The balance between mental health and guilt of privilege during COVID-19.
Living through the second wave is more haywire and shattering compared to the last year. Nothing could have prepared us for the towering emotional and mental toll.
People are left sapped of energy and are drained emotionally and physically, as they try to balance jobs, mental health, relief work, studies — all while living through a pandemic. In this time of distress, people are neither able to cope with it nor accept the feelings which are hibernating in people relatively shielded from prevalent problems of the pandemic.
While there is a massive pressure of being productive, making the best use of our resources, taking a break from our studies, jobs; there is guilt flowing in people who are in relatively better positions to handle the effects of COVID-19. What made me acknowledge my upper-middle-class privilege? I looked over disturbing accounts and news of underpaid and helpless migrant workers struggling to go back to their homeland and people dying while sipping through the dalgona coffee which I learned to make on Instagram. I attended the lectures of my university from the comfort of my couch while swiping through the news of the world collapsing outside. I acknowledge that I have freshly cooked meals, an unlimited data plan for the days when my wifi does not work, the privilege of education, and being able to stay with my family all safe and sound. All these things should have made me breathe a sigh of relief. But in reality, thinking about it makes me feel anxious and a struggling sense of shame about my situation.
I am fortunate to have the factors supporting my life just fine. As well as having my friends and family to talk to on WhatsApp, Instagram and every other platform possible. But despite the shield of privilege, I also have my share of thoughts that take me nowhere but spiral downwards which can captivate me. I have felt selfish for thinking about my future or the possibilities which could make my present self feel better. Finding myself and my other colleagues complaining or cribbing about being stuck at home and attending online lectures, not being able to see the world, finding an inner balance or anything which most people did not have in the first place makes me feel ashamed for not facing the hardships which other citizens of my country are facing. The thought makes you ask questions like “why me?” or “why not me?” and makes you question what the less privileged did do to get the worse of this upsurging pandemic. In a country like ours with a diverse section of living conditions and very evident inequality, so many people will take more time and effort to get off the traumatic experience this has showered upon them.
Maud Purcell calls guilt “the greatest destroyer of emotional energy. It leaves you feeling immobilized in the present by something that has already occurred.” The guilt acted as a black hole and brought anxiousness and feeling of overwhelm but it also made me realize that I wasn’t fair at my part for being angry at myself or looking at people’s stories of ‘Quarantine cooking edition’ or ‘enjoying their time with families’ because grief is subjective and it is also a paradox of privilege where the materialist fulfillment leaves them with guilt, weighing down on their mental health. As Indians, we have always refrained from talking about mental health and have automatically assumed a person’s health based on socio-economic conditions. What do you do when you didn’t do something wrong, you were just born? Did you do something immoral by making yourself feel better? What we need during such times is to have an acknowledgment of the privileges and not be heavy on ourselves or other people living in similar conditions, make the best use of our resources, and help people in need while taking care of ourselves.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller
by SNEHA MAURYA