Life's Seasons Speaks

What's Your COVID Story?

July 06, 2022 Tina Episode 67
Life's Seasons Speaks
What's Your COVID Story?
Show Notes Transcript

What's Your COVID Story?

Many of us remember where we were and what we were doing the day the twin towers were hit.  We can recall many thoughts and emotions as well.  It's part of our 9-11 story.

Here we are now in 2022, with a COVID story... that continues writing on our pages.  Many of us will have stories that include suffering in our mental health.  But we don't tell those stories, do we?  Can we?  Should we?

Today we talk about the importance of our stories... particularly if they include mental illness.  We talk about how it isn't essential that we tell everyone our story.  We don't owe everyone our story.  The question isn't "are you telling EVERYONE about your story?"  The question is "are you telling ANYONE  about your story?"

Because your story matters.  You matter.  Let's look at why we don't share,  how we could share, AND how we can be listeners too.

Email your stories to: speaks@lifesseasons.org

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What’s your COVID story?  Everyone old enough to have a memory is going to have a COVID story.  

I remember my mom telling me her JFK story.  She knew exactly where she was and what she was doing when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  It was her JFK story.

Many of us have a Princess Diana story.  We can recall our whereabouts and what we were up to the day we heard the news of her tragic death.  We can recall emotions as well.  It’s our Princess Diana story.

Many more of us still, have a 9-11 story.  We can tell you where we were and what we were doing when we heard of the attack on the Twin towers.  We can tell you how we felt.  It became an experience.  It is our 9-11 story.

And here are in 2022.  With a COVID story to carry, recall, and share.  Many of us with the story still unfolding and being written.  And though this was a global event, each of our stories will be different in many of details.  Many of us will have several different stories that highlight our memory.  With distinct separating factors of emotions, thoughts, and experiences.

Some of our stories will be funny.  Possibly related to zoom and the incidents we had as we tried to learn the new technology to carry on with our lives – visiting, having meetings, working, and continuing our education.   Having cats walk across our keyboards and dogs bark through our online appointments, and naked toddlers run through the background with a parent running not far behind with a towel.  They are funny stories now, but oh so frustrating then.

There were many funny stories as we tried to reckon with the fact that we were now locked up with our families.  The people we should want to be with 24/7, if we had to pick someone.  And yet when we really got to know them and their habits around the clock, we longed to be at work or in school again, away from the people we love the most.

We went from thinking just a few weeks at home, and I could get my life in order, to wondering if my jeans would even fit me anymore, should I have to leave the house.  And no, a few weeks at home is not what I need to get my life in order.  My closets are organized to a T.  But life is not.

We will laugh as we think of trying to tell future generations of the great toilet paper shortage.  We will tell them it was hard to buy yeast to bake bread.  Many of them will then ask us, “what is yeast?”

And we know that many of the stories will not be this cute.  They will not be this light.  Many of them are devastating and heavy because that is a major part of the global story of COVID.  We have known suffering and death at a rate and cost that many of us have never known before.

For many of us, between the funny stories of zoom and toilet paper, and catastrophic stories of loss, we will have very personal stories that involve our mental health, tough decisions, and suffering.

And not everyone will tell their stories, specifically if they are about their mental health.  Sure, we’ve come a long way… but there is still a lot of stigma attached to mental health.  Mental health suffering is still seen as weakness, failure, and a flaw within someone.

People who speak up and speak out about the distress they have experienced, or are experiencing, are often lifted upon the social media pedestal.  We like and share and comment because it makes us look supportive.  But we still wouldn’t hire these people.  Or ask them to babysit.  Or bring them into our lives privately where the world isn’t watching us as heroes.  Because somewhere inside, we still see them as unstable, therefore untrustworthy, and broken somehow.  Literally like there is something within them that broke.  And now needs to be fixed for them to be of much worth again.

But think of what we have been through.  Yes, in life, but even just through COVID, how does it make sense that anyone is broken in a way that suggests weakness, or failure.

Victor Frankl, - neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, writer, and Holocaust survivor says it best when he explains that “an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior”.

Experiencing COVID was not normal.  Very little about the last two and a half years can be classed as normal.  So, whether it was or wasn’t a typical experience for your mental health to be suffering at any other time, it sure would be within an abnormal life event.

Don’t you think?

SO even if we can wrap our minds around this, and think of that neighbor, family member, friend, or coworker who we really saw in pain, anxiety, depression… and normalize it as a normal reaction to an abnormal experience… 

Can we do the same when we look in the mirror?

Can we look at ourselves and say “awe honey, there is nothing wrong with you.  There was everything wrong about COVID, you just responded.

When you were lonely, we were isolated.  When you were anxious, everything was scary.  When you were sad, the world was full of illness, and death.  When you felt out of control, you were very much being controlled by forces beyond you.  

Your thoughts made sense.  Your feelings made sense.  You make sense”.

We know that a mental health risk, is social isolation.  And we didn’t just end up doing it through COVID.  It was mandated.  Mandated social isolation is going to bring with it mental health suffering and a need for care, support, and healing.

Because the counterpart of isolation is loneliness.  And loneliness means we are cut off and not feeling a connection with one another… which we have talked about many times as being so important to our health and happiness.

A part of connectedness is belonging.  Which again, is something we have talked about just recently.  And a major factor within the pandemic was split camps on so many issues.  From masks to vaccinations.  People were made to feel that they didn’t belong if their opinion differed from the speaker of the moment.  Many people took a stand to ostracize anyone from their Facebook page, or many other social media platforms, their friend circles, and sadly in many cases their family… because they didn’t share the same opinion, beliefs, or attitude on any given subject that was COVID related.  You agreed with them… or you didn’t belong.

But a big part of belonging is knowing that your story matters, it is recognized and validated.  It doesn’t have to be the same story as someone else, or even have pages that interweave with anyone else.  It’s that your story matters and deserves to be told.

If we are taught, and accept that our story does not matter, then we feel we don’t belong, and we feel lonely and isolated.  And our mental health suffers.

This is one of the reasons that people seek therapy.  They are looking for a safe space to share their story.  Perhaps a place to read the pages of their lives that they have kept hidden from everyone else.

One of my favorite lines is from a Canadian author named Ann Voskamp and it simply states, “Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.”

This is a line I carry so close to my heart.  Because I know that people carry shame inside of them for things, they never needed to feel ashamed of.  But it is often not until the words hit the air that they start losing that power over them.  And when they hit the air and are met by a safe person who practices catching lies, well then it becomes a fishing trip.  Where people sit together to catch and release the false burdens they have been carrying, called guilt, shame, and regret.

I want to be a catcher of lies for people and their stories.  I need catchers of lies in my life too.  I’ll always need to tell my stories in safe place with people who can help me grab ahold of false shame and release it back into the wild.  I don’t want to keep it.

We can be those people, for each other, who bear witness to one another’s stories.  For respect, for healing… for belonging to one another and fighting loneliness with inclusion.

When we share our stories with people who are interested in hearing them, we feel less isolated.  We feel seen.  We feel known to someone – who cares to know us.

But why do we still hesitate to tell some of our stories?

Quite often, a counselling office will be where we share the most details within our pages.  And for one reason, we already mentioned, that may feel like the safest space in which to do that.

It could also be that we have been conditioned to tell the stories that people will want to hear the most.  Make sure they are uplifting, encouraging, funny, lighthearted.  Just look at the selfies we take and share.  Selfies are trying to tell their own story.  And they don’t often do it without a filter.

We filter the narratives of our lives too.  We don’t want to be a burden.  We don’t want to be judged.  We don’t want to sound like the downer, or the weak struggling person.  

Sometimes, it’s because we don’t want to admit to ourselves either, that that’s where we are, and what we are experiencing.

So, we down-play our story.  We don’t say I’m scared.  We say I’m really tired lately.  Or I’ve been really busy.  Or I think I’m fighting a cold maybe.  We minimize to make others more comfortable.

Or we share a bit of our struggle but quickly look to point out the “silver lining” because we know people are going to do it for us if we don’t do it first.  But we know that when others do it to us, it causes damage.  It is invalidating and disconnecting.  And it is no different when we do it to ourselves.  It still causes damage.  It undermines our resilience and actually makes us more vulnerable.

And the silver lining isn’t wrong.  Looking for the positive isn’t wrong.  Practicing gratitude and being grateful is not wrong.  But it isn’t instead of the true story.  It’s somewhere within it as well.  It’s not an either or.  Good story or bad.  Negative or positive.  Right or wrong.  It’s a whole story.  It will involve all the pieces.

Now I don’t say all of this to tell you that we need to be sharing our full stories with everyone we meet.  That’s not even safe.  And we don’t owe everyone our full stories.

It’s not about whether we are telling everyone our full stories or not… the question is, “are we sharing our full stories with anyone?”  And not even if they include mental illness, but particularly if they include mental illness – Because our stories deserve to be heard, we deserve to be heard, and healing happens within our stories, as we share them.  Otherwise, mandated or not, it’s still isolation.

Now we said that sharing our stories is important.  Particularly if they include mental illness.  And we have the stories we enjoy sharing because they are funny.  But let’s take one minute to also mention the stories that are often untold as well.  And those are our ordinary stories.

Why do we hesitate to share our ordinary stories?  Well because they don’t compare with the ones full of pain and suffering.  We feel like we are drawing attention to something that really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.  We also don’t think these stories will entertain anyone either.  So, will they even be interested in hearing it anyways?  

That has no bearing on whether or not they are worthy to be told.  And the right people will want to hear them.  We need to as story tellers, and as listeners, normalize the ordinary stories.  Not just telling and listening to those we deem dark enough to be important, or light enough to be entertaining.

We have a lack of resources for mental health support.  We have been in this deficit for a long time.  We are in it now.  And it is not looking promising.  And what I’m saying next is not the answer to a mental health resource crisis.  But it can help.  And that is better than doing nothing.  And it is surely better than things just continuing to deteriorate.

What I have to say is this… If we can learn to tell our stories, the funny, the tragic, AND the ordinary – that will help work towards mitigating loneliness.  We will start to feel connected.  We will start to feel heard and furthering that – worthy of being heard.  That could just lead to us feeling more worthy as a human, who has a story to tell.

And now if you’re saying, but I don’t know who I would tell my story too… well, that’s part of this idea.  Not only do we all have a story to tell, but we all have the ability to be listeners too.  To be the one giving the gift to someone of being heard, of being worthy of sharing, of being a worthy human with a story.

We have stories to tell – but we also have stories to hear.

We can become someone’s audience as they read to us from the pages of their lives.  And just as we don’t close a book and throw it away when we are in the uncomfortable part of a plot… we will indicate to them that they don’t need to find the silver lining for us to be comfortable.  Nor will we point it out for them either.  We will listen to the page they are on at that moment only.

We won’t ask them to be grateful for their pain or in their pain.  The page we are on that moment may just be about the pain.  We won’t compare their stories to ours or anyone else’s.  It doesn’t have to be funny enough, dark enough, or light enough.  The fact that they are willing to share it… IS ENOUGH for them to be worthy to do so.

If you are being a listener, and hearing a story that is about mental suffering, in particular, you don’t have to have the answers.  You don’t have to be able to fix it.  You, being willing to listen might be what they needed - to know they can find someone and repeat this story again.  They may learn that you are trustworthy to help find that someone – perhaps a counsellor.  They may have already found someone but are on the waitlist.  In the meantime, though – they are not alone.  They have not been isolated.  They are not lonely – all of which would be perpetuating to the suffering.  

I don’t have all the answers to the mental health resource crisis.  I don’t have all the answers to mental illness.  I don’t have all the answers to the questions we still have about COVID.

But I do know this.  No matter who you or what you’ve been through, you have a story.  And it deserves to be shared, heard, and validated.  You also have the ability, no matter your education, training, understanding, or vocation, to listen to a story.

Because no one deserves to feel lonely.  And we all have the ability to help someone feel like they are connected and that they belong – to our family, friend circle, community, and this world.

Many factors are out of your control as you write the story of your life.  But you have full control of telling it.  And you can play a huge role in allowing someone else to tell theirs.

We all belong in this world.  Make sure that people around you know that.

I thank you guys for all you do to make this world, and the hard things we experience in it, easier to be a part of.  Keep doing what you do to love yourself, and the ones that cross your path.

And if you have a story to tell, funny, really hard, or completely ordinary… send it to us through our email address.  We’ll read it.  We’ll listen.  You will be heard.  And please indicate if you’re comfortable with a response.  I’ll pop that address into our show notes for you, with anticipation of hearing from you.

Until next time, thanks again everyone.  Goodbye for now… and we’ll speak again soon.