Covid-19 pandemic: A counsellor's journey (Part 2) - Social disconnection
The current COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented human and health crisis. In the midst of this economic downturn and the unstable job climate, many of my clients suddenly found themselves either suffering from reduced income or have been furloughed by their employers. All of a sudden, their very livelihood is threatened. Those who are fortunate enough to still hold a job face increased worries about job security and resultant financial difficulties. No matter what situation they are in, the singular emotional experience connecting us all is the social disconnectedness and loneliness that might arise from the physical isolation.
This is particularly pronounced in Ms. Anne, an executive in her late 20s who enjoys her job and used to lead a stable and routine working life. Ms. Anne described herself as an introvert, has only one close friend and greatly values the comfort arising from the familiar social interactions with her colleagues at work. However, the implementation of the covid-19 circuit breaker measures abruptly cut her off from her already limited social network. Initially, Ms. Anne was worried and anxious about losing her job but as time went by, she started feeling lost, helpless, and lonely, to the point that she started developing panic attacks. Her worries about job security also spiraled into the fear of being alone and unwanted, not being able to find a suitable partner.
Ms. Anne’s situation reminds me of a famous quote by Mother Theresa, “loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty”.
The sudden loss of social connection can intensify one’s sense of vulnerability and trigger our fears. This can happen to anyone. I recognize that my own vulnerabilities and fears have also surfaced in the light of the disconnection during this circuit breaker period. The sudden loss of the familiar routine in my life triggered a sense of loss of control, leaving me grappling with feelings of anxiety and disorientation at times. I am also keenly aware of how working in isolation brought up familiar distressing memories of disconnection. I want to emphasize that what’s important is not the absence of our vulnerabilities and fears but rather what we do in light of them. Being aware of the impact of my experiences of disconnectedness served as a medium through which I reach out and connect because this experience allows me to resonate and empathize with my clients more as we are essentially going through very similar experiences. Despite the challenging ongoing work of facing my own ‘inner demons’, it motivates me to help relieve others from this ‘terrible poverty’.
I am extremely humbled and grateful by the strengths, resilience, and the common humanity which my clients have shown me. With these as my “burning fuels”, I am always hopeful that I would be able to continue to do my work with stronger faith and greater compassion. It is my wish that we make efforts to connect with ourselves and each other because that is what’s going to get us through this pandemic together.
Written by Germaine Chua, senior counsellor at O'Joy