Okay, let’s talk. How was 2021 for you?
Statistics Canada (www150.statcan.gc.ca) provides a good overview of the effects of the COVID pandemic on our collective mental and emotional health, citing that 25% of “Canadians aged 18 and older screened positive for symptoms of depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in spring 2021, up from one in five (21%) in fall 2020”. The statistics are based on screening and not on medical diagnosis, so this does not necessarily confirm that a diagnosed disorder exists for an individual. The study goes on to identify stressors such as social isolation, employment loss, and changes in relationships brought about by the pandemic as being particularly troublesome. It is pointed out that although changes in behaviours, thinking, and emotions can be normal as a response to stressful situations and, again, might not indicate a diagnosed disorder, the fact remains that these symptoms can “undermine an individual’s well-being and quality of life”. The report goes on to indicate that “a higher proportion of younger adults reported experiencing negative impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic” (83% for those aged 18 to 24 versus 54% for those aged 65 and older). 94% of those screening positive for one disorder such as depression, anxiety or PTSD reported being negatively impacted by the effects of the pandemic. Some impacts of the pandemic might be loneliness or physical illness. Refer to Statistics Canada to read more in their study on the effects of COVID 19 on our mental health.
If we consider these statistics, every one of us knows someone who suffered in the last year. Maybe it was you or me. I would add that even if we were not interviewed by Statistics Canada or even if we did not screen positive for symptoms of poor mental health (or for COVID, for that matter), all of the clutter around COVID had some kind of less-than-positive effect on us.
How did it impact you? For me, it felt like a year of lessons, hopefully some personal growth, and definitely not all fun. They say we learn more from hardship than from good times.
The early part of the COVID pandemic in 2020 started out quite enjoyably, actually. Some of us revelled in the novelty of quietness, of having nowhere to go, of learning new ways to do things we previously took for granted. We learned the fine art of Zoom or Webex or whatever platform suited us. We planned new ways to celebrate each milestone, each birthday, Easter, July 1st (or 4th!). We used the extra time to try out old and new skills, like cooking. (Are we the only ones who did not acquire an insta-pot or did not make sour dough bread?) We planned trips that have still never come to fruition. We all thought this COVID-thing would pass in a few months and we could get on with life as we knew it. I truly thought we “were in this together” as the governments and health services kept telling us.
My bubble began to burst around Christmas of 2020, which is generally an emotional time, regardless.
COVID seemed to bring to the forefront (or perhaps gave people time to think about) many divisions that had long been simmering under the surface - politics, religion, science, morality, ethnicity, and even personal relationships. It seemed the whole world was divided.
It was becoming increasingly evident that there was a range of how people chose to view or follow rules for COVID isolation and contact limits and shut downs as the governments had laid out (or perhaps there were slightly different interpretations of those guidelines) – even some government members themselves seemed to have ‘different interpretations’! Then the world scurried to roll out the vaccines in a very short time which I thought was masterful, but it became clear that not everyone believed this was a good thing. It seemed the governments, who were facing extreme issues and decisions under duress, could not make anyone happy.
Add to this mix the fact that there were some really serious, emotional, issues that came to a greater light this year, such as Canada's history of residential schools and the world's racial and financial inequality. And then there were challenges to some legislations/rights/freedoms that our ancestors worked so hard for and were initially set in place to ensure greater equality such as women's reproductive rights.
We were all getting tired of isolation, restrictions, Zoom, and Webex. We missed our families. We missed adventure and experiences. Throw into this a lack of respite from the cold Alberta weather and our own personal 'issues' (each one of has them - mine was my retirement decision crisis) and, suffice it to say, 2021 was a very heavy year indeed. My own emotional health was probably the weakest it has ever been in the first few months of 2021.
But, as the saying goes, things had to get messy before they got better. Each one of us had our own way of coping with what seemed like a massive, repetitive, onslaught of upsetting information. For me, it took a re-evaluation of, and change to, my thinking, not just about individuals, but about my own thoughts and actions and about society and about human nature in general. (Remember back to basics: how we think about something affects how we feel which affects how we act - a positive or negative chain of events.)
The only way I can describe it is the need for acceptance and non-judgement. (We all know this, but I expect it is one of the harder life lessons that needs to be constantly reinforced.) Pay attention but pull back a little emotionally and become less invested in every topic, event, news headline - this is hard for people, like me, who feel hard and feel deep! Accept that that each one of us has to do what is right for him or her and to live with the consequences of our choices. Understand that, as humans, we also tend to make decisions that serve our own self-interest - we each have our own self-determined spot on the scale of ‘wrong’ to ‘right’. And, as humans, we all make mistakes: "To err is human." And humans make up our institutions, so that means our institutions are not perfect, either. But they are all we have. (Hopefully, we will not hurt each other too much in this process, but I know I have hurt people this past year, and I have also been hurt.)
No one but us can direct our happiness. Sometimes, we have to forge ahead with what we want to pursue without 'permission' or even without support from others. Accept that sometimes things are not black and white and that rose-coloured glasses sometimes need to become a bit tainted. At the same time, stand where you stand and know that is alright, and maybe make adjustments when needed. (We don't always have to do things as we always did or value the same things we always valued.) For we who have been fortunate with homes and incomes, accept that we have had a 'good run', so to speak, and that life has it's way of bringing us down a notch, and that is just what 2021 seemed to do.
Those were my life lessons from 2021. I am sure there are more. And I know that I won't live up to all of them, at all times, in 2022
So, how was your year? I sincerely hope that the hardships were not too ‘hard’ and that if they were, there was help in whatever form worked for you. I also hope that, by year end, from all of the chaos of 2021, life started to make just a little more sense again.