World Mental Health Day, 2020 has occurred during tough and turbulent times. The hardest part, I think, for all of us, and for me, in particular, has been learning how to let go of things we cannot control.
We cannot control our health, our freedom of movement, our ability to socialize, our employment, our academics, our finances, our friends or family or community. The pandemic also means that the rules of the games are constantly changing.
It is now completely normal to go to bed with one set of rules and laws and wake up with another set. The workplace and the roles and duties expected of us change on a daily basis, particularly, if you work in a hospital and in mental health, as I do.
We cannot control the course of the pandemic, or the number of cases that occur on a daily basis, or whether things are going to get better or worse or stay the same. We don’t even seem to know when this long period of stasis will end, and if or when we will ever get back to things as they were before the pandemic.
So I’ve been thinking. If all these various parts that make up the gestalt of our life are outside our control right now, then it is likely that they have been so even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, the sense of control over ourselves and our fates, that we lived with all our lives, was probably illusory and unreal. COVID-19 may actually have just helped us realize the ephemeral nature of life and liberty – in a surreal Neo from the Matrix moment.
But again, perhaps, control over ourselves may not be as important as we once thought it was. Humanity has had to adapt to several dramatic alterations in our lifestyles and plans for the future. While we have done so with varying degrees of success, I think the important point for me is that we have done it.
We have managed to live and endure near-constant contact with death and its petrifying cousin – oblivion, one way or another. And that is heartening. There is a long and difficult road ahead for most of us, but we have hung in there and should be able to hang on for a while longer – a day more, a month more, a year more or a decade more.
And perhaps that is how people made it through long periods of suffering in the past – the World Wars, the Great Depression, the struggle for Independence. One day at a time, one struggle at a time, one day, the suffering passed. Perhaps this is how Victor Frankl made it through the Nazi concentration camps, documented in his book – Man’s Search for Meaning.
And yet, it is different too, from wars and genocide and economic recessions. The struggle here is with our health and well-being, not a war against an enemy. It is why I find talk about the war against coronavirus damaging to our physical and mental health.
We’re trying to stay healthy and happy, and take care of ourselves and each other. A war is not conducive to mental health, physical health or even disease control. There is no benefit to be found from picturing us waging a war against an invisible foe – it is just exhausting.
Simple, sound, common sense based practical measures sound and seem much more useful and helpful. The more we take care of ourselves, in whatever way we can, using whatever means we have at our disposal, the more likely we are to be happier and healthier.
Of course, self-care, mediation, mindfulness, mental health and allied concepts don’t mean that you and I are not vulnerable to problems and catastrophes outside our control. We may still lose employment. We may still lose people we love and care deeply about. We have much that we value and may lose. But we have ourselves, for now, and we can take care of ourselves.
Self-care is okay. Self-care is good. Self-care is important.
There is a world outside that needs saving and we can get up and save the world, one person at a time until we are out of this pandemic. But, it is okay to take care of ourselves, first and foremost.
Image courtesy: Paru Ramesh at GenderIT.org