This article was originally published in Rebelle Society online magazine.
I am hopeful during the coronavirus crisis, and this is not an article on positive psychology.
It all began with a friend and colleague noticing my hopefulness as I spoke about knowing there is going to be an end to the coronavirus crisis. My hopefulness was just part of a spontaneous reflection after being sick for a few weeks with what looked like coronavirus symptoms.
It was emotionally debilitating to prepare for sheltering in place, to deal with the anxiety about the possibility of getting sick with a deadly illness, and then getting sick. I got ill despite washing my hands obsessively a thousand times with careful attunement to where my hands landed. I then fell in despair when feeling ill with fever, body aches, and a cough.
I thought I had done everything in my power not to fall sick, but instead, I thought I landed on the ground in defeat. I was aware I had been seeing clients at my psychotherapy office the morning a cough intruded itself uninvited, and was concerned I could have potentially made them sick.
I was having internal discussions about how I was going to convey to my clients I was ill with fever and cough at a time in which such symptoms could be an indicator of a deadly illness that was spreading across the globe. My illness forced me to think about how my clients and I were going to navigate our mutual responses to our collective fear of death due to a pandemic that was threatening everyone’s lives.
Maybe finding out I did not have the coronavirus has a connection with my hopefulness, but it is not a straightforward connection as it seems. The hopefulness is not necessarily about the relief I am not going to die from it today. Although, I am sort of relieved I am alive and writing about my experience.
I am convinced at times that there is no reason to be hopeful based on the stories I hear from my clients. I have heard about how things are stressful, how anxious they feel about being confined to close space, the feelings of isolation and loneliness, and how the dynamics with loved ones seem to get more complicated as they have to inhabit similar spaces for more time than usual.
There is no reason to be hopeful when I had to struggle to get tested for coronavirus, and when I was finally able to get tested, I had to wait two weeks to learn if I had the virus. It was a glimpse into realizing how the government was handling the pandemic. I cannot imagine other less fortunate people who exhibit symptoms, but the possibility of getting tested was not existent.
There is no reason to be hopeful either when my assessment of the government response to the pandemic is that their response is inadequate. There is no space for hope when the death count continues to increase, and the worst is yet to come according to scientists’ prognosis.
There is space instead to feel angry at the abandonment by the government of its citizens by not providing enough equipment to first responders and tests amid a global pandemic.
There is fear about financial stability for everyone, and for those of us psychotherapists who have to deal with delayed and denied payments from insurance companies in spite of being at the forefront of delivering mental health services during a global pandemic. There is also space to feel powerless for not being able to do much about something that is out of our control.
There is much space for grief for the things we are not doing, the people we cannot see face to face, the anticipatory grief for the death of a loved one who might fall ill, and the grief about the end of life on this planet as we know it.
Hopefulness, however, is alive within me, and I am neither your favorite positive psychology psychotherapist, nor do I specialize in coaching people to be positive. In fact, my melancholic personality and my social justice lens color my perspective of life most of the time. My assessment of reality is usually about coming down with the fact life is unfair, and that life can be better for the majority in this globe.
I do not encourage denial of reality when the world is falling apart. I tend to point out those feelings we do not want to talk about, hence my gravitation toward deep psychology and the hidden unconscious. However, that strange feeling of hopefulness still arises crawling, afraid of being seen by me.
I decided to come to terms with my hopefulness by opening a door to it even when unwelcome. When I sit back and reflect on those two weeks in which I experienced being sick, at some point, I overcame my fear of death. It was clear that whether I had the coronavirus or not, my immune system had the reserved energy to defeat my symptoms.
There is something deeper that presented itself during those days of illness, which connects to this feeling of hopefulness, something I try to convey to my clients during these days of uncertainty. The experience of being ill forced me to slow down, to sleep countless hours and to put aside my to-do list. I surrendered to not doing.
This experience brought to my awareness how we collectively encourage excessive work ethics. This excessiveness is to the point that if it were not due to a global pandemic, we would still be working extensively to make our egos feel better about who we are and what we can accomplish.
It was interesting to realize that as soon as I had no other choice than to shut down my constant tendency to do something, I turned inwards to reflect about my life and struggles. With enough time in my hands, I paused and experienced how good it felt not to move, to stay in solitude, to relax months of tension in my body, and to absorb the impact of this effortless effort in the resting mind.
I have been struggling for many years with regulating my autonomic nervous system, and its effects on my body, which manifests in physical symptoms, a byproduct of the day-to-day stress. It was on the day I got sick that all my stress-related symptoms subsided, only to come back the day after I had enough time to worry about day-to-day life decisions again.
I was intrigued then how the pause I took in some strange way made me feel better. I am still enjoying my autonomic nervous system having reset my body for two weeks. I am grateful for the lessons learned, the experience of having earned great awareness through my body about the importance of slowing down one more time.
There are some decisions that I will make as a result of these lessons once the emergency ends, and it will be around the theme of slowing down.
Now, when I hear many wanting to go back to things as they were, it makes me feel like this obsession with doing, talking, and continually socializing with no time for reflection is drying, rough, and meaningless. We barely have time to connect with solitude and ourselves in silence, an opportunity I try to create for my clients as they sit in silence and struggle with what is.
I am hopeful the global situation is conspiring with us, helping me and my clients accomplish it. The symbolism of the moment confirms one more time how we dread looking inwards. At the moment, we are forced to sit in solitude, and we have no other choice than to look inwards and deal with the issues we had abandoned for when we have enough time. It seems that now is the time. And in that, I am hopeful.
I am hopeful that the planet is forcing us to take refuge, to stay put, in stillness, in solitude, and deal with what is inside. I am so hopeful that so much will come out of this experience of collective reflection, and that some dysfunctional patterns taking place in the way humans relate will change. I am hopeful we will pay more attention to our needs to reset our bodies and taking time off.
I am grateful for silence as it has always been a great friend even when I have hated it. I am hopeful that our planet is taking time off from us, from our carelessness and mistreatment of her. I am hopeful because this is one more time for us to think about our existence as a human species, which is something we take for granted.
I am hopeful that we will be more intentional in our connections when we finally see each other again. I am hopeful that even though it is painful, we will find our way out of this crisis. And, I am grateful that I am finally able to embrace my hopefulness as it finally found some space to inhabit within me.
Merari E. Fernández Castro,