I’m Sick of Saying It Could Have Been Worse

As lockdown is looming over Britain once again, how much optimism can we really muster to still be able to cope?

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

The world crisis we’re all experiencing has turned me into my own version of Eleanor Oliphant, and I only just discovered I wasn’t at all completely fine.

Last night I cried over the pandemic for the first time. I’ve been lucky so far not to have been affected by it too much. I’ve never had the virus, and the few people I know who had it recovered quickly. I’m somewhat financially stable. My mental health has been up and down, but mostly fine. I’ve been able to cope with this heartbreaking situation with as much strength, reason, and positivity as I could.

When British prime minister Boris Johnson announced England was to go into lockdown for the third time last night, it was the first moment since the pandemic started, when I felt an overwhelming mess of things.

Until last night, whatever new measures were implemented, no matter how strict, I never felt more than numbness, and a strong intention to keep following the rules and stay safe. But yesterday, as Mr. Johnson was addressing the public, I suddenly felt as if layers upon layers of frustration, anger, sadness, confusion, and fear were coming to the surface.

And I realised then how sick I am of saying it could have been worse. This is what kept me going so far. Thinking how lucky and privileged I am to still be healthy, emotionally stable, even thriving in some aspects of my life, kept me afloat for almost a year. But one can only turn to the same life ring so many times until their arms eventually give in and can’t hold on any longer.

Saying it could have been worse every time it’s getting worse now feels unsatisfactory. It invalidates my feelings and makes me bury them under a layer of positivity increasingly harder to muster. I need to know I can feel awful and let the pandemic affect me, without it becoming a source of guilt.

I am thankful for every privilege I’m benefitting from and appreciate that any feelings of sadness or frustration do not compare to the grief, and the unfairness brought by this crisis on so many people. But that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to feel the collateral damage, even if it’s not at full intensity.

Being in a better position than others should not make you feel less entitled to be angry, confused, or in tears because of everything going on. Yes, I am financially stable and healthy, but I haven’t seen my family since September 2019. This is something I rarely bring up, because of the guilt and the toxic mindset that I’m doing fine, and it can still be worse.

On occasion, homesickness strikes painfully hard. Sometimes, it prevents me from falling asleep, other times it makes me cry without knowing why, or angry at nothing in particular. And I’ve become so skilled at invalidating or dismissing my emotions, that I fail to identify the source of the problem. Every time I understand too late that it’s stored up homesickness tied nicely with ribbon and hidden away.

Optimism is a gift and a privilege in itself. But when used as a coping mechanism, to disregard your more serious and damaging feelings, it can become the opposite. Bottling up your emotions, thinking you’re not entitled to complain or let yourself impacted, will not work in the long run, and it might cause a chain reaction of negativity, anxiety, and confusion.

Identifying, accepting, and tracking our feelings is not a sign of weakness, but a better strategy than just brushing off our worries altogether. I’ve always felt ungrateful for letting the guard down when the stress, sadness, and bitterness would take over. But the point is there is no guard to hold up or let down. You’re not supposed to — for lack of a better analogy — be a man and toughen up.

We should give ourselves credit for not allowing this pandemic to crush us completely, then curl up in bed and cry a little. Yes, it could always get worse. And that shouldn’t invalidate our feelings, or hide them under a filter of positivity and happiness. Feeling my worries just as intensely and openly as I feel my optimism has been the release I never knew I needed.

Freelance journalist. Niches: books, writing, fitness, and lifestyle. | Founder and editor-in-chief: Coffee Time Reviews. | Library Mouse | Language nerd.

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