Reflecting Allowed

Pandemic Perspective and Tragic Optimism

Yesterday, in a talk by the wonderful Mays Imad on healing, hope and recovery, and I was inspired by several things. The one I want to focus on today is that of “tragic optimism”. I was recently in a private conversation, discussing how we would all recover/heal from this pandemic, the impact on the elderly and children especially, and how I was concerned by people who wanted to just be positive and move on without considering the need to grieve in order to heal? And I learned from Mays’s webinar that there is a term called “toxic positivity”, which describes what I was talking about. And then there is a term called “tragic optimism” which is meant to counter that. Apparently “To be tragically optimistic is a happy medium where instead of crushing our spirit, difficulties and challenges provide us with a learning moment” [it sounds a little too happy to be true]. Apparently, a recent UK study on wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic shows that gratitude (yes, I can attest to this one!) and tragic optimism correlated with improved wellbeing.

Interestingly, I was planning to write this article anyway, on the perspective the pandemic has given me, and then I noticed this new term, post-traumatic growth (in contrast? to post-traumatic stress):

“In contrast, however, others find trauma gives them a new lease on life, an altered perspective known as post-traumatic growth. Tragic optimism helps facilitate this: by accepting and sitting with the distressing feelings the pandemic has foisted upon us, we can use them as fodder for personal development.” (quote from here). But post-traumatic growth is different from resilience apparently. I’ll explore this later.

Anyway, this article is about perspective… changes in perspective the pandemic has given me, and it’s personal and not the generic things I hear people say, usually.

So here are a few things that happened during this pandemic that I wanted to write down and note.

There was a great quote by someone early in the pandemic that we are all in the same storm but we are not all in the same boat. This is extremely important, and here are some of my stories about this:

  1. Some of us, by the end of this pandemic, will have had COVID, some of us will not. This is going to be a life-changing experience for some. Some of us who had COVID had mild cases, some of us did not – some had life-threatening symptoms and may have needed hospitalization, some needing ICU, some for long periods of time. This would have been life-changing. Some of us could afford our healthcare and some of us could not.
  2. Some of us, by the end of this pandemic, will have lost a loved one (or more) to this pandemic. How close this person (or God forbid, multiple people) was to you will be life-changing. How much you were able to grieve, how much community support you received, will be life-changing. Some of us had support networks close by and some of us did not.
  3. For some of us, social distancing will have been a mild annoyance, one we may or may not have adhered to. For others, especially the elderly, their health and wellbeing may have deteriorated significantly from lack of touch – falling into depression or worse. For very young children, it may end up affecting them for life (I hope not, I hope they bounce back).
  4. For some of us, struggling already with mental health issues, domestic abuse, poverty… everything spiraled to unprecedented levels, and getting support was harder than ever before.

I remember feeling particularly frustrated, when I had COVID, that I could not hug my child for around 10 days. I was grateful that she and my mom did not catch COVID from me, but I was frustrated to be alone at home with her and unable to hug her in the morning or at night. In this time of extreme anxiety for both of us, neither of us could support each other physically, in the easiest way we knew how. I know there are many other ways to express love, but for our children, physical touch is the most straightforward one, I feel, and it takes the least effort in normal circumstances. On days that I have work all day long, or for whatever reason I can’t be with her, just cuddling together on the couch or in bed makes everything better. It’s one of the perks of having children, I think, because holding them is the best feeling in the world. And being unable to is one of the worst. And yet, I am grateful she was old enough that she could mostly feed herself and keep herself busy without needing me. That she was old enough that we could manage to sit together at a distance and talk… that she had her own phone and we could play video games together or talk on the phone at night from different rooms in the house. That she did not need my help to use the bathroom or take a shower. I am also extremely grateful my case was moderate/mild, because who would have taken care of my child if I had gotten worse? My mother is elderly, my husband was busy with his own mother who was in ICU. I’m so grateful that my kid was not overly scared about all this – saying things like, “Oh, so COVID is just a flu? You seem fine” and not thinking at all of how her grandmother was in ICU (I’m thinking she may not know what ICU is, but it was maybe not the time to explain it). I’m grateful of course that my mother-in-law made it through – I would not have been able to support in any way once I tested positive because I had to self-isolate at home!

I remember my first speaking engagement after I recovered from COVID, and feeling like, that was a big deal… and then a week before the session, one of my co-panelist told us her father had just passed from COVID, and I realized this would have been much much harder for me than what I had gone through.

What I’m saying here is… we each actually get a different “pandemic perspective”. I’ll write about it some more… but these two stories, I wanted to share…

Header Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

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