How to care during uncaring times


I hardly ever enjoy going to the dentist. Does anyone? Yet, in a recent visit, I noticed a feeling of deep gratification in being taken care of. I noticed other differences in the experience as well. Conversation acknowledging the common predicament of the tough times we live in was free flowing. There was worry expressed about the possibility of lockdown and not being able to work with patients. Care provides gratification both ways, when it is received, but also when it is given. It was a breath of fresh air to notice how many of us around London continue to offer services despite the odds and to care about caring.

            The current climate is admittedly very triggering for all concerned. Groundhog Day is a nightmarish film about waking up only to relive the same day again and again. This is what this period of the year feels like to many of us living in London. Of course, it would be a crude denial of reality to believe that things have ever returned back to normal since the beginning of the pandemic. It is also a huge idealisation to try and pretend that Christmas is just a cheerful and cosy time of the year. Therapists know this all too well. There is no time of the year that is more triggering for mental health than Christmas and the beginning of the New Year. Yet, for better or worse, Christmas is invested with huge emotional gravity for many. It is the time where we are supposed to remember those we love, where we reach out for the warmth and cosiness of family life (even though most of us know that family life is not just warm and cosy), the time that more than ever we long to be at home, wherever this home is placed in our emotional map. So, the hope for this Christmas for many, while accepting that the pandemic was far from over, was not to have a repeat of last year’s chaos and last minute cancellations and the disappointment and dashing of the longing for connection that it brought with it. Of course, most of us accept that the disappointment and actually dread of having an overwhelmed and crashing health system after Christmas and a huge surge of deaths is much greater than not sharing our Christmas dinner with family. But to connect with others and all the ordinary rituals attached to it is a fundamental form of caring and feeling cared for. It is about keeping each other in mind.

            How can we keep an inner sense of caring and being cared for during such hugely traumatic times? I had many opportunities this week to notice what makes a difference for me at least, but I think for many others. If I am to go back to my experience of visiting the dentist earlier in the week, here are the attributes that I can identify which made me feel cared for; An attitude of humility and of acknowledging our shared vulnerability and possible fallibility; Being given choices and being included in a conversation about my care; Being helped to understand the origins of a problem and how I can navigate it; An interest expressed about me and my views; Humour when it is not dismissing of reality or cruel, but an attempt to highlight again our common humanity. The problem is that during the time of a failing and overwhelmed health system, a time that so many of us are being faced up with our own vulnerability and traumas at first hand, how often are we likely to encounter such care?

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