I'm Not OK, This Is Hard; I'm Not Coping.
Lockdown and the virus, has had an impact on us all. And we’re at risk of it being more traumatic than it has to be by not talking about the impact of 2020 and 2021.
Two of the reasons we’re not sharing how we really feel are:
1. The reports of losses – be it loved ones, jobs, businesses; cause us to think we’re ‘better off than others’ and that we somehow don’t qualify to talk about the grief of which we are all a part of.
2. Because we are so focussed on our family – and frankly that responsibility has never felt so huge – we have neglected to even see the impact its having.
But it’s clear that our health is suffering physically and emotionally. There's lots we can do to improve this but here's just one simple thing, and it's highly underestimated: express your emotions.
According to Dr Gabor Maté:
"When you shut down emotion, you're also affecting your immune system, your nervous system. So the repression of emotions, which is a survival strategy, then becomes a source of physiological illness later on"
I sometimes hear friends use the term “mildly depressed” (which is a huge improvement on “I’m OK”), I have used it myself. But we’re still playing it down. Afraid to admit the truth of our pain. We tell ourselves and the world that “I’ll be OK, it will pass, I can cope”. And there is truth to this sentence of course: You will be OK, it will pass and no doubt you can cope. But what this really communicates to those around you is: “I don’t need help, I don’t want to talk about it, stay away”; it keeps people, friends, family at arm’s length. And it’s contributing to poor health.
Look at what happens when we change the sentence to: “I’m not OK, this is hard, I’m not coping”. Honest, vulnerable, connecting, strengthening. This doesn’t mean you want saving, it’s simply a way of giving way to your feelings and your truth. It’s accepting and owning your grief. It’s giving you a voice and an opportunity to heal both physically and emotionally.
This week I was aware of a tension in me (it’s usually in my chest) and as ever I avoided thinking about why. I told myself I was OK, it didn’t need addressing, it would pass… But then I watched a beautifully sad film and I cried. Hard. And not because I got sucked into the acting, which was brilliant… But because it brought to the surface my own truth: that I’m still angry that my Dad died. I can’t always make sense of the anger or even realise it’s there but an incident - often small - will land in my heart and sit there. And it will not leave until I see it and speak it. The relief that comes afterwards is unbelievably freeing.
I have similarly supressed the pain I’ve felt with lockdown. I have minimised my discomfort and sadness around the loss of normality and physical connection, the distance and loneliness when my views have often felt different to others. My fear of the immediate and long-term future.
And my chest has so often tightened – to the extent that I spent a day being observed in hospital last November. I didn’t talk about how I was feeling… I denied it based on how I tend to deal with stress. I know this has to change.
Talking about our negative emotions has to be permissible; encouraged. Only then can we begin to heal and truly connect again. Only then can we avoid the physical manifestations of supressing them.
No matter how small, your feelings matter.
No matter how scary or dark, your feelings matter.
Please don’t keep your emotions to yourself, give yourself – and others - the gift of sharing them. Let’s change the “I’ll be OK” narrative and embrace being vulnerable and honest. From honesty comes connection and healing. If we’re unable do it for ourselves, let’s do it for our children, for I see no better way of raising them to be more compassionate, loving and happy.