What is one of our deepest fears in the face of the pandemic?
Despite the continuing effort in vaccination and social distancing, the rebounce of number of confirmed cases in some countries in Asia affected many people’s plan for their businesses, work, and study. For instance, the travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore is likely to be postponed. Last year, people around the world predicted that the travelling may resume to subnormality in mid 2021. However, the development of the pandemic for the time being may still make this subnormality to put on hold. As a result, many people are still in state of high anxiety in the face of all the uncertainties and adversities.
The new normal of our current daily living, such as wearing masks, social distancing, online schooling, or online meetings, requires us to adjust ourselves and leave our comfort zones. For example, those who lost their jobs due to the economic impact of the pandemic need to find new directions in their life for earning a living. One may need to learn new skills to start up a new career and adjust one’s expectation on the financial return of the new venture. These inevitably causes us anxiety. The question is, when we stopped for a minute and look into our inner world, what is our deepest fear in the face of these?
Irvin D. Yalom in his book, Existential Psychotherapy, described that when we face enormous uncertainties and adversities that move us away from our normal life and comfor zone, we start to face our existential isolation. According to Yalom, existential isolation refers to the separation between oneself and to any being in the world. It also refers to a fundamental separation between oneself and the world. In fact, in the face of the pandemic, we inevitably need to face the fact that we must die alone, if we are going to die. Also, we also need to accept that we cannot escape from our freedom, that is, we are solely responsible for our own life. We need to give up our belief that there is someone else who can create or guard our lives. This realisation throw us to an inevitable aloneness.
Before the pandemic, we used to live our lives in a familiar way we created for ourselves. Our world is concealed as predictable and certain. We may have an illusion that we are in total control of our lives. With all the changes in our lives due to the pandemic, we may reflect that there are a lot of things in the world we are unfamiliar about. In fact, we may find out that we are defenseless to the realisation of this unfamilarity. For instance, the statistical models or theories we learned in our unveristy education may not be valid anymore. This realisation is what Yalom described as the awareness of our inevitable anxiety towards our existantial isolation. We are all by ourselves to face all of these unfamilarity. If this is the case, how can we relate with our loved ones and others in this world with our realisation of our aloneness?
We need to learn to strive a balance between the interdependence and our freedom. We need to take up our own responsibility for our own lives and not to relate with others as if they are our blisters for swimming in this unpredictable ocean. If we are being able to acknowledge our existential isolation, our responsibility and freedom to create our own lives, we will be able to relate with others in a loving and healthy way. Of course, it is easier said than done. In fact, we may never be able to achieve the ideal of a need-free relationship. Indeed, the first thing we need to do is to learn how to embrace our inevitable anxiety in the face of this realisation. At the same time, we can develop our self-confidence to face the challenge of taking up the responsibility to face all the uncertainties and adversities in the face of the pandemic. With proper anxiety management and problem-solving skills, we can still seek help in our resource network and create our safety zone. It is only that we need to realise that it is our own responsibility to do so.
This pandemic actually gives us an opportunity to face one of our deepest fear – our existential isolation.