Overcoming COVID: Holding the Hope; Coping with Impatience
COVID has been with us for quite a while now and we’re all finding that demanding. Holding the hope that we’ll move beyond it can be even harder.
Naturally, everyone wants the pandemic to be done and over. This is especially true now that we have arrived at the early days of the New Year. As it has since the time of the Babylonians, and even before, New Year’s celebrations symbolize that the world is being made all over again, fresh and new. That symbolism of the renewal of the world takes on an even greater power for all of us at this time, as we yearn to see the world freed of COVID, and our lives returned to their former richness and freedom—renewed indeed.
Things Seem to be Moving Slowly
The problem for many of us is that the new post-COVID world is being born, but it’s taking some time to get here. There’s a very big difference between wanting that renewal to occur, and actually seeing it take place.
At the present time, we’re dealing with a very mixed picture. It seems like the world now has three vaccines which experts view as being effective against COVID-19, which is very welcome news. However, it seems likely that it’s going to take quite a while before enough of the population is vaccinated to turn the tide and bring about the end of COVID. Simultaneously, we’re dealing with record or near-record levels of COVID infection and hospitalization, here in Ontario, and in many places worldwide.
Many of us are in the position of trying to have hope and be optimistic about the future. Many of us also find ourselves in the position of being frustrated and discouraged about how long it’s taking us to get through this COVID-19 period. In terms of what science knows about how epidemics play out, this is not surprising. As U. of Toronto epidemologist Ashley Tuite puts it, “There won’t be a V-day where everyone runs into the streets and hugs…. Just a gradual return to normal.”
Andre Picard, writing in the Globe and Mail, neatly sums up our situation:
History tells us that pandemics don’t have Hollywood endings. The denouement tends to be slow and messy and COVID-19 will certainly be no exception.
COVID Makes It Complicated
We can take this in intellectually, but where does it leave us on an emotional, or even a spiritual level? We are dealing with a collective major life transition, a situation where the way out requires a great deal of patience and perseverance over a long period of time. This is not something that comes naturally to humans.
Our nervous system is very good at responding to immediate, visible threats. Our ancestors in the stone age would have known very well how to respond to an immediate threat like a sabre-toothed tiger. Similarly, Londoners who faced the extended aerial bombardment of the Blitz in World War II were able to stay motivated for a long time because the threat and its effects were very clearly visible. But how do you maintain optimism and resilience in the face of an invisible foe, when you’re in a situation of social isolation?
Hold the Hope; Find the Meaning
It’s easy in a situation like the present for people to respond from a place of anxiety, and that’s something that occurs with great frequency at present. One form that anxiety takes is denying the existence of the threat. If I simply convince myself that COVID isn’t a threat, or is greatly exaggerated, then my anxiety will be lessened. I suspect that this dynamic is occurring in a lot of people who are “anti-maskers”, or who oppose social distancing, or who want businesses and public events to open up and “just be normal”,
But what if we recognize that we can’t allow ourselves to move into that kind of denial? How can we keep ourselves from lapsing into despair, or finding the lockdown unbearable?
This is a question of great importance for the many people who “just want to get through this thing”, and keep on “holding the hope”. There are a number of different and important answers that include things such as maintaining healthy social connections and getting exercise and healthy sleep. Yet, there is one dimension of situations such as this that case studies and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl highlights that merits out attention:
Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Certainly Jungian psychology would agree with this assessment. From a Jungian perspective, there is a strong link between having a sense of hope, and finding meaning in our situation. This may be an important time to take stock of what it is that provides a sense of meaning in your individual life. That could be connection to people whom we love, religious or spiritual values, commitment to particular ideals or beliefs, or so much more. At this difficult time, exploring and committing ourselves to what we find meaningful is an essential source of hope.
Exploring the sources of meaning and hope in our individual lives will be one of the most important things that each of us does in this New Year of 2021, for ourselves, for those we love, and for the wider world.
I wish you every blessing and good thing in this coming year, and may the year find you “holding the hope” for your own individual journey towards wholeness.