THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED…EMOTIONAL & MENTAL SUPPORT DURING COVID-19

“Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude under any given set of circumstances.” Viktor Frankl

I am reminded of this quote every time I hear a TV anchor announce one more person tested COVID 19 positive. There is an increasing feeling of dread and disaster when someone is infected. What I hear is anger about the person infected.

I would like to state upfront that I am not condoning the actions of people who have not followed precautions or directives by the government or healthcare professionals. They deserve to be treated accordingly. However, there are many who had no idea they were infected and discovered they were carrying the virus only when they tested. We have all read numerous accounts on social media about how people have contracted the virus. It was not a deliberate attempt for them. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time – just sheer bad luck.

Having said that, how do we treat people who have tested positive in our own family, friends circle or neighbourhood? Yes, physical isolation is a must, to keep everyone else safe. Is emotional isolation warranted? Do we have the right to treat affected person/family like pariahs at an emotional level?

No. We do not have the right. Remember, it could have happened to any of us.

A National Crisis

COVID 19 is a national crisis, a global crisis. It is a war that humanity is waging against a virus. I am not getting into where it came from, which country is responsible for spreading it, how & why. I am looking at our collective ability to help people deal with this trauma when they discover they are infected.

A crisis can occur on a physical or psychological level. The physical aspects of a crisis tend to be obvious, particularly if they involve human injury or death. The psychological aspects of a crisis tend to be significant and more widespread. However, the psychological aspects of a crisis are hard to identify and often overlooked.

A crisis is defined by three factors: negative events, feelings of hopelessness, and events beyond normal control. Crises are perceived as being negative events that generate physical emotion and/or pain. People who experience a crisis, experience feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and entrapment. Those who have lived through a crisis also feel as if they have lost control over their lives. Crisis events tend to occur suddenly and without warning. The lack of time to adjust or adapt to crisis generated problems is what makes the event so traumatic.

COVID 19 presented us with such a crisis. The containment process itself is stringent and a strict one with two important factors:

  • Social distancing
  • Lockdown

Human beings are not used to both factors. It has been tough to understand and accept for so many people. Especially in a society like ours, where we tend to feel, “This won’t happen to me.” It can, it may – happen to me, happen to you. If it does, I know what I want from people around me.

 Emotional Support

 The corona crisis has slowed us down enough to make us think about what we want Rythmfrom ourselves, how much are we willing to give and our own expectations.

There are provisions being made for physical & medical support for a COVID 19 patient. I can get admitted to a hospital and treated. However, the single most important expectation, besides good medical care, is emotional & mental care. I would want emotional support from my family and friends. I would want help to deal with the trauma of going through an illness like this. I would not want to be ostracized emotionally or mentally.

Sadly, in India, we do not have the framework or infrastructure to deliver that emotional support. From what I hear, the doctors and nurses are doing a fabulous job of counselling their patients. I know professional counsellors are willing to help. My counsellor friends have told me to refer anyone seeking help in these times and they will gladly handhold. The keyword, however, is to seek. Believe you me, these are times when we need that help. We need that ‘someone’ who will counsel and guide us to get out of trying situations. There is no shame or stigma attached to it.

A crisis like this affects us at different levels – medical, physical, economic & social. Underlying all these is the psychological impact. The impact can be felt in any of the following:

  • A positively diagnosed person.
  • A person undergoing financial problems due to the lockdown
  • People working from home (a lot of people have broken homes and may not know how to deal with the situation)
  • The so-called stigma of being a corona patient or a member of the patient’s family

These are but a few circumstances.

How Can We Help?

  • We can start by not being judgmental about people we know who are tested positive. I am sure they did not go around wanting to be infected.
  • Let us show them kindness & empathy, besides giving them the physical help of providing food, shopping for them or getting their medicines.
  • Please do not isolate them emotionally. A quick telephonic chat, a message or a video call will assure them that you are around.
  • Positive reinforcement goes a long way and helps people become optimistic.
  • Patients & their family members can be sensitive to and less capable of coping with the irrelevant humour floating around as forwards. We can be empathetic to that. Do not brush it off as ‘soft’ behaviour.
  • Those of you who can collaborate through your organisations to help small business owners generate revenue for themselves, please explore such opportunities.

In times such as these, vulnerability is not a weakness. When we encounter an unexpected challenge of threat, the only way to save ourselves is to hold on tight to people around us and not let go. Life does not make sense without interdependence. We need each other and the sooner we realise that the better for us all.

After all, Paul Romer said, “A crisis should not go waste.” Let us use this to become more compassionate, helpful & non-judgmental human beings.

Life…a result of intentional habits!

I am back to writing…after a long hiatus. I don’t even know why I stopped in between…life happened I guess!!! Though that is no excuse for anything 🙂

What inspired me to get back was a series of articles I read off late about travelling and my own travels to different cities the last couple of months. 

As a teenager, I was always fascinated by young people from different countries who would travel without parents for months together. I always wondered how is it that they could just leave everything they were doing and travel…there was also an element of envy, that, initially I did not travel that way! Yes you guessed right…I love to travel!

Eventually I understood that while my structured education process (read school and college) gave me a lot of information and therefore knowledge, travelling just widened my horizon and my  understanding of a lot of things 🙂 :). Travel just became an educational process by itself.

I have had people who ask me…why do you travel so much? What gives me the “kick”? It got me thinking about why I love travel so much…I was at Abu Dhabi airport waiting for my flight to be announced and this young lady sitting next to me started a conversation. She asked, in due course, “Do you think I should go to graduate school or move to Vietnam?”

I told her “Vietnam”…not that she was really asking me…if you know what I mean. She was thinking out loud. Her response was, “Yeah…but…”. Three alphabets that can kill everything in life…BUT.

BUT is lethal. It makes it sound like we have the best of intentions, when really we are just too scared to do what we should. Most people I know who waited to travel the world never did it. Conversely, plenty of people who waited for grad school or a steady job still did those things after they traveled.

I am thankful that I got opportunities to travel widely in my teenage years…some opportunities I created for myself. Very often I heard some grown up say to me, “It’s great that you’re doing this … while you’re still young.” To me it sounded like vicarious longing and mid-life regret. Often I have responded saying, “It’s not about this being great while I’m still young! It’s great for the rest of my life!” And it’s true – what I learnt or still learn during my travel is something that has stayed with me…it is an intrinsic part of my life, of who I am. 

I realized as we get older, life can just sort of happen to us. Whatever we end up doing, we often end up with more responsibilities, more burdens, more obligations. This is not always bad. However it also takes away from some of our dreams, experiences that could have shaped who we become. 

Youth is a time of total empowerment. You get to do what you want. As you mature and gain new responsibilities, you have to be very intentional about making sure you don’t lose sight of what’s important. The best way to do that is to make investments in your life so that you can have an effect on who you are in your later years.

Travel allowed me this luxury…the luxury of learning, experiencing and of discovering the beauty of life — to remember that I am not complete.

How can I put in words what it means to walk the streets of old Delhi on a cold December morning smelling some great Indian food, cycling on narrow country roads of Southern France and soaking in the beauty of the mellow countryside, walking across the moors in Scotland smelling the earth, the majestic beauty of the Himalayan range as seen from Nepal…words cannot describe these experiences. The only way you will relate to them is by experiencing them yourself. 

While you’re young, you should travel. You should take the time to see the world and taste the fullness of life. Spend an afternoon sitting in front of the Michelangelo. Walk the streets of Paris. Climb Kilimanjaro. Hike the Valley of Flowers. See the Great Wall of China. Get your heart broken by the “killing fields” of Cambodia. Swim through the Great Barrier Reef. These are the moments that define the rest of your life; they’re the experiences that stick with you forever.

Traveling will change you like little else does. It forces you to think about issues that are bigger than you…I realized that the world is both, very large and very small!!! I have a new found respect for pain and suffering, having seen that two-thirds of humanity struggle to simply get a meal each day. 

Its an amazing way to learn about the world as a magnificent place of art. The people that fill this world contribute so much to it…shaping it…building a kaleidoscopic culture. Soak that culture while you are still young. It can change your life forever. It did mine!

Invest your time wisely…for your future depends on where and what you invest your time in. A lesson that comes back to me repeatedly… life is a result of intentional habits. Whatever you sow, you will eventually reap. The habits you form in this season will stick with you for the rest of your life. So choose those habits wisely :):) 

And for those who feel youth has gone by…fret not. You can still travel…I know a lot of senior people who still enjoy their travails and do not hesitate to live life kingsize. I am learning from them also…so go out there and explore the world with all it’s infinite opportunities!!! ImageImageImageImage