The reason we do this is because human health, safety and lives matter*. We do it because we care about people. For those of us who are not particularly physically vulnerable, we need to remember the oft-repeated words "it's not about us."
We are animated these days by a spirit of selflessness--a desire to care for others. This is wonderful and necessary in the circumstances. It can bring out the best in us: something beautiful and inspiring that we can harness to enhance our own individual and collective wellness. We can truly embrace the fact that every life matters, which can be an incredibly health-promoting and life-affirming realization for all of us.
But the laudable life-and-health-affirming "it's not about us" approach can also induce or intensify feelings of guilt, self-blame, and worthlessness with which so many of us with mental health challenges already struggle. When we hear rhetoric suggesting we have no right to complain about our feelings while others (e.g., those who have lost jobs or have been infected by the virus) are suffering in a more direct, socially visible and obvious way, it can belittle and undermine the very real and potentially very serious mental health challenges that many face. The "shut up and stop whining" rhetoric is dangerous, whether it comes from others, or whether (as it often does) it comes from that harsh inner voice that regularly torments us, even in ordinary times.
I'm writing this partly to try to remind myself, but mainly to reach out to others: we're taking these measures because everyone's health matters. And that includes each person's health, however it may be affected (whether physically and/or mentally).
As many advocates have been saying for a long time, mental health is health. Lives are at stake on that front too. Even for the lives that aren't lost, there can be serious long-term consequences for those whose mental health deteriorates. We need to do everything we can to protect the physical health of those in our society, while also protecting and nurturing mental health.
It's normal to be struggling right now. Many people who have never experienced a serious mental health issue may be at greater risk for one now, and those who have already experienced mental health challenges may find their symptoms resurfacing or intensifying in frightening ways. Yet now more than ever, some people might hesitate to seek the help they need, because things are scary and confusing and it may be difficult to figure out how to do so, or they may not wish to be "selfish" and be a burden on a healthcare system that is in the midst of a crisis.
So my message is that caring for your own health is not a selfish act in times like these. The whole message of these times is that everyone's health matters. Everyone's life matters. Everyone's safety matters. No matter how isolated or vulnerable someone may be--we are ready to do what it takes to ensure that no one will be sacrificed.
If you can, please take a moment to let that life-affirming, universally compassionate message sink in. Everyone's health matters, and that includes yours.
In times like these, taking care of yourself is an affirmation of the very thing we are all trying to protect: the commitment to a belief that all lives matter and are worth protecting. Being real and gentle with yourself about the ways in which the current crisis may be affecting you is a necessary part of that commitment.
By staying home you are saving lives and protecting human health. By caring for yourself, monitoring your own health, and asking for help from others to help you maintain your well-being, you are also protecting human health. Not only is it okay for that to matter right now, it's everything.
Things are tough, which is why we need everyone to stay as healthy and safe as they can. It can be hard for those of us who struggle with feelings of guilt, shame, isolation and alienation to feel that we are included in that. There are no magic words I can write to take those terrible feelings away (for others or for myself).
All I can say is that the spirit of these difficult times conevys a message for us all: everyone matters. It might not be easy, but we are learning how connected we all are. If possible, please try not to disconnect yourself from the beauty of that message by devaluing your own life and wellness.
If you can take extra steps to help others, that is wonderful and praiseworthy and may even help you get through this difficult time. But if all you're able to do is protect others by following public health guidelines, you are already doing enough. You don't need to beat yourself up for not doing more, or for having the "wrong" feelings about the toll it's taking on you. You are already doing something heroic just by staying home. And, if you are caring for yourself while doing so, then that is heroic too because your life and health matter too.
To sum up my view of what I hope we can each do now: (1) Stay home (unless needed to leave your home to do essential work or do truly essential things); (2) Survive and maintain your own health as best you can (physically and mentally); (3) If you can, try to remember why we are doing it--it's because every life matters; and (4) If you can, please try to remember that includes you.
*Anyone who knows me will know I also value animal health, safety and lives, so I specify human health not to exclude others, but to emphasize the point at issue in this current crisis
As always, please note that I am a lawyer, not a mental health professional of any kind. I have no expertise in trauma or mental health. Also, please note that any opinions and views expressed in this blog are solely my own and are not intended to represent the views or opinions of my employer in any way. For more information about the purpose of this blog, please see here and for a bit more information about my personal perspective on this issue, please see "my story" here
I am very grateful to have received a "Clawbie" Award for this blog (which reflects the importance of this topic): https://www.clawbies.ca/2019-clawbies-canadian-law-blog-awards/
For some of my external writing on this topic, see: