Being an Existential Psychotherapist, I tend to look at the world through the spectacles of psychology and philosophy. So, I ask myself, how can I understand people’s behavior and what is going on from a universal perspective? It’s not that I have any groundbreaking answers, but if we try to understand what is going on through Jules Verne’s “A Journey to the Center of the Earth” as the “New World”, in the context of Dorothy’s Journey and the Yellow Brick Road in the Wizard of Oz, maybe it will give us some clarity.
Before the COVID-19 Crisis, for most of us, our lives were a bit like Dorothy and the Yellow Brick Road. We were on a journey, it was sometimes frightening, black and white, colorful and up and down. There was a road, even if it was long, windy and not clear when we reached the end; nonetheless, we knew there was an end, and we hoped there would be a good feeling or some kind of peak or recovery at the finish. Dorothy also meets people throughout her journey to see the wizard. Sometimes she’s hyper aware that the people she meets are really different from her and sometimes even scare her as much as are a support for her. But at least she had people around her and they formed some kind of community.
In Jules Verne’s “A Journey to the Center of the World”, there’s no manual, there’s no road, lots of codes but no clear way of decoding them, no right direction, a lot of unexpected situations and grave danger most of the time. There is a lot of curiosity, adventure, spontaneity and re-thinking out of the box, however, most of all there is complete CHAOS, UNCERTAINTY and there is absolutely nothing to hold on to, not in terms of know how nor in terms of experience or protocol.
We know nothing with 100% clarity about this virus and we also don’t know how to fight it; not medically, economically or socially. The level of despair in the world is immense at the moment.
Lots of people, like myself, are suggesting concrete psychological tools to cope. Stick to a routine, maintain contact with others not to be so isolated, eat well, exercise and be present and mindful. People like me are trying to explain the situation in the world. This is an existential crisis, we all feel out of our depth, our anxiety can sky rocket during times like this, it’s normal and valid, we are scared of the unknown, we are scared of death, we are scared of economic and social instability. We need to look inwards and find inner strength, be goal orientated, look at the positive, see the meaning in this time period, its uniqueness, it won’t come again, think positive…. And all of these suggestions are also good and helpful.
However, what do we do when this COVID-19 period challenges our core being? How do we deal with looking inside? Do we even know ourselves and our reactions to these types of situations when in actual fact we’ve NEVER had to deal with this before…. Our go to coping mechanisms are not working and they are not there. Our outside support from friends, family and community are not there. We can’t even hug our elderly parents or go to the hairdresser or the dentist. We can’t commune in our regular way. We can’t surround ourselves with our regular support system. We are isolated from what usually helps us survive; CONNECTION!
Those of us who are parents of school children feel very overwhelmed and guilty. We are grateful for this time with them, yet we don’t even get the opportunity to miss them and we feel guilty that we should be appreciating this time together. For those of us in relationships who live together. On one hand we are together, yet because of our mental state and the kids around there is no intimacy at all and even worse, sometimes there is frustration and a need to be separate and away. This is a real challenge to our emotional regulation. The crown spikes of the virus penetrate, infiltrate and challenge our human survival mechanisms at the core. They tear and stab at our feelings of stability. They injure and traumatize our yearning and craving for homeostasis and salvation. At the center of the earth there are gushing volcanoes with deadly lava bubbling up and endangering our core existence. Dorothy’s Yellow Brick road is a journey she can measure because it’s linear. We know when we have arrived because there’s an end to the road, even if it’s scary, windy and long. We can measure success. In a Journey to the center of the Earth, what is success? Where do we find it? How do we measure it?
It’s very challenging to seek calm from within if you’re not used to seeking calm that way. It’s hard to BE when you’re anxious and don’t want to peer inside of yourself because you feel you’re about to explode. It’s also scary to look inside because you don’t know what you will find. I run on a regular basis. Now, I can’t. I can’t even go for a long walk. I’m never alone at home. So how do I find my freedom? autonomy? independence? express my angst? find calm? I also practice Mindfulness which is so helpful, but in times like these, it’s also challenging to focus and be present….
I feel that the “Corona Age” is pushing us to invent a new Emotional frontier. I don’t know what that looks like; however, I do believe we need to investigate and go beyond our knowledge and experience.
As a therapist, no matter how much I’ve studied about anxiety, worked with and delved into my own anxiety, I’m seeing and hearing levels of anxiety and expressions of anxiety that substantially widen out the anxiety playing field.
There are people who are so anxious in the day to day, pre-Corona Crisis that during this time feel that they don’t need therapy because now everyone understands them and they are at one with the chaos in the world and they are in heaven. There are those in deep despair who feel lonely, loss and are crippled with fear that freezes their ability to think, cope and be creative and resilient. There are those who are living in denial of what they feel at the moment and don’t want to talk about what’s going on at all. There are those who want to seize the opportunity and are using their burst of creativity and innovation to re-invent themselves to the world. And there are those who are channeling their fury and frustration and are ANGRY with the world. There are of course other ways of coping, yet I feel that whatever I hear is very intense in how people are dealing with what is going on.
I really don’t have pearls of wisdom to say how we need, want or should be now. I think we, humanity, may be stamped with this Corona Period with the understanding that we just don’t have the answers or the structures that worked for us before. We are living in uncharted territory and because of that we need to learn to find a way to live with the Chaos and to be modest, curious, flexible and generous in the channels we look to find clarity, solutions and serenity.