Writing this in March 2021, I’m aware that the next few months are going to be marked by many milestones for us all, as we look back on an unexpected year – what it has taken from us, what it has given us, and how we truly feel about our experiences.
The move indoors and online…
It’s been a year since we first went into lockdown in Ireland. The hallmark of those early days was: restriction, the fear of restriction, businesses and schools that closed, panic-buying, travel that was prohibited, local movement that was strictly controlled… Life turned indoors and online. We were adjusting to a new way of living – our days mired in a level of limitation most of us had never experienced before.
This move to an online world and confinement in our homes initially presented a welcome break for some. For others, it was a nightmare. Bombarded with the conveyor belt of supposedly comforting phrases that we’ve become so familiar with (We’re all in the same storm; We’re in this together; We’re fighting the same fight), it was increasingly clear that, in fact, our experiences were not, and could not be, the same. We might have been in this new storm together but we were all in different boats, and a lot were taking on water.
Many people were losing their jobs, their loved ones, their freedom. We soon became aware of people confined to abusive environments where, previously, leaving the house to go to school or work had provided a much-needed reprieve; older folk living on their own with no family were being deprived of the opportunity for any social interaction whatsoever; people awaiting medical assistance and surgery found their treatment postponed; frontline workers, in the firing line of the virus, were overworked and underpaid; governments were unable to provide financial aid to many; entire industries like the Arts ground to a halt, with little to no support available.
It is a never-ending list with countless examples of individual situations that I won’t have covered above. We’ve experienced and witnessed extreme heartache as treasured businesses closed their doors permanently, jobs disappeared and loved ones were lost. Although our physical health in the face of Covid-19 has been prioritised, people’s mental and emotional health has been suffering.
In Ireland, we’re in our third lockdown. By the time we come out of it in April, if we do, we’ll have been living with social isolation for nine months over a thirteen-month period. In this time, one consistent positive we’ve seen is the ever-present human drive to pull together and support one another.
There has been a moving, and very visible, outpouring of kindness and care within our communities. Creativity has been at its absolute peak as businesses try to adapt, and people educate themselves online. The resilience of parents, carers and teachers has been tested to its limit as they try to do their best for their children, wards and students. At the same time, they are persevering with making a living and looking after their own well-being.
This year has ignited such an awareness of the real need to keep our own cups full in order to help fill others’.
In the midst of all this, I’ve frequently felt overwhelmed. I’ve experienced feelings of despair and fear at times, with my own little business slowly shrinking, feeling isolated in a country abroad and being separated from my family who are my world. Phrases such as “But you’re a yoga teacher, you know how to rise above this” or “You live in the middle of nowhere and in nature, so you must be fine”, while said with the most constructive, supportive and loving of intentions, mask my internal struggle. I’m still human, and I often find it hard myself to maintain perspective.
It’s a fine balance to allow ourselves to acknowledge how we feel, yet keep perspective at the same time.
Acknowledging the good
We can lose sight of what is positive in our lives. It’s often good to remind ourselves of what we do have – in my case, being able to connect online with my family and friends, being handed the unexpected opportunity to get creative in changing my business model, having the privilege and joy of carrying on working with my students, relishing the gift of time, being grateful for my health…
Maintaining a balance
But I’ve realised over the last year the importance of not minimising what you’re going through, and of giving yourself a little space with it. Yes, there will be someone who is going through something much worse than you are. However, this does not invalidate what you’re feeling right now. The feelings that you have in reaction to your individual situation are your experience. They need to be given space to exist.
The secret is not to let them take over. When you give space to every part of who you are, including feelings of anger, frustration, hurt, grief, despair and loss, you allow things to shift, move, settle, dissipate, evolve, pass. Suppressing them, dismissing them, invalidating them will only cause them eventually to resurface in a different and, possibly, more disruptive way.
Your experience is valid. Sit with it, acknowledge it, then try to find some balance. This way, you can function to the best of your ability. You can maintain perspective. You can still be the parent, daughter, son, sibling, carer, employer, employee, teacher and individual you’d like to be. An important part of being a good version of all these things is finding ways to sit with difficulty and discomfort without allowing it to take over.
We will move through the Covid storm. Let us do so together and with balance. Let us provide compassion and constructive support to each other, without judgement, and with recognition, sensitivity, awareness and kindness. But let us do so towards ourselves too.
As hard as it may be at times, allowing ourselves to experience the full spectrum of our feelings, even our most unpleasant ones, getting to know them, and welcoming them with curiosity, compassion and acceptance, is acknowledging a very important part of who we are.
Author: Claire Martin
Copy-editor: Kelly Girardi