From a mental health and wellness position, 2021 stretched our coping skills to their absolute limit. Aside from a couple of entertaining and surprisingly prophetic Hollywood films, a prolonged pandemic and worsening mental health crisis in 2021 did not seem conceivable.
On top of the pandemic’s social and economic hardships, unprecedented climate-change-induced weather, including an atmospheric river, tore a path of destruction, physically and psychologically, throughout our province, flooding towns and leaving hundreds homeless with a lifetime’s worth of possessions destroyed, under brown rushing water.
The atmospheric river blasted through our reality, causing floods and landslides and turning the primary highway for essential goods, the Coquihalla, into a road which looked as if it was strategically bombed by an enemy. Bridges collapsed and were torn apart; railway cars were upside-down in long broken lines, twisted like toys in a playroom.
How can you develop coping skills for a life event which we had never before experienced and did not foresee occurring?
A lot of us, including me, did not have a psychological toolbox to deal with the anxious, bewildered and sometimes angry feelings that can arise when there is a loss of control of one’s life.
It hurts our dignity and creates anxiety to be a worker unsure about their ability to pay their rent, or a business owner uncertain if employees can be kept on. Uncertainty at this level is materialized from self-preservation and survival instincts. Prehistoric and continuing to evolve instincts to provide food and shelter for our family are subconsciously, and consciously, a source of deep anger and worry when threatened.
Important rituals such as gathering together as families during the holidays were stopped by government-decreed flight restrictions. We need rituals and ceremonies with our families. It’s who we are in our DNA and makes us human, a tribal instinct 200,000 years in the making.
The reasons for the movement restrictions due to the pandemic are for community health, and as groups of people together, we want to end this contagion. It’s the right, science-based action for society.
However, it does not make any visceral emotions toward closures and restrictions less valid. That is the natural reaction to something, even an idea, anyone perceives as a threat. The subconscious aspect of angered response to a threat is not fully in our control, on a level.
At times, 2021 felt like a carnival ride that got stuck, upside down and high in the air with no one to hear shouts for help. Having community and peers attuned to your emotional challenges is a game-changer, even if our emotional reactions to the crisis differ.
No one is ever alone. Loneliness is a pain which no one should feel and should try to be made extinct in 2022.
Without a doubt, 2021 was a tough year all around. Did someone keep the receipt? Can you return a year for malfunctioning and false advertisement?
Nonetheless, as our posture straightens, with shoulders high and chest slightly out, time continues on and 2021’s power over our emotional state begins to weaken. Life will return and we will be closer and stronger as communities, from local to global.
We need to be with each other, from two couples having dinner at their favourite restaurant to 18,000 hockey fans screaming and singing in unison, in ecstasy or agony. It is part of our DNA to experience a wide spectrum of emotions together, in the same room, at the same time.
We are fundamentally social animals who thrive on comforting habits and reassuring rituals; 2021 has left us with connectedness anemia.
Yes, these days are difficult. Nonetheless, we are strong resilient people who, together, can choose science and empathy for our neighbours to guide us and use the experience of 2021 to be a stronger, kinder and better place.
Conversations need to continue. Anger and anxiety around new restricting rules, or any other reason, need to be heard and validated.
Nobody promised us life would be perpetually easy or fair, however, in 2022 we now have a much bigger coping skill toolbox. Life, all interconnected together, will get easier. Also, with the hammer from the toolbox, let us make sure 2021 is completely dead before moving on.
The lingering thought 2021 leaves me with is that sacrifices still need to be made to get to a healthy, community-minded, science-based, post-COVID-19 and contagion-free world. Even if, at times, 2021 felt like trying to climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen, in flip flops, we survived.
Community closeness and interconnection, from growing our food for food security, to eradicating loneliness with innovative social programs, to a pandemic in its closing stages are things I look forward to in 2022, if we all work together in a similar direction.
Robert Skender is a qathet region freelance writer and health commentator.