2020, Its Crippling Effects and Why Empathy is Essential

Photo by Pavel Anoshin on Unsplash

Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” — Alfred Adler

As against my typical routine, I didn’t have a long list of radical goals at the beginning of 2020. Mostly because of how exhausting the activities of 2019 were. I was over all the ecstasy of a new year and just needed to breathe. When people asked me what I wanted for the year, my response was, ‘I just want to be truly happy’

Did it feel like I was diving into a deep pool without a life jacket? Was I tempted to go on another roller coaster of ripping myself open to pull out my inadequacies and mask them as goals just to have a sense of direction? Was I scared of being overwhelmed with the chaos that comes with lack of planning? Of course! I was in doubt of this new desire to just let life be life; unpredictable. Considering that I have a very impulsive desire to be in control, this path was bizarre and unfamiliar, but I went ahead anyways.

Looking retrospectively, I am forced to assume my future self left me a message to prepare me for the mighty 2020; the year nobody is in charge. The year we are forced to rip every list to pieces and simply bask in gratitude for life. The year we can no longer hide behind the shade of routine and schedule. The year we are all forced to embrace a diluted form of fulfillment. The year death steals loved ones without giving them a chance to say goodbye.

Putting into consideration how much of our sanity is attached to maintaining a pattern that quenches the thirst to find validation in any other thing other than ourselves, this pandemic is a huge mental strain for a lot of us.

Prior to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the international prevalence of child and adolescent mental illness, across all mental disorders, was 13.4% (Polanczyk et al., 2015). As a result of COVID-19, children and adolescents have experienced unprecedented interruptions to their daily lives and it is anticipated that these disruptions may be precipitants of mental illness, including anxiety, depression, and/or stress related symptoms. Source

For students like me, we have gone from seeing this period as a rare opportunity to rest to one that reveals how financially handicapped we are. We have been forced to sit with this foreign silence till it rips us open.

For individuals on a payroll, the uncertainty of still being employed after all this is tearing them apart. Companies are folding up. Events, cancelled. Graduations, postponed or a shadow of what they should be.

When I had to come home in March from school I picked up clothing for a month, which I thought was extra. It’s almost eight months. I was definitely not prepared for captivity in a cycle of days so similar that the thin line between each day disappears and I lose my sense of knowing what day it is. I have gone out of options for adaptation. My body is tired of my constant shape shifting and my constant teleportation to places that should be forgotten.

This new path of self evaluation we have been burdened with has us begging for our routines back. Hiding behind ‘I want to go back to my normal life’. Putting in mind how unpleasant this unfolding is, I don’t blame us for wanting an escape route from this pandemic that has us locked in our minds mirroring who we really are without the schedule.

The sudden stagnation is exhausting.

I recently saw a tweet that calling out (quite aggressively if you ask me) undergraduates who didn’t ‘achieve’ anything during this period. Fortunately, a number of people called out the insensitivity of this tweet. In defense, people said ‘Of course this tweet isn’t referring to people who are depressed’, ‘You are just encouraging irresponsibility’ and to be honest I got the point. I get that it is presumed every young person should be responsible enough to have taken advantage of this period. I mean, you never get this kind of limbo every day. A time to do all you felt formal education was holding you back from doing. I get it!

But, first, do we realize this was a pandemic. The entire world, not just a fraction but the entire world stopped. During the first few months of this pandemic, people lived in fear, not just fear of being infected but also chances of survival through the lock down. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations and the fact that you were mentally stable enough to actually do an online course or any other form of presumed personal development doesn’t mean everyone did and putting this inability in people’s faces is not okay. Do you think people don’t already know how ‘backward’ they are on society’s list of ‘Most Likely to succeed in life’? The reminder is everywhere!

It is just really sad that our quest to inspire is ripping us of all forms of empathy and our personal progress easily blinds us to the struggles of people who don’t have it as easy as we do. And how we are erroneously adapting this idea that motivation has to be accompanied with derogation troubles me a lot.

I mean, the seemingly simple yet grand achievement of survival is a lot to celebrate. The fact that you survived every day of this period is something you should be proud of. It is never too late to start whatever form of self development you desire. There is no timeline for that. Beating yourself up for the assumed mismanaged time will not change time. It only makes things worse. You can start right where you are. This year was tough for all of us.

2020 made me really appreciate days I was dancing with motivation because I lost a lot of that in this year and building from the scratch is really hard. Extremely in fact. But, I’m glad I’m even trying at all and most times when I feel I’ve wasted my life this year, I have to verbally remind myself not only of the wins my mind constantly throws into the ‘unimportant’ folder but also that I haven’t received my dream super power of time travel. Hence, looking back is torture because I can’t do anything about the past but I have full power over what I do today and every day after.

So, while you put your foot forward to start out on that goal, don’t forget to celebrate your survival. It matters!

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