Relativity

A friend came across this on Twitter today and sent it to me. It’s an account that’s supposed to be a lighthearted take on the challenges of parenting in the midst of a pandemic, and the intent of this post, I imagine, is pointed levity.

Comments like this present challenges for many of us who struggle with mental health. Let me explain.

Until I finally established a medication protocol that alleviated the worst of my symptoms, I would often not only be clinically depressed but also feeling incredibly guilty for feeling so awful when there were so many others who had it worse than me. I mean, if you consider Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh or the heartbreaking number of working poor with food insecurity right here in the US, my troubles pale in comparison.

This is unhelpful on a multitude of levels. First, clinical depression doesn’t care how relatively wonderful your life may be. I freely admit that I’m tremendously fortunate to reside in a first world country, to do work that I generally love and to be surrounded and supported by some wonderful people. That does not mitigate, however, the fact that, before I finally found the right combination of meds, my mind felt like sludge all the time, or that getting out of bed was a sheer act of will, or that despite the best of efforts – good diet, exercise, sleep, meditation, time in nature – my mood was constantly submerged.

Second, if you consider that you have it pretty good compared to others, and you feel guilty that you feel so poorly, you’re digging your hole deeper. It’s hard enough to be depressed. Feeling guilty about feeling depressed because other people are suffering more – well, you’re simply feeling bad for feeling bad, which helps neither you nor the people who are suffering more.

Third, statements like this take into no account the fact that everyone has emotions, regardless of their situation. Are some of us lucky that we’re riding out our quarantine in the relative comfort of our homes with the benefits of technology, well-stocked grocery stores and functional plumbing? Absolutely, no doubt. Does that mean we have no right to be fearful about the state of the world, or concerned about our continued well-being, or sad that we can’t hug our friends, or frustrated with the temporary limitations on our lives? No. We have every right to feel what we feel. Not allowing those emotions to exist, at least initially, can be damaging.

Our entitlement to our own feelings, however, is part of a much larger picture. Because we do inhabit a world of inequality, and there are those who suffer in many different ways, in terribly difficult situations. Allowing ourselves our own fear and frustration is important because only in acknowledging those feelings and being able to move beyond them are we able to understand the plight of others with clarity and compassion. To be compassionate to others, to be able to help in any way, we must first be compassionate ourselves.

This is all to say, regardless of who we are or where we are, all of us have probably experienced fear and grief and loneliness in these last weeks. And that’s ok. It’s ok to feel those things, and important to feel those things. Because when you fully embrace those emotions, you’re more able to process them, more able to let them evolve and soften, and more able to come to a point at which you can take the gentleness with which you faced yourself and direct that warmth to those around you.

Do you find yourself dismissive of the negative emotions that arise in you? How do you approach yourself with kindness?

My task today: do my usual run in the opposite direction. I have a couple of pretty set routes for various runs (5,6,8 and 10 miles), and I’m now challenging myself to either create new routes or reverse the ones I currently have. I think it’s important to keep the mind challenged, and to keep my runs fresh (6 backwards miles done!)

4 thoughts on “Relativity

  1. Hi Maestra. I agree with your point of view (pov).
    That comment made on twitter is for me a ‘toxic manipulation’. Let me try to explain briefly. There is a French neuropsychiatrist from Bordeaux in France named Boris Cyrulnik. He is the one who brought up the concept of resilience (résiliance). He wrote a lot of best sellers which were probably translated in English. I was supposed to go to one of his conference when he came in Montréal a couple years ago but couldn’t make it. You can check on Youtube about his videos.
    For my job we have mandatory formations to keep up we our skills. One of them was a formation about manipulation. It was given about a year ago by a psychologist from the Douglas mental health institute in Montréal (Verdun borough). She was talking about Cyrulnik’s work. She then talked about the different degrees of manipulation. She gave a case example which had some ressemblance regarding that comment. She was saying it was a ‘toxic manipulation’. Why? She said because it was putting in our heads a ‘feel guilty biased factor’ about a situation. It was intentionnally made by someone who try to play with our emotions and to make us feel guilty about a situation. She said we must not get into it and confront the patient about letting him\her know to stop it. In practice it is not always easy (psychophrenic, …). There are some interesting videos from the Douglas on Youtube. Time to go to sleep. Tired.

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    1. chefdorch says:

      Thank you for these insights, although I’d never heard it before I totally agree with the concept of toxic manipulation. I definitely will be looking but Cyrulnik.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lucian says:

    This difinitely isn’t the way, the fact that others are doing worse than us does not improve our situation.. trying to aggressively suppress our fears won’t work either for most of us.. Letting negative emotions to swell till they naturally calm down sounds dangerous to me also.. So how do we restore the balance? This is a highly emotional period for all of us, with fears, uncertainties, frustrations that could be overwhelming. We can regroup in rationality. And I’ll give you an example how mathematics, statistics and probability help us in this situation: what is the worst thing that could happen? I get the virus and eventually die, right? Now the key question: what are the odds for this to happen? And we take the number of infected peoples or even the estimated nr, and divide it by contry total population nr then multiply by 100. This will give us chances for contacting the virus. Then will take this subunitar nr and multiply by 0,035 (a resonable rate of deaths is 3.5%) and this wil give us the probability of getting the virus and die – will be smth like 0.0000…x %. And then I’ll tell you smth: with this kind of odds we deal every day of our old way of life, when we go out of the house there is a chance that a car hit us, when we fly somewhere there is a chance that the plane crashes, a 0.000…x %. Still we do not live in fear, we are so used with it that we ignore this aspect. So, math says we don’t have to worry, just stay by the rules and it will be ok (if we cross the street on red instead of green the odds changes dramatically)
    And a second thing good for balance.. even if I am person type that see firstly the empty half of the glass, try to take a look at the full half instead… even if it is less than half. Rather than beeing frustrated for things we don’t have this period, enjoy the things we have. A good example here is time – one of the most valuable comodity, we can do some nice things with it… the bright side 😉

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    1. chefdorch says:

      Math is empirical and undeniable, and, when used for the power of good, as you suggest, can definitely be a comfort. As is appreciating any amount in the glass!

      Like

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