Tolerance and forgiveness take a new shape in extraordinary times, psychiatrist says

Michael Eleff MD, Psychiatrist, Winnipeg

As the COVID 19 pandemic grinds on, many of find our usual patterns of behaviour disintegrating. The way we were, the way others were, seems like a dream of long ago. Under this relentless pressure, we find ourselves and each other acting in unaccustomed ways. Let me offer a suggestion: let us try to tolerate these reactions and forgive ourselves and each other for the way we are reacting to this terrible, ongoing crisis. (This suggestion should not be misunderstood as offering an excuse for unacceptable, abusive or violent behaviour, whether persisting during the pandemic or emerging during it.)

What are the objective realities we are facing? Our usual outlets are shuttered: we cannot do many of the things we were accustomed to doing. We cannot go to places we have always gone. These restrictions affect others around us as well: children do not go to school, family members do not go out to work, exercise routines, social outlets, opportunities to be apart or alone, are suspended for months on end. Perhaps most painfully, we are barred from visiting the elderly and the sick. Health is threatened, as is life itself. Financial stability is destroyed for many, threatened for many others.

We do not welcome feeling helpless and uncertain. We tend to live as if we have agency, the capacity to choose, control or modify our circumstances. Although much of this sense of control is illusory, it is a comforting illusion. It allows us to believe that things will be better and that we can take action to make them better.

So, here we are, months into this massive disruption caused by the pandemic and our responses to it. We witness reactions in ourselves and each other that may seem both surprising and distressing. Let us cut ourselves some slack. When the world becomes a sauna, it is not surprising that we sweat. Everyone feels the heat. While responses vary from person to person, family to family, community to community, no one is untouched.

We remember that things were very different than they are now. While this may seem very far away, it is not. The pre-pandemic world may seem to be lost in the mists of time. However, the old normal was not so long ago. The new normal will emerge from this crisis at some point. We will go on, as there is no alternative to going on. In the meanwhile, let us accept that these extraordinary times evoke extraordinary responses, some of which are surprising or even ugly.

Forgive me for my less-than-perfect responses. I will try to tolerate them in myself, and in others.

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