The day is coming, and it’s not too far away, when the mention of “Covid-19” will be irrelevant and a mere historical reference. Until that time however I want to share another lesson I have learned from the pandemic. Quite simply, PEOPLE MAKE ME SICK; just ask Dr. Fauci.
The whole point of wearing masks, wiping down surfaces, quarantining and keeping social distance is because we are all carriers of disease with the power of infecting each other; Covid-19 being just one of many. I propose that what is true biologically also applies to our emotional well-being. People are often the source of our emotional turmoil. So, are we faced with the stark choice that if we want to stay healthy, on whatever level, we need to continue to maintain distance from each other?
More than a choice, the question really illustrates our human dilemma. While it is true that people make us sick, people also hold the cure to our physical and emotional ills. So, the disease and the cure are one in the same? As is often the case in life, it’s a paradox.
In the same way that we can become infected when exposed to a “carrier,” we can become wounded when exposed to a toxic person or persons. These wounds can carry serious consequences including injury to or the death of our sense of self. On the other hand, if we recover, we can create “emotional antibodies,” better described in this context as discernment, that can both cure us of the disease and help us to resist future infections.
So here is a short list of Covid-19 practices that I believe have application to our emotional health and well-being.
BOUNDARIES: Masks and social distancing are just another form of boundaries, which are critical to maintaining healthy relationships. If I am around potentially toxic people, it is my responsibility to protect myself.
CLEANLINESS: Keep surfaces clean and disinfected. Likewise, it is important to practice relationship hygiene by addressing “infectious” interactions when they happen, rather than allowing them to linger in the air or on shared "surfaces."
CREATIVITY: This pandemic has illustrated the power of human creativity. From more efficient and artistic masks to alternative ways of communicating and connection. As human beings we have an innate ability to adapt to our changing surroundings. This same creativity is an important part of healing and growing our relationships. If we are feeling trapped or hopeless in a relationship, then try looking outside of oneself and beyond the situation. Look for potentially “unorthodox” ways of relating and healing that which is broken.
FEAR IS OUR FRIEND: Don’t succumb to fear, rather listen to it, learn from it and act upon its promptings. Franklin Roosevelt taught us that when facing an invading enemy “our greatest fear, is fear itself.” This is all the more true when facing an invisible enemy like Covid-19, or a loved one who we may be perceiving in a hostile way. Can we face our fears with courage, acknowledging their presence, listen to the message they are bringing us and work towards solutions?
Finally, the most important reminder that I am taking away from this pandemic is that people are not only nice to be with, but they are also critical to healing, growth and an on-going sense of self. People frequently serve as mirrors, reflecting back answers to the essential questions of “who am I?” and “who am I becoming?” I need that feedback. I believe that we all do, because as the old Barbara Streisand song proclaims, people need people. In fact, “people who need are people are the luckiest people in the world,” even when they make us sick.