I often think about how children, and young adults now view their future in a post Covid-19 world. Much like the world changed when I was a kid, before and after September 11th, 2001. I believe it has similarly been rocked on its axis by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) pandemic announcement of March 11th, 2020. In a world of social distancing, global vaccines, and increased job automation, I ponder how our younger cohorts are envisioning their futures? Are their career aspirations as unrealistic as mine were in grade school (based solely on my hobbies, toys, or favourite shows)? Or, as out of touch and limited in choices, as the aptitude tests I received in high school? Or has the advent of social media, ever faster internet service, and smartphones, allowed their dream careers to be much more in line with the current and future employment sectors than ours could have ever been?
One thing that I don’t think has changed in our rapidly evolving, technology-driven society, is our youthful assumptions of being settled as adults. Regardless of whether the top dream job has shifted from being an actor or a doctor, to that of a social media influencer or reality TV star. Children and teens still assume that by a certain age, they’ll have their lives pretty much figured out. My generation sure did, and so did our parents’ and so on. For example, when I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up because I thought growing up would be just like it was portrayed in popular culture. Everything that was awkward about you in your youth would magically straighten itself out. Transforming you into this beautiful, well-balanced finished project of a person, that made the world “your oyster.” Those are some of the nonverbal messages I took in from the popular makeover teenage movies, magazines, and TV show segments of that time.
What you eventually figure out is that being a well-adjusted adult is a continual balancing game. You get older every day, and you keep being faced with varying challenges to overcome, while maintaining the accomplishments you’ve accumulated so far. May they be professional achievements, such as a new position, promotion, or business endeavour. Or maybe they’re personal feats, like a new relationship, marriage, or expansion of your family unit. Or even emotional milestones, such as; the loss of a friend, family member, or acquaintance. Or, the deteriorating health of any of the former.
Being an adult really means, constantly learning how to maneuver and withstand the challenges that life will continue to throw your way. All while staying on an either steady or upward path of professional and personal development. It isn’t always easy to manage. And, not being perfect at it, or always successful at juggling all the “balls you have in the air,” doesn’t make you a failed adult. It just makes you human. Adulthood, also means remembering the child you once were, and giving yourself some grace. It means being kind to yourself, especially when things get tough. While being self-aware enough to acknowledge when you are not sufficient. Identifying the situations where your team-of-one isn’t strong enough to manage it alone, is an important part of growing up. Figuring out what aid you might need to eventually “turn the tide,” is a skill you never stop sharpening. As, the hurdles you’ll clear may require wildly different solutions from one to the next.
Despite being much older, and no longer as easily impressionable, part of me still wants to turn into a more glorious version of myself. I think that it’s okay to continue to strive for growth in every aspect of your lived experience, to really get the most out of this life. And yet, I still have to consciously fight the small corner of my psyche, that somehow believes that a Hollywood version of myself could show up, at any moment, to save me from actually doing all of this self-work. I know that it’s silly, and unrealistic, but I also understand that that’s my inner child. Before I could grasp all these more adult concepts of self-help, and sustainable growth, I just dreamed, hoped and pined for the moment when I would feel that I’ve arrived. That I’ve finally moulted into the person I always fantasized I could be. With maturity, and understanding of societal marketing and consumerism culture, I’ve changed. Not in where I want to be as a person, but in the steps that are required for me to get there. I have veered away from dreams, and wishes, influenced by popular culture. Instead committing to goals, actions, and effort that I expect to bear the fruit of an accomplished personhood, and a fully realized life.
I hope that today’s teens and young adults are able to come to these realizations ages earlier than I did. So that they can really enjoy every part of their transition into adulthood. Without discounting experiences, as I once did, just because I wasn’t quite who I wanted to be yet. Along with the difficulties that growing up can engender, today’s youth also has to contend with the changes that Covid-19 brings, and the negative impacts of social media. That is quite a tall order, but I’m confident that our future generations are smarter, and even more capable than those that came before it. What might seem to be a huge feat for someone in my generation, will likely just be a “rite of passage” for those coming into their own.
I was made to reflect recently on the many souls that have departed in the past year. Perhaps naively, I’ve grown accustomed to being lucky enough to go numerous years without suffering much personal bereavement in my immediate social circle. Maybe it’s a sign of my getting older, combined with the unique circumstances brought on by the pandemic. But never in my life (growing up in the West) have there been so many casualties all around me. An experience mirrored in their own social circles, by my friends, family, and acquaintances.
Previously, the casualties I’ve experienced have mainly been that of elderly relatives, a few serious ailments, a few accidents, and one missing person spread across my entire lifetime. Rather than, the back-to-back surprise losses of individuals, that just a year ago, I could have sworn would be in my life for many years to come. In the past year, social distancing requirements have made seeing our loved ones difficult, if not impossible. Based on age, medical history, Covid-19 restrictions where one resides, and distance. The latter being, for those whose families live across the country, or across the world. No longer having that loved one in your life, after being unable to see them for much longer than is customary, can be a hard blow to bear.
I have discussed in previous posts, mental health and how much this pandemic can adversely affect this kind of wellness. Humans are social animals, so we suffer from the very isolation that is required, for the safety of others right now. Those who had issues they were dealing with prior to this societal isolation are having to deal with them on their own. Without the physical support systems, they were used to. Others who have never suffered from mental health concerns are faced with this unexpected challenge, without the pillars of support they usually have present. The programs available are being overwhelmed by unforeseen demand and having to be made virtual in order to keep each other safe.
So along with loss due to Covid-19-related complications, I have personally experienced bereavement caused by mental health crises. For some, how intense the world has become, uncertain, and separate has either exacerbated prior issues, or created an imbalance in their psyche that caused them to choose to exit our lives, and this world. For those who knew them, and loved them, the guilt of “not being there” physically for them, is crushing. Because when someone becomes overwhelmed by some sort of mental health concern, it can become hard for them to reach out to you and ask for help. Often you can tell from their appearance, and/or how they comport themselves in person, that something is off. And hopefully, your loved one will then open up, answer your question(s), and allow you to help them. But with the distance, it’s so easy to not know anything is wrong until it’s too late. I understand that legally we have not been able to truly be present in the lives of most of those we care for, since the pandemic was declared. But not knowing whether our presence could have made the difference needed to avert their demise, is devastating. Many around me have either lost persons who chose to leave or had complications combined with the pandemic, which caused their exit. Those left behind have such a hard road ahead of them, with few distractions from the immensity of these personal tragedies.
I don’t mean to make a heavy situation, heavier, but I also don’t believe that “hiding your head in the sand,” and pretending things are not happening if they are, makes things better. Actually, I’m a firm believer that one of the reasons why I am still here, is that I do my best to name whatever it is that is troubling me, at all times. I always have. I drag it out of my mental closet, examine it under the light of day, and share these concerns with either a close friend or (since I’ve been an adult), a therapist. Often a professional can give you insight that maybe your friends can’t. They can offer you hope in the form of programs available in your area that often your friends do not know about. Getting an external perspective on an internal issue helps. Because, often what feels so awful, or hopeless inside your head, isn’t when shared with someone else. Sometimes you don’t know that the burden you carry isn’t your fault, it happened to you. Or that it can be shared with others to alleviate that pain, and work through those issues. It doesn’t have to cost money, there are free hotlines, online resources available for free at your public library (which is open for select services, despite Covid), and so many wonderful programs to help even if one feels they cannot afford to.
My goal with this blog, talking about the heavy issues of mental health, bereavement, and grief, is that hopefully, someone who needs to see this, will. Someone who needs to witness this perspective, this path back to your usual self, even in these uncertain times, will. Or that others that are doing well, might read this, and check on their friends, family, and/or acquaintances, just that little bit more. Even if, they appear fine on social media, or in group chats. Let them know you’re here, that you love them. And that if they need to see your face to discuss something that’s difficult for them that you’ll be there. Even if, it’s from across their yard or balcony.
Learning your limits and boundaries can be an equally painful and surprising experience. No one is as surprised as I am by how different my life currently looks from even just a month ago. I am used to experiencing change, however, the shifting dynamics in my life right now, both with others and myself, indicate a clear time of transition for me. Times like these tend to generate the most spiritual and emotional growth, and to be honest, I did try and catalyze that process consciously. I embarked upon a 30 Day Challenge beginning on December 7th, 2020 and coming to an end on January 5th, 2021 with the intention of gaining clarity. I knew that I needed to hone my focus in terms of where I dispensed my energy; and, I had the suspicion that a challenge targeting my habits and daily routine would help me in obtaining that clarification. My hypothesis was correct, as that is exactly what happened.
For my 30 Day Challenge, which was inspired by a TED Talk given by Matt Cutts, I chose 3 things to accomplish every single day. The first, was I would wake up early every morning. I wanted to reset my internal clock and gain the most out of every 24-hour cycle. The second, was that I would write and publish a blog post every day on my website ariellelondon.com. I wanted to produce daily content on my site for a few reasons, but one reason being to work on my discipline even further. The third, was that I would cut out a guilty pleasure of mine, a soda drink, for the entire duration of the month. It may sound small, but I was consuming a great amount before the challenge and knew that I needed to somehow make that change. All three parts of the challenge were difficult on different levels, at different times and in different ways. However, all three were also highly successful and taught me incredible lessons, improved my habits, and have now led to some serious change.
There comes a certain time in your life where you can no longer take an ostrich approach to the body that you have standing fully exposed while your head is in the sand. If you want to progress you have to acknowledge reality as reality is, because without doing so you are blinding yourself to where in fact you stand. I have a saying, “mental health is physical health,” and I say it often. I repeat these words because I do not think people realize just how greatly their state of mental wellness can indicate their physical state. There are other reasons why I say this as well, but for the purpose of understanding the inevitability of change, imagine a person who is unwell mentally. This disruption may be taking place in the mind, but physically their mind is still attached to their body and so their main source of direction (aka the mind) can lead them astray physically. So with that in mind, looking at change within the context of actively seeking it through a 30 Day Challenge, I am happy to say that I have removed my head from the sand in some vital areas of importance. And with that revelation comes new boundaries and the inevitable entity that is change has presented itself into my universe, full throttle.
This is not to say that any of this is easy. Times of great transition can often lead to times of great discomfort as they don’t call them growing pains for nothing. However, when it comes to bettering your mind, body, soul, spirit and life overall… embrace the growing pains as necessary side effects of the antidote you have newly prescribed your life and remind yourself of the end goal of being happy and healthy. After all, everyone deserves to live the fullest version of what happy and healthy means to them. Life is an oyster full of endless possibilities, if you need to make a shift in your life, lean into the power of change and embrace its trove of hidden opportunities.
With the world in the midst of a pandemic, semi-permanent isolation from others on a regular basis has become part of “the new normal.” Indoor places like museums, concert halls, libraries, art galleries, clubs, bowling alleys, and so much more, have been closed since the start of this epidemic last year. Or their services and maximum occupancy levels have been minimized to protect the public, thus stripping these locales of much of their socialization elements (not to mention revenue).
During the summer months, closed streets, with shops providing socially distanced seating outdoors made up for the minimized indoor seating. Likewise sitting in parks, observing nature, and people-watching allowed one to feel as if they were still retaining aspects of their regular lives. Even if, maintaining a distance of two metres between you and the next passerby was required. Since the end of fall, however, these parapets of normalcy have been removed. What this has resulted in is bringing back the acute loneliness, and isolation of the early days of Covid-19.
In Quebec, various restrictions for socializing have been implemented by our provincial government during these cold months, which haven’t helped the mental health and wellness of those who are single and/or live alone. A different anxiety exists now, and that is that one’s neighbours might call the police if they feel you are breaking the restrictions. A police visit, along with being a cause for anxiety, can result in a hefty fine of between $1,000 to $6,000. A sum, that most of us would be unable to easily pay in the best of economic times. Never mind this economic recession where, hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost in Quebec alone, due to Coronavirus. Add to this a province-wide curfew (excluding First-Nation designated territories) between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., and for many, isolation, loneliness, and anxiety are now at their height. And the persons that allowed us to “keep our heads on straight,” are once again out of physical reach.
It is understood that this curfew is meant to be for only 28 days, thus ending after February 8, 2021, as long as the Covid numbers drop. But the chances of this curfew being renewed on a 28-day basis until spring, with the unchanged infection rates being given as cause, is more likely than not. As the main sources of infection that remain do not seem to be on the CAQ government’s list of places to restrict, the trend since the pandemic began, blaming individual citizens for the rates of infection, continues to be, “par for the course.”
So the collective efforts that have been put forth throughout 2020 to be mindful of others, and do our best to protect our neighbours, feel like they’ve been for naught. As the negative repercussions, whether economic, psychological, or medical, seem to continue to increase, there is only so much citizens can do to make the system in which they live safe. Especially when we are not the ones to create the ever-changing rules for the society in which we live. So, along with the loss of so many, which has been felt by all whether it directly affected our individual households or not, for those that live alone, are single, and/or whose families live far away, the past 11 months have been some of the loneliest they’ve ever had to face. And when it comes to mental health, and wellness, it is hard to deal with so much sickness, death, uncertainty, and loss on one’s own.
Wisdom is often hard-earned and so it should be regarded with respect. Respect, as it would turn out, is worthy of Aretha Franklin’s level vocals boasting to the rooftops of the necessity of this feeling. The thing about respect is that it is meant to be reciprocal; meaning that the energy flow should in theory be open and acknowledging of boundaries on both ends. There are few greater feelings in this world than gaining the respect of those you admire and care for, including yourself.
When you lose respect for yourself and or others, you start to question many things. You can lose respect for yourself for a whole slew of reasons including feeling shame from trauma that was out of your control. You can lose respect for others for reasons such as experiencing betrayal or just seeing a new side to them. These perceptions can change over time. But in the immediate aftermath of an event that causes you to lose respect for someone, you may overanalyze certain situations or put your guard up in triggering scenarios in new ways. Respect is an integral feeling for balance in relationships, and our relationships are important factors for our balance as well. Factor it all in and consider the coolest thing about the word respect: respect is to be respected.
I have high standards for how I expect to be treated. This doesn’t mean that I am always treated in that manner. Where and when appropriate I will always advocate for myself within my personal relationships, in public and in private with myself. I have been this way my whole life to a certain extent, however, I have also been in abusive relationships. I have been in toxic relationships. And finally, for a period of time, I was a toxic person, mostly to myself. The respect I had for myself varied over time but never wavered past a certain baseline. At my lowest, I felt like I had no one in the world on my side. At my highest, I felt like I had everyone. In the end, I realized I needed one person over everyone, myself, and if I had her then maybe I could create connections that were authentic for me.
As it stands, I succeeded in reestablishing my respect for myself, which led to being able to respect others more fully. I saw over time that I was not alone and that in fact, I have some people in my life that help make it whole. If I hadn’t rebuilt my concept of respect for myself back up again, I don’t know where I would be right now.
And as far as respecting others goes, I will leave you with one last thought. Imagine how much smoother social interactions would go if respect were incorporated beyond common courtesy. Imagine if we went beyond the “Hi, How are you?” robotic approach but took a moment to see the person in front of us. Notice I said a “person,” as in a “human being”. We’re all just human beings looking for connection in some way, shape, or form.
Giveth respect and respect is given. I’m not sure who said that… maybe Yoda?
For every single person on this planet, there is a different reality. We all have our own minds, thought processes, personal circumstances and immediate circles that influence our separate realities. We exist within a common public reality that is widely accepted as being true, however, we all have our distinct paths to walk separately. We all have our own unique journeys to take alone.
From the moment you are born, you are destined to walk your entire life hand in hand with one person, yourself. Everyone else that appears along the way is important, but no one in your journey will be as significant to you as yourself. Your decisions, from big to small, will affect your immediate circumstances. Your thought patterns and processes will affect how you feel and where you end up. Your immediate circle of relationships will influence your mood and therefore your decisions as well. The common denominator throughout every single thing that you will do in your entire life will be you. For that very reason, it is worth getting to know yourself intimately so that you can live the most fulfilling life possible.
Everyone walks a different path which means that comparing your journey to another’s is futile. While most of us are guilty of having compared our lives to our peers at one time or another, at a certain point, you recognize the different nature of our paths, give up on comparison and start living. When you let go of the cruel need to compare other’s achievements to your own, you begin to recognize the uniqueness of your life’s goals, and the importance of shifting your focus to actively achieving them. We all grew up in different circumstances, even if they were similar, they were all innately different.
In recognizing the difference in every individual’s path, there is a freedom of spirit involved. When you stop holding a vision in your head of where your own life should be based on those around you, you lose sight of what makes you yourself. Your identity becomes about what you believe in versus what someone else is striving for. Your identity becomes solidified as your own, and eventually you gain the strength to walk your unique path towards your own individual dreams.
Dreams… they influence us when we’re asleep and when we are awake. They drive us far distances both in reality and our minds. Your dreams are yours alone, not your neighbors. Achieve what it is that you want to achieve and do not stop to make sure that others are not surpassing you. If you live life comparing your journey to someone else’s you will always fall short in some capacity or another. But, if you live life fulfilling your own dreams, and walking your own path without a care in the world for what someone else is doing, well, you end up pursuing the path you were meant to take. Whether that means crawling, walking or running, the pace is yours to decide, and the pathway is yours to embark on solo.
I have changed my mind countless times about what I specifically want to do, however, I have never changed direction. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to heal others. That is part of my goal. That is part of my path. It is what drives me.
Ask yourself what drives you, and then get en route and pursue that goal. If you don’t, the person who loses out the most is yourself, so what are you waiting for?
“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman
who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever seen before.”