a good time for me.” I lightly brought up the fact that though our time in isolation can be a productive and positive time, hundreds of thousands of people are suffering and dying due to this virus that we do not have a known cure for. We cannot deny that this is an incredibly scary and difficult time to be alive. This core difference in our perception of our current state got me thinking about the balancing act between hope and positivity, while simultaneously being able to acknowledge the pain and suffering in the world.
By denying our pain, we cut off access to our tears, a core way for us to process and heal from trauma and negative experiences. Another consequence of this is unconsciously bottling up all of our negative emotions and thoughts, until they manifest themselves in either unhealthy coping mechanisms or a long awaited outburst or breakdown. Denying our pain and the pain in the world is doing a disservice to the very essence of what it means to be human. Balancing the beauty of the world with all the heartache that also comes with it is the most difficult but important task that we are given. We need to accept ourselves and the world we live in in all of its turmoil, pain, and devastation. The truth is that thousands of people are dying, oftentimes alone, oftentimes terrified. Health workers are being overworked and put into extremely dangerous situations where they are out of their depth due to the lack of adequate equipment, space and knowledge. We are facing one of the most difficult realities we will ever have to face, the fact that we don’t have enough resources to save everyone. Life has to be prioritised. The rich will inevitably have more access to life-saving treatments and care, whilst the poor will have to face unemployment, homelessness, and food scarcity. Psychologists warn us to prepare for spiked rates of suicide and mental illness. Experts claim that the global recessions will cause more deaths than the virus itself.
Hope is necessary for our survival. If we don’t have hope for the future, then how can we expect to ever thrive emotionally or mentally? Those who experience depression are robbed of hope, for they cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Emotionally integrated and healthy individuals are able to transform painful experiences into something meaningful. There is a time to gather our tears and to grieve, but there is also a time to find meaning, seek out hope, and to find the positives in the small and the large. It’s also possible to find the positive in our post-coronavirus reality without diminishing or brushing over the hard truths of the matter. We can come out of this with the true realisation of what is important and holds value in our life, things we initially took for granted, like the simple but profound act of human connection. It is also a humbling experience, realising that we are not as in control as we would have liked to believe. All of our societal creations, from the economy, to our governments, to our daily way of life, are incredibly fragile. We put faith in doctors,scientists and the institutions they reside in, believing them to have all the answers, but they are still humans. Just like us, they are born into this planet with no real inkling of why we are here and what happens to us after we die, figuring it out one day at a time.
A hyper-contagious virus has left us all scrambling and in a constant state of fear. For those of us who are isolating in our homes, we have an endless amount of time to be able to figure out how exactly we will process this. As we can see from history, suffering is an inevitable aspect of what it means to be human. Marcel Proust wrote “we are healed of suffering only by experiencing it to the full”. There is no shame in being afraid, no shame in showing vulnerability, for that is what we need to grow. The important part is to not give into those difficult emotions.