Kyle MacDonald: The pandemic and our collective grief

Way of life

We are in the throes of a pandemic, and the only certainty is uncertainty. Photo / Michael Craig


This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and as a result, you will likely be inundated with well-meaning – and widely useful – ideas on all the things you can do to improve your mental well-being.

But Mental Health Awareness Week should be more than an opportunity for online influencers to release new wellness memes on Instagram.

Mental health and resilience is always a balance between doing things that make us feel good – and facing reality. It can be difficult when the reality we are looking at is not what we want to see.

Psychotherapy is a search for the truth – regardless of the pain – because many of us have emotional issues due to the convoluted ways we try to avoid the truth.

This past week has seen a new wave of opinion pieces demanding certainty, crying for a specific date when we can travel, when our people overseas can return home, when we can ‘get back to normal’ .

Or claiming that our government is “using fear” to manage the pandemic response and drawing parallels with North Korea.

The truth is, Covid sucks on a scale we’ve never seen before. It sucks globally.

We are in the throes of a pandemic, an event that will likely be remembered as the worst years in many of our lives. Our children will remember it for the rest of their years, and in terms of historical events, the pandemic is probably the defining feature of the first half of the 21st century, as the world wars were for the 20th century.

And wrapped around the anger, demands for certainty, and endless demands that we just go ahead and “live with the virus” is a collective denial of the overwhelming grief we all face.

Grief for many aspects of life that have passed away.

The freedom to travel anywhere in the world at any time. The ability to plan for next week, next month or next year with confidence. The privilege of knowing the future is a sure and predictable thing that we can count on.

Police at the Auckland / Waikato border post.  Photo / Michael Craig
Police at the Auckland / Waikato border post. Photo / Michael Craig

Big and small, we are all losing the future we thought we had, and it hurts, and angry denial is understandable. But without control, denial kills, by not adapting and doing what is necessary to protect us all from what is a terrible invisible virus, at times extremely terrifying.

By drawing our attention to this through modeling, science, and an openness to the thought that they use to plan, our government does not rule with fear.

It is to govern using reality.

So this mental health awareness week, by all means find something to be thankful for, or to connect with nature, or whatever makes you really feel good.

But also take the time to be aware of the grief, don’t do it alone. Because the silver lining of this mourning is that it is a collective mourning. We’re all in the same boat – no matter how shitty it gets.

And ultimately, our unity allows us to move through and gives us the strength to face grief together, and ultimately to adjust, change, and embrace a new future that we haven’t yet encountered.


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