Give this new year a fighting chance at being a happy one by nurturing social connection.
AND SO HERE WE ARE, having laboured our way over the threshold into a fresh new year and decade, our backs solidly turned on 2020 as if that year in itself incited the pestilence.
But only one week in, 2021 already feels like an aging clunker dragging along on under-inflated tires. The short, cheerless days of early January don’t help at the best of times, nor does the inevitable post-holiday letdown, especially when the holidays themselves have been a letdown.
Add on the omnipresent stress of COVID-19’s persistent second wave, and all the implications of the recent unnerving chaos in Washington. Pour on the days of rain that have been coming down, from morning to night, then night to morning. The backyards of a few people I know have become so soggy that trees have relented and toppled over, their bony roots yanked out of the ground, desperately clawing at the air on the upswing.
With the pandemic approaching a sordid anniversary, we are becoming a community of isolated people. I hasten to add that, like so many, I have nothing to complain about: My good fortune includes a loving partner, the security of a home, food in the pantry, plenty of projects on the go, and a stack of books to read if I ever find the time. Like everyone else, I miss my loved ones, but we stay well-connected virtually. I have my worries about the pandemic—and what we’ve witlessly done to nature to bring us to this and other critical points—but the current constraints are not a terrible hardship for me.
However, for those of all ages who live alone, it’s been a long and arduous marathon. In early December, their world became even smaller when Dr Bonnie Henry decreed that for the holiday celebrations they could bring just one or two others into their bubble, more accurately a mini-bubble now, compared to earlier directives.
According to my daughter who has many friends in their 20s-40s who live alone around town, that started a desperate round of requests to form or share holiday mini-bubbles. Inevitably some were left on the sidelines, alone and crestfallen during the most emotionally profound days of the year.
“This was hard on everyone, and felt like high school (without the meanness) all over again,” she said, recalling the anguish of having to decline several invitations after accepting the first one she received. Ongoing concern prompted her to keep checking in virtually with lonely friends who were just waiting for the celebrating to be over.
December is always a hard time to be alone, but this year’s imposed isolation made it excruciating. I think of the thousands of seniors who live here by themselves and were not able to hug children, grandchildren and friends during the most family-oriented time of year.
I think of the people who don’t live alone but because of COVID-19, are hemmed into a particular purgatory of loneliness and isolation in the confines of a dysfunctional relationship or difficult family setting. I think of all the heightened worry in such a setting—about job loss or other financial strain, personal safety, food insecurity, ailing health, ailing parents, at-risk children of any age, drug or alcohol dependency; the list, like the rain, goes on and on.
I thought of them all as they soldiered alone while the chimes of Christmas seemingly rang out for everyone else. (I’ve been on that side of the fence too.) Again they were on my mind, especially the young people, as I drove past Mayfair Mall on Boxing Day—with shopping the last thing on my mind—and saw the parking lot filled to overflowing. There was no visible lineup outside so I assume that hundreds of shoppers were intermingling indoors.
Tell me again where we are with our isolation logic, I said in my outside voice to no one in particular.
I’m not here to criticize our dedicated public health team, and I understand that they wade through myriad considerations in developing the best route for saving lives and trouncing the virus. But I like to think that they haven’t forgotten that what works best for the population can, and almost always does, let some individuals down. I like to think that they work hard to buffer that unintended consequence whenever they can.
We, in the meantime, shouldn’t forget either, that we are social beings who absolutely need connection and community. We can help offset mental health strain—our own and that of others—by seeking and bolstering our own social connections and virtually reaching out to the isolated people we know.
Staying distanced is imperative, but this is not the time to be insular. We can go outside when the weather allows, breathe deeply and restoratively, and be kindly to everyone we meet. We can share gratitude for our peaceful and compassionate society, for the vaccines that have been developed at record speed, for the beautiful nature all around, and for all the local resources devoted to seeing us through this onerous time. There are so many, and they continue to exemplify as they always have, that when we help others, we help ourselves too.
In these gloomy and uncertain days, virtually reaching out and touching someone is a very good way to help make 2021 a happy new year.
If you are feeling hopeless or think you might be in crisis, please reach out to the Vancouver Island Crisis Line at 1-888-494-3888 and/or the BC Mental Health Support Line (also Island based) at 310-6789 (do not add area code). They both offer free emotional support and services 24 hours a day. Check them out online for more information.
Trudy Duivenvooden Mitic is a Victoria-based writer and longtime Focus columnist.