By Gill Seaton-Jardine, Counsellor/Psychotherapist
The clue here is in the word ‘pandemic’, a word with which many of us have been blissfully unaware, or at least only vaguely familiar with, until recently.
Firstly, what is a ‘pandemic’? We can break the word down into two parts 1. pan and 2. demic. According to the Collins English Dictionary ‘pan’ means ‘all or every’ or ‘relating to all parts or members’, the ‘demic’ part of the word means ‘characteristic of or pertaining to a population of people’.
We can see that a pandemic affects everybody, everywhere, and therefore affects every relationship too. If every person is trying to deal with a new, unfamiliar, frightening phenomenon, then their emotions are going to be heightened, affecting their responses and behaviours.
You could say that every individual is experiencing his or her own pandemic in that each individual world is disrupted to some extent. Everybody is looking for answers to endless questions regarding the progress of the pandemic, what are we or ‘they’ going to do about it, when will I get my vaccine, will I, or a member of my family catch it, should I say something if I think somebody is taking risks by their behaviour? This last question can cause great difficulties in a relationship.
Should you point out to your husband, daughter, mother, mother-in-law that they are doing something they shouldn’t? To do so could create a host of uncomfortable feelings. They will no doubt have an answer to your questioning them. On the positive side, they may not have realised what they were doing and be grateful for you pointing this out. As I said, this is the positive side, there is, of course, a negative. They may be angry that you chose to judge and instruct them, who do you think you are? They may completely disagree with you, think you are going ‘over the top’ with your views. They may feel embarrassed and rather foolish not to have realised or, they may just think that you should mind your own business – this one could lead straight on to another showdown about whose business it is! For you, this other person, behaving in this way could affect you, your health, the health of other members of the family, not to mention the wider population – should you in fact point this out for your own, as well as the greater good?
What about our own individual feelings and emotions about the pandemic? This will again be different for everybody. The first thing perhaps is our age and state of health adding up to the level of our vulnerability. We are all aware that older people are more at risk as well as those with chronic medical conditions. These groups will also have different feelings to each other about the subject. Some may be very frightened, some more philosophical and some angry because they can’t see their families.
Younger, less vulnerable groups may experience very different emotions including anxiety about their work and income and therefore their families. They may be frustrated that they are unable to work either because they have lost their jobs, been made redundant, furloughed or the industry in which they worked has ground to a halt. They may feel down, demotivated and powerless because they are not able to support their family. If they are still working, they may have to work from home – this can be fine if they have the space, time and peace to do so. Trying to conjure home schooling with work deadlines can be nigh on impossible for any length of time. The age and autonomy of the children is an enormous factor here – young ones find it very hard to sit still and older ones may need more help with their preparation of exams.
Relationships can really suffer in this climate. The adults fall out over who should get the use of the quiet study, the children fall out because they are forced to be with their siblings whereas, in normal times, they would spend their days in school with their peers. The parents find it increasingly hard to be patient with the children because they are just under too much pressure with the whole situation.
The next group to consider is the under 30s. They are likely to be building their careers, having largely completed studies and working their way up in the world. This group are normally very sociable, meeting, having holidays and hanging out with their friends while building long term relationships with an eye to settling in the future. They may be feeling very angry and disappointed about having their normal day to day activities curtailed for a disease which, as far they may be concerned or think, mostly affects the elderly. They may of course also be worried about their parents and particularly their grandparents. Money may be a concern as they are early in their careers and may struggle to keep up the payments on everything. A real mix of feelings here perhaps.
The last group to consider, in terms of adults, is the adolescents, perhaps considering those between 18 and 25. Here, there has been huge frustration and disappointment at the loss of their lifestyle. Further education establishments, despite their best efforts, have closed and/or are offering online teaching where possible. The last thing the university students wanted, or expected to be doing was staying at home, in their bedrooms, on their own, following online lectures. They may feel lonely, despondent, sad, disappointed and concerned about what this means for their future. Relationships at home may be very fraught between this group and their parents. Whereas, in university halls or student accommodation each student is likely to have their own room fitted with a desk and shelves for books at the least, at home, depending on the size of the family and the home, they may be sharing with other siblings making study very difficult. This can lead to rows and arguments and, whereas, somebody or everybody has the choice to go out and leave the ‘arena’, everybody has to stay there.
For the purposes of this piece, I am not going to consider the younger teenagers or the children in detail as I want to consider what, as adults, we may be able to do to ease the problems I have identified here.
A good place to start is to look at our own part in the story. We each have a role to play which will influence the way we progress.
I have spoken before about being aware of ourselves and how we behave in the world. Take some time to give some thought to how you feel about this pandemic. Give yourself enough time to think it through and try to be honest with yourself. Consider the direct effect it is having on you and your life. What are the differences, if any, in your household and what is your part in that?
Consider the other people in your home – how are they? Are they coping with all of this or are they behaving differently – try to look for an opportunity to ask them, we all have something to say about what is happening to, and around, us. It may be that giving them a chance to really talk about what they’re going through, their actual individual experience of the Covid crisis, could ease their burden and help them to deal with it more effectively, thereby allowing them to be there for others.
Whilst those of us that don’t live alone, have had to try to get on with the others sharing our home, until now, there has been freedom to come and go from that home, mix with folks outside and take part in a vast range of activities as we have desired. That freedom has now been largely removed – a situation that none of us could have envisaged. This concept, in itself, is very hard to absorb and indeed accept but it is where we are right now. Working together is essential to get through it and that needs to start in the home.
So, how do we do that? We are all in patterns with the people in our lives and those patterns need to be updated taking into account all the new requirements of living together. My suggestion is to organise family/household meetings where each member has the opportunity to put their point of view, their particular worries and their suggestions of how to go forward. Some people will really like this idea, some will be puzzled about how it might work and others may think it nonsense that couldn’t work and even less, make any positive difference. Try it. Every member of the household ideally will take part, each making a note of it in their diary, children included. Each member, again including the children, is invited to make a note of what they would like to contribute. Make the meeting quite short but try to work to a simple agenda so you know what you have achieved at the end and book in the next meeting, perhaps next week.
This approach at least gives everybody a chance to share their experience and ideas, whilst informing others of what is happening for them. With this greater awareness, managing this very difficult situation, involving so many feelings will be less daunting for everyone.
Good luck and take great care.