Where’s the “silver lining”? What we can learn from the pandemic.

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in Columns 17 Apr 2020

If the pandemic is a huge, dark cloud, then where’s the “silver lining”? I am not a Pollyanna, but when life deals me a bad hand, I try to make the best of it. When I make a mistake, I do my best to learn from it so I won’t make that mistake again.

A pandemic is a big, cosmic mistake. It’s easy to blame Trump and his minions (I admit it: I do) but it only makes me feel worse to focus on his poor behavior. I have been through the phase where I posted his foibles on Facebook, but that didn’t take me anywhere I wanted to go. Venting is good – for a little while – but then it gets depressing.

I have been working with clients through FaceTime and have discovered that there’s a lot we can learn from this pandemic-ed time, if we are open to the lessons available. So this column is about the “silver lining” in the enormous cloud that is the coronavirus pandemic.

When times get tough, how do we cope? This is worth knowing. It’s a great time to learn about ourselves and our relationships. What we choose to do with that information is up to us. And, when this is all over, will we go back to the way we lived in January and February, or will we use what we’ve learned to make some changes?

Here are some possible “silver linings” I’m seeing from my therapist’s chair:

If we are part of a couple, we get to see the cracks in our relationship. We can see, thanks to the pandemic and mutual quarantine, where our relationship works really well (yay!) and where it doesn’t (hmmmm). Temporary regression – typical of a crisis period – shows us where we still have unresolved issues: how our partner makes us angry, frustrated, pisses us off; when we are judgmental and intolerant; where our nerves are fried and our patience evaporates.

I wonder if there will be a lot of broken relationships and divorces after the pandemic. Will people have had enough of their partners? Will we have seen more than we can handle? More than we can accept or forgive? That’s one way to cope. Another way is to use this information to IMPROVE our relationships. We have been shown where the cracks are, where the weak spots are…can we use that information constructively or will we just run away?

If we are alone, we can see what all the distractions in our lives have been hiding: what about ourselves do we find hard to accept? What is it about being alone that’s so painful? This is why we normally have so many external distractions – going places, doing things, buying stuff – keeping us so busy that we don’t have time for any internal contemplation. We’re so busy “doing” stuff that we don’t let ourselves “be”, e.g., slow down and check in with ourselves on a regular basis. This pandemic has forced many of us – myself included – to slow down and check in.

I’ve read that liquor stores and dispensaries are doing a booming business. At first, this made me laugh; then, it made me wonder: “During this scary time, how are we numbing ourselves?” When we spend this much time in isolation or quarantine, unemployed (or employed in a strange, new way), it becomes clear that we want to numb our difficult emotions. Do we typically work so much that we don’t have time to feel sad or lonely? Do we go out so much to avoid admitting to ourselves how unhappy we are? Do we drink too much, smoke too much weed, eat too much in order to numb the difficult feelings that lurk just beneath the surface?

Lately, during these days of the pandemic, I have also asked my clients questions like:

How well can you adapt to change?

How much structure do you need in your life?

How self-directed are you?

Confident, secure people use everything that happens to them to learn something. Sure, the pandemic sucks, but even so, what can we learn from it? Where is our “silver lining”?

It’s here, if we’re willing to see it.