How not to respond to someone who is suffering from or has a family member suffering from the Corona

Few days ago my dad was diagnosed positive for the coronavirus. It was hard news for us because we had no protocol on what to do. We didn’t know how to move forward and take care of ourselves. We had in our minds, several practical questions on how we are going to get our food supplied, when the rest of us should get tested, how to disinfect every surface, and so on. It’s a difficult learning curve because it is a fairly new experience. In many ways I am happy with myself for learning to survive and doing the best I can.

While the practical survival skills are needed, there is also a need for emotional support. It is a distressing event and the mind is trying to grapple with it. Talking about my personal experience, I had a mixture of emotions in addition to logical thoughts that was aimed at problem-solving the situation. It felt like I was grieving, I went through different stages of denial, anger, depression, etc. It is hard to make sense of my emotions and write them all in a concrete way because I am still living within it; I am still struggling to survive within this event. The day we got to know that my dad was tested positive, I felt no great sadness. I had already suspected it. Instead of crying, I quickly jumped into solving the problem. I made quick decisions, packed my dad’s bag to be taken to the isolation ward, disinfected the house, made calls about grocery and water, took doctor’s consultation about my mother’s symptoms, planned the events of the following days and much more. I was like a well-wired robot trying to assess the situation and work through it with efficiency. At the same time I was also anxious that I am not doing enough. Despite everything I was confident that I can work it through. Then came the night. I don’t know what it is about darkness; it brings out the worst thoughts and emotions within me. The moment all the lights went off, it felt like an emotional switch had flipped in my mind. I experienced a full blown panic attack along with long crying spells. I missed my dad. I didn’t want him to die. I felt helpless for not being able to predict how the situation is going to turn out. I didn’t want my mum to fall sick too. I didn’t want both my parents to be taken away from me. I didn’t want to sit at home while my parents were dying far away from me. It was pure torture to have the worst possible scenarios playing out in my mind. I couldn’t sleep and cried the whole night. I was weeping, unable to breathe, craving some human touch. I wanted somebody that I can hug and feel safe and secure. I felt so angry that this stupid virus would not even let me hug my mother. I was undone by my solitary suffering; for being a prisoner in a huge space with no human breath other than mine.

Things got better the next day. I felt sad and anxious but I was also able to regulate my emotions. The sleepless night hurt my body. I was exhausted and slept for many hours in the day. Meanwhile, things were happening around me. My mum, who has never seen me cry often, saw my behaviour as an emergency distress signal of something catastrophic. She discussed this with all my relatives who had called her to ask about our wellbeing. At the same time, I got several texts and phone calls from friends who were trying to support me. I know that everybody had the best of intentions in mind but my relatives and friends included, made few statements that made me want to run away from them. Here is the list of what not to tell to someone in such a situation:

“Coronavirus is nothing serious. It is just like the flu. The media and government are hyping it. It is nothing to be worried about. You and your family will survive this.”

First of all this virus is not the flu. It is a new virus that scientists are still trying to learn about. There is no evidence to any of your claims. Why would WHO hype up a virus that is currently the reason behind this world-wide pandemic? How is this not a serious issue? People are dying both due to the virus and due to poverty. How do you know that my family will survive this? Are you a fortune-teller?

“Don’t stress. Don’t worry. It is not good for your health.”

Thank you so much! I am not worried anymore because you said so. I wish I had come to you long ago to hear those magical words. It would have solved half my life problems.

How can you expect someone going through a difficult situation not to have any emotional reaction? Either you lack empathy or you don’t know what you are talking about.

“Why did you cry? Be STRONG. You have to help your mother through this.”

Out of all the responses, this was the worst. Yes, I have magical control over my tear glands. I shouldn’t show the world that I am sad and mourning. Being sad means I am weak. Crying for my father means I am weak. Crying for my family’s well-being means I am weak. Crying for a fear of greater suffering means I am weak. Crying means WEAK. This is the worst possible logic. I want to tell you that crying doesn’t make me weak, it means that I am in touch with my reality. Also, why do you think I can’t be there for my mother if I cry? This expectation that I should shut down my emotions and act brave for the sake of my parents has been the bane of my childhood. I am not responsible for the things that are beyond my control. My parents are also humans who can take care of themselves. I have no duty to take control of their lives and “be there for them”. All that I can do is provide them with support by doing the best that I can. I can give this little support even if I am weeping all night.

“I am not worried. I am strong. You can tell me anything, I can deal with it for you, because I am strong.”

You aren’t worried because you aren’t living my situation. What you call strength, I call indifference. I don’t need people coming to me at a time of vulnerability and show me how strong they are; how they would deal with the situation so courageously were they in my place. I am so very tired of this strong/weak narrative. Please don’t make this statement to anybody. It lacks empathy and it is patronising. I don’t need your strong hands to move my weight for me.

“Drink ginger water. Wear gloves at all times. Have egg whites for breakfast.”

I know you mean well. I know you want to help through the best of your ability. I am grateful for your support. But, please don’t give me any advice until I explicitly ask you for it. I am trying to figure out what works best for me. If I need your opinion, I will ask you for it.

These are few examples of the many wrong statements you can make while you are trying to help someone. However, not everybody made such statements. Few of my friends and family truly helped with their words and actions. Here are few:

“I don’t know what to tell you. I am shocked. But please know that I hope things turn out alright.”

“I understand how hard this is for you. I am here if you want to talk.”

“You must be tired and sad. I am sorry you have to go through this.”

“Of course you are sad! He is your father, how can you not worry about him?”

“Is there anything I can do to help? Ask me if you need any material or emotional support. Are you and your mum going to be able to get through the month?”

Actually helping when asked for it:

My uncle who lives nearby the place my dad is isolated asked us if there is anything he can do to help. He made an effort to take extra set of clothes, blankets and fruits to the isolation ward. My friend who lives nearby our house said she will buy us grocery or anything needed and drop it outside our house. This is real support. I am immensely grateful that I have people’s love and support at this time of great difficulty. It doesn’t mean I hate everybody who made the wrong statements. I understand they too were trying to help but didn’t know how to do it. If you are reading this, you know what not to tell someone going through a crisis.

#crisis #depression #covid19 #coronavirus #grief #emotionalsupport #mentalhealth #mourning #melancholia #corona #coronaanxiety


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