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Healing Space | Can’t go back to ‘normal’: Living in a post-lockdown gap

We are struggling to catch up, while others act like everything is okay. We live in a gap between our emotions and reality. The dissonance of navigating a post-lockdown world.

June 26, 2021 / 07:16 PM IST
Illustration by Suneesh K.

Illustration by Suneesh K.

Note to readers: Healing Space is a weekly series that helps you dive into your mental health and take charge of your wellbeing through practical DIY self-care methods.

We’re all feeling a little bit like Chuck Noland, Tom Hanks in Castaway, after he was rescued from the island. Today there’s a table full of food, we meet family and friends who are empathetic. Yet, our devastating experience feels like chit chat to someone else. It feels like no one understands, even if you were to tell them. Worse, it seems like everyone else is just ‘getting on with it’ while we are not there yet. There is a gap and we are falling through it. We are just going through the motions. After everything we’ve just been through, we just meet for coffee, make small talk and the Sensex rises?

Healing Space logo for Gayatri Jayaram column on mental healthThis cognitive dissonance comes from the contradiction between our emotional state and our physical one. Our body is responding to our environment, and has moved forward from the point of difficulty. We go out, take meetings, fix the plumbing, get a haircut. Cosmetically, we are returning ourselves tangibly to ‘normal’. However, the mind still holds on to what has happened. Our emotional and spiritual validation hasn’t arrived; we are stuck waiting for some meaning. This is what it means to function without alignment: trying to drag forward that which is stuck in you. This results in a fragmentation of identity. You smile and go along, but you are unmotivated.

You ought to know:

1. You’re not alone, the pandemic-induced trauma is collective: Many people are feeling traumatised in the aftermath of the lockdowns. The dissonance is a classic trauma response. In 1997, psychologist Allan Young wrote The Harmony of Illusions, in which he describes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a “disease of time”. It allows the past to relive itself in the present.

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2. Your discomfort is telling you something: It comes from the natural instinct for consistency. You don’t want to feel fragmented, so your mind is attempting to reconcile. This lack of motivation, a fear that you are left behind, anxiety, emerge to allow you to notice the gap and move to bridge it.

3. You have three ways of addressing it: You can reframe the memory of what happened, you can reframe the environment in which you operate, or you can release the emotional hold.

When you reframe the memory, you bring it up to date with your present reality. You sit with your emotions, and come to terms with what the events and losses mean for your present. For someone who has lost an earning member, it could mean reframing oneself as the key provider of the family now. It could mean finding ways to stay connected to the memory of a lost loved one in a meaningful way. For someone who lost a job, it could be restoring connections and friendships from the old workplace, while releasing the anger at management. You reconcile your pain with your reality. Address, don’t ignore, the emotional fallout.

When you reframe the environment, you step away from the existing structure to give your memory space to process its trauma. This is why you see people rushing to a vacation spot as soon as lockdowns lift. Some take to other forms of escape such as intoxicants. These may allow you to step away immediately, but don’t allow you to reconnect your past to your present. So, when you return from vacation and step back into the same environment, the dissonance returns. It’s more important to make long-term changes such as asking for flexi-time or negotiating fewer work hours. Pushing yourself to ‘get back to normal’ is toxic positivity. It can aggravate dissonance.

When you release the emotional hold, you strip the emotions of their power over you. You do this by both assimilation, adjusting to your context and reframing how you see the memory, and building defences against them. Meditation and mindfulness allow you to view emotions and thoughts without reacting. Yoga and therapeutic body work allows you to release pain embedded in the somatic system. Working on these over time allows for release and self-fortification.

These methods take time but allow you to bridge the gap. It is possible to feel whole again if you give your mind and spirit time and space to catch up.

Healing Space - Pandemic can't go back to normal
Gayatri Jayaraman Gayatri is a mind body spirit therapist and author of Sit Your Self Down, a novice’s journey to the heart of Vipassana, and the forthcoming Anitya, a guide to coping with change. [ @G_y_tri]
first published: Jun 26, 2021 06:58 pm
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