“I’m lost in life at the moment. Everything this year has changed. Why am I going through all these changes that are hurtful?”
This is a question that I was recently asked by a customer – and her pain was obvious. But you can also sense that she believes that this stuff is only happening to her – probably because it appears that everyone around her is doing just fine. Unfortunately, if that is her assumption, she is incredibly wrong.
We are living in a post-pandemic world and nothing is the same as it was before. And we can never go back because that door has slammed shut, and pretty firmly, too. This is how it is now and we are picking our way through the debris, desperately trying to create a new ‘normal’. We have all been mentally and emotionally scarred to one degree or another, even if we aren’t consciously aware of that fact. And it has been my observation that a lot of human beings are behaving in a strange way, with anger bubbling away just below the surface, periodically emerging in the form of mini explosions. My own experience of 2022 has been a bit of a shock, I can tell you. In fact, it has been an exhausting, unpredictable year with uninvited conflict crawling out of the woodwork left, right, and centre. I’ll be glad to see the back of it. Even recently, at our local petrol station/shop, a man started an argument with me about where I had parked my car. The little car park was very busy when I arrived, but I moved into a space between a van and a motorbike, careful not to pull too far forward so that the bike rider had enough room to get out. When I got back to the car, he was on the bike, reversing out, and I politely stood to one side until he had finished. But he wasn’t happy, pointing to the now empty space where the van had been, telling me that I should have left more room for him and informing me that “we pay road tax too, you know!” I explained that there had been a van there when I arrived – but he just shook his head and muttered something. As I drove away, I realised that he had pushed my wing mirror flat against the car, and clearly with some force. The point is, it was unnecessary. He did not struggle to get on his bike or to reverse it. There wasn’t a lot of space for any of us – but enough to safely do what we needed to. And although this was a minor incident, it was only one of many – and some of them far more aggressive in nature. We’re all unsettled, uncertain, and furious. Me included. I admit to not having calmly handled all of the situations that have intruded into my life this year – and also to having nurtured a strong desire for ‘justice’ in some cases (which eventually dissipated, I’m pleased to say).
The other problem I have encountered is an increase in poor, inefficient service. Not across the board, of course, but enough to be notable. Mistakes are being made, time is being wasted, and there is a general lack of urgency. It is easy to become frustrated but then we have to remember that we’re all struggling in our own ways. It could be that we were out of work for so long that we can’t easily get back into the rhythm of ‘normal’ life; it could be that we are feeling generally depressed and uninspired; it could be that we are harbouring resentment toward the organisations and individuals who treated us badly throughout the pandemic; and, of course, we might just be sick to the back teeth with other human beings and their bad attitudes!
And let’s not forget that trust has been eroded to a horrible degree. Whatever side of the argument we were on during the pandemic, we learned much about our fellow human beings that we would have preferred not to know. Families were divided, friendships came to an end, and jobs were snatched away from devastated individuals. Blame and judgement were the order of the day and reputations were shattered. It’s going to take years and years for us to even begin to recover from such a humanitarian catastrophe. Life became, and still is, unbearably unpredictable – and we human souls don’t respond well to unpredictability.
Another legacy of the pandemic is guilt. People were prevented from being with their loved ones as they were leaving this world. And from being able to support other family members and friends. And from being with partners when they were giving birth. No one who found themselves in any of those unhappy situations IS guilty – but that won’t prevent them from struggling under the miserable weight of it. Guilt is one of the most painful, destructive emotions we can experience. It haunts us, if not during every waking moment then certainly during many of them – especially at night, when sleep refuses to come, leaving us at the mercy of our own harsh and unforgiving inner critic.
However, to an outside form of intelligence that might be objectively observing human life, it would probably appear that here, on planet Earth, it’s a case of back to business as usual. The struggles and the pain are mostly internal, spilling out every now and then like vomit we’ve been desperately trying to hold in. Human beings are shell-shocked and many of us are no longer even consciously aware that we are festering with sadness and rage (plus, as we have been programmed to view anger as a ‘bad’ thing, we do our best to repress it – or even deny its existence) – and, as a consequence, we deflect that anger toward the wrong source. I knew, when a woman suddenly and out of the blue crashed into our space with a vitriolic rant about us allowing a cat that used to be a stray but now slept in her garage, into our house (it was and still is permanently positioned outside the front door, ready to shoot in the moment it opens), claiming that we were trying to steal it by forcing it inside and locking it in – more than twelve months after it first started showing up – that the cat was not the problem. Something else was… maybe something too big for her to face up to at that moment in time. Not that that stopped me from getting into a row with her. I’d just about had enough of that kind of c**p, at that point. The stupid thing is, she stomped away, leaving the cat behind – who immediately tried to get back into our house – and we haven’t heard a peep from her since. And that was months ago. But haven’t we all done something similar, as in getting pretty damned mad over a specific thing, whilst offloading our negative feelings onto the wrong person or situation? I’m pretty sure I have.
So, what can we do? Well, firstly, we have to remember to communicate with ourselves properly. Not just go through each day on autopilot. If we’ve fallen into survival mode we need to become aware and then take steps toward changing it and expanding our mental horizons. I had been feeling wretched for a few days, recently. I felt full of heaviness and darkness and it was choking me. Eventually, I sat down and opened up my Google docs and started to type. And out it all came, as if I had grabbed hold of an infested piece of string and pulled and pulled until I reached the clean end. Nothing changed, the circumstances that had been increasingly dragging me down still remained – but I felt better and more clear-headed. I asked myself what was really hurting me… and how I was actually feeling? Once I’d established the how the why revealed itself. It felt as if I’d been purged – and, having put it all down in black and white, I felt heard and acknowledged – if only by myself!
Something else we can do is to be willing to reflect. What have we learned about ourselves from the experience of the pandemic? Can we accept that life is different now and that we can only move forward from THIS point? Can we review our intentions, our plans, and our goals – in other words, the future that is lying ahead of us now? Can we see the world as it currently is and still have some faith, some hope… a little optimism, even? Can we start again, in our minds and hearts, as if waking up in a different world than the one in which we went to sleep? Can we take good physical care of ourselves, maybe better than we did before? Can we think about the way in which we approach others – and how we respond when faced with uninvited, unwarranted hostility? Can we become less susceptible to those who clearly don’t have our best interests at heart? You know, I believe that we can, and, to be honest, I don’t think that we actually have any choice – if we are to recover, become stronger, and eventually thrive.
So, going back to the heartfelt question “I’m lost in life at the moment. Everything this year has changed. Why am I going through all these changes that are hurtful?”, my response is: “We all are – and if we recognise that fact then there is no need for us to behave like enemies.” And I think that this little quote from the bible is a good note to finish on:
Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.