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Why is the shared experience of a pandemic making me feel more alone?

22nd Jan 2021

Everyone is feeling fairly crap at the minute. But do our shared challenges unite us, or make us feel even more alone? Change coach Niamh Ennis on why we’re having such a hard time asking for help.

I am sick of watching Instagram Stories or reading articles that all begin “It’s been such a challenging start to the year for us all, hasn’t it lovelies?” 

Apart from the tedium of stating the obvious (and when did “lovelies” become a thing?), how are we supposed to answer such a vacuous question? 

What has been and continues to be most unique about the change this pandemic has brought is that typically when we undergo a massive transformation in our lives, we navigate it on our own. 

Before this, we could’ve expected support from those closest to us, ready to help us through it in whatever way they could. Now, even that does not appear so available to us as we’re all struggling and required to remain distant.

This time around, as we tentatively move through this shared collective experience the chances are that what you carry the same struggles as others.


Divison in unity

The pandemic is affecting every single one of us in some way or another. Whether it’s because you’ve lost someone, you’ve been sick, you live in fear of getting sick, you miss going to the office, you miss your kids going to school, you wish you could see your parents and family more, you pine for long lazy lunches with your friends, you’re worried about your job and your finances or you just want to travel again – no one is coming out of this unscathed on unaffected. 

There is definitely some comfort to be found in this, knowing that you’re not alone and that others around you, all around the world, are experiencing this very same thing. It helps. Or at least it should. 

Yet instead of basking in the reassurance of the collective, it is, in truth, making it so much harder for us to ask, or even feel able, to receive support. 

We’ve heard that mental health issues are on the rise which, of course, given our continued isolation is hardly surprising. Yet at a human level, we are just not as conscious of reaching out to others to offer tea and sympathy because we are so much in need of it ourselves. 

We are not so likely, now, to offer an ear or even a padded shoulder when we ourselves are looking for the same body parts to rest on. This isn’t us being selfish, this is simply a question of survival.


Going it alone

We are each negotiating this peculiar path for the first time and seem to have convinced ourselves that if we are to get to the finishing post we must do it on our own. But the fact is we don’t. We don’t need to do it alone. We were never supposed to do any of this alone.

Once we acknowledge and accept that this is a collective response to a shared experience we can then begin to shape the conversations we are having with those close to us. We can (and should) check in with those we already know need to hear from us, while also sharing that we are struggling with parts of this too. This doesn’t simply feel like something “nice” to do – this feels like something we all need to do. 

I’m good in my own company. There are times I’d have to confess that I preferred my own company to that of others. I’ve learned these past few years to let the introvert screaming inside of me out more. She is definitely the more dominant voice in my head these days, but even I have had days where I have been struggling with feeling so disconnected from everyone when I wish I could see more faces, have more hugs and remind myself of the joys of human interaction. 

Not having the choice is what is killing me. Not knowing when I will have it again feels like a punishment.

Until that day comes, and I pray it will be soon, the one thing I can do is to continue to reach out to others, not just the ones that keep popping up on my phone, but those who don’t. 

Those who have gone a little more silent recently might in fact be the very ones that need to borrow my ear or my shoulder most. If I do that for them then maybe someone might do that for me.

So many things sound clichéd these days. But that doesn’t make them untrue. Just because you are cut off from one another should not stop you from reaching out. 

Your helping them will not mean you will suffer more. The opposite is actually more likely to be true. In helping others we will help ourselves. Absolutely look after yourself first but all I’m asking is that you just don’t stop there.


Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Change & Transformation Coach and Founder of The RESET for Change 3 Month 1:1 Private Coaching Programme. She works with women who simply feel stuck, who want to commit to doing things differently and gives them the tools they need to do just that. To work with Niamh on your own Bespoke Private Coaching RESET Programme just click here. Featured image via Unsplash

Read more: ‘Happiness is not something that happens to you. It’s something you have to choose, everyday’

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