Sunél's Blog | What lies between us

Sunél Veldtman, | 03 December 2021

We’ve been here before. Déjà vu as the French say.  Except it’s not quite. Despite the fact that we have experienced this before. Almost exactly a year ago, we were also making holiday plans and our lives also felt reasonably normal. Or at least we strove to make it seem so as we lent into the middle of the silly season and all the catch-up social events we had missed out during the year. Only this year, we’ve made even bigger plans. We allowed ourselves to imagine overseas holidays and being united with our friends and families from all over the world. Our tourist industry stocked up and opened its doors to foreigners. There were early signs of a bumper season. And then in one announcement about a new unknown variant, all our hopes were squashed, and a red line drawn through our plans. All gone!

I spent too much time last weekend doom-scrolling; reading all the heart-breaking stories of so many families and friends whose plans and futures were ruined. Small businesses lost millions in an afternoon. Many will lose their jobs and our economic future is again threatened. It left me feeling down and defeated. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, going down the path of soaking up bad news is never a good idea.

I don’t want to dwell on the unfair treatment of Africa throughout this pandemic; the disregard for less fortunate nations, or the powerlessness of our situation; the irony of nations with nearly 50 000 COVID cases per day red listing African countries; or the fear-mongering and sensationalist reporting that is part of all this. It is too infuriating!

I want to talk about what this is doing to us. All of us. And between us.

We are traumatised. For some, this trauma might be the grief of losing people or their livelihood. For others, it is a silent trauma of not being in control, not knowing, climbing the wall of disappointment, being anxious about the safety of our people or just being too unsure of what we’ll be allowed to do tomorrow, never mind in the distant future. Others are just struggling with the long-term slow toll of everything we have had to contend with. It’s all part of the trauma.

It is showing in how we’re unravelling, how erratically we are behaving, how hard relationships are right now. We have become unkind. The unkindness out there punches me in the stomach and leaves me breathless. It is rife on social media and escalating in the traffic. According to divorce attorneys, it is brutal in families and governments are reporting increases in domestic violence. Every act of unkindness circles out and impacts more than just one person. Like a tiny stone dropped into a calm pond, it disturbs the peace of the entire pond. It impacts us all.

Trauma depletes the rational resources of the brain. It plunges us into survival mode. It focuses our energy on an unseen enemy. It leaves us with little energy to turn towards others. To be kind. To love. To enlarge our circle.

Bessel van der Kolk, trauma researcher and author of The Body Keeps the Score, says this: “In the same way that people can drive each other mad, the company of people, and being understood by people, can also heal us.”

We are doing the exact opposite of what we’re meant to do now. Instead of turning towards a warm hug (even if we can), we’re turning away, or even having a go at each other. We avoid social interaction (not just for Covid protocols). We turn inside.

But what we need to do now is turn towards each other, with kindness, even if we do not feel like it. We must recognise that most people are traumatised right now, some more, some less, but we are dealing with trauma, nevertheless. Kindness has the potential to lessen the trauma, and even heal it. A warm hug (I know it’s not always possible), considerate words or a good deed can lower the anxiety, heal our trauma, and restore our mental resources.

If we don’t heal this trauma by turning towards each other, we also cannot move on. Van der Kolk also says that as long as the mind is busy with survival and defending itself against assaults, we cannot move forward, our closest bonds will be threatened, along with our ability to imagine, plan play, learn and pay attention to other’s needs.

Kindness is what we need to heal. It takes one person to stop the circle. It takes one deliberate act of kindness instead to start the healing. It takes one person turning towards instead of against. It is what we need to remember so that we will have the capacity to face our future again with plans and creativity, alongside each other.

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Kind regards,

//03 December 2021