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Is it possible that we don’t want to admit this is a really painful and hard experience?
During a recent conversation, I heard: “I’m not really doing okay, but everybody else says they’re fine.” I took a deep breath and realized I had said that exact thing to him earlier in the conversation. Truthfully, I wasn’t doing fine either. After I admitted that, we had an authentic conversation around our challenges. Why is it so hard for us to say, “I’m not doing well,” during this pandemic? Many of us are in pain. Many more are lonely and scared. Even more of us are depressed. Why is it so hard to be honest with each other?
Each day I read articles and watch television segments on the wonderful things people are doing, how we are really connecting while sheltering in place. Some describe how they are connecting by calling someone each day, which of course is a nice thing to do. I also have reached out to people I haven’t talked to in a long time. While these people were happy to know that I had thought of them, the conversation never left the surface. When I tried to talk about the pain of this pandemic experience, it often made them uncomfortable.
I recently read an article on toxic positivity. Natalie Dattilo, a clinical psychologist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says too much positivity is toxic. Well intentioned comments like “It will be fine” or “It could be worse” can be damaging as they stigmatize acknowledging the depth of our pain and struggles.
I am usually a positive person. In fact, positivity is one of my top ten strengths according to Gallup’s Strength Finder assessment. But I have found it increasingly difficult to keep my spirits up in a landscape where honest discussions of pain are almost nonexistent. Finding and maintaining emotional health during this pandemic will require us to find ways to move beyond superficiality and stock responses of “I’m fine” when we are clearly not. God knows we are not fine. Maybe it’s okay if others do too.
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The catchphrase of the moment is “New Normal.” Are the times we are living through going to be our new normal? Are we looking for a new normal on the other side of COVID-19? How do we find a way to make peace with where we are now while not despairing about the future? Essentially, how do we live in liminal space, where we are mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually destabilized and disoriented; where old touchstones, habits, and comforts have vanished?
In her article, “Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste,” May Busch writes in the Summer 2020 ASU Alumni magazine: “The most important question you can ask yourself right now is: “How do I want to emerge from this better and stronger?” I encourage those I coach to use this time to think about their future, to improve their skills, and to create a career path or life that is consistent with their values. Are you yearning to visualize and create a different lifestyle? If you take time during this pandemic to unleash your creativity, you will be poised to move forward confidently into a new future. How do you want the new normal of your future to look?
The people who think deeply about these things will be the ones who will come out the other side with a renewed appreciation of life. At the very least, they will come out of this knowing that their mothers were right to tell them to wash their hands!