Problems only exist in the human mind. Our perspective of these so-called problems underpins every aspect of our life. I believe that for the last 5 or so years of my life that I’ve slowly morphed into a Stoic without actually realising it until recent months. I’ve lived by a mantra of ‘if you can’t change or control it, don’t stress about it’. I try to advise people not to focus their energy and attention on something that won’t change, get better or get worse as a result. A current example being: my boyfriend and I are ready to buy a house, Coronavirus has had other ideas, everything is now on hold and we’re in lockdown in separate houses with our parents. We’re now into week 6 of not seeing each other and it sucks. However, is this within our control? Not at all. No amount of huffing and puffing and moods is going to make the pandemic stop and lockdown end, so why stress?
I don’t advocate a sunny perspective 100% of the time. I don’t think it’s in human nature to be positive and take the ‘right’ perspective of every situation every time. I think it’s important to reframe your outlook whenever possible if the result has a positive impact on you, but also sometimes we need to call a spade a spade, and a s**t situation a s**t situation. When you look at the world now you could so easily take the perspective of the victim. We’re being indiscriminately targeted by this evil virus, doctors and nurses don’t have the tools they need to save us and, slowly, confidence in the government to handle it is slipping. This I think requires three perspectives. The ‘real life’ one, the ‘Stoic’ one and the ‘positive’ one.
The real life perspective: Things are bad. People are dying profusely, years of underfunding and neglect are starting to peek through the cracks in the civil services, families are being torn apart, some never to see certain family members again, people are dying alone in hospital beds, children are missing school, people are stuck in lockdown with abusive partners, parents or other house-dweller, we are isolated and alone and there’s nothing we can do to change the situation. No amount of community spirit, clapping, FaceTime or hashtags will change the situation we find ourself in. It’s harsh and miserable but that’s the truth of the matter.
The Stoic perspective: All of the above, but with the acceptance that, no, we can’t change anything. I won’t take my emotions out on those I’m with because that won’t change anything. What I will do though is take this experience to learn and grow. I will evaluate what I see and read and hear and consider how I can develop from this. What beliefs and values of mine are coming to the surface right now? Do I act on these already? If not, how will I make them a key part of my daily life when all of this is over? I am not controlled by my mind, I control my mind and I will decide how this scenario plays out for me as far as is within my control.
The positive perspective: Taking both of the above into consideration, but seeing the positivity. Tragedy aside, people are talking more, we’re raising money, we’re voicing our opinions, we’re spending more time at home, we’re finding new ways to work, we’re spending time together as families, we’re exercising in the great outdoors, we’re looking after our homes and gardens, we’re learning new skills, we’re reading, we’re studying, we’re growing, we’re embracing the opportunities before us.
You aren’t a bad person for looking at the pandemic from a different perspective. For the first few weeks, I was still in shock of suddenly not being at work, so I quite enjoyed my early Easter holidays. I starting writing more, I tidied and cleaned, I read A LOT, I watched box sets, I cooked, I did my make-up properly, I took more care of me and I spent time with my parents. I felt so guilty when I first reflected and concluded that I’d, on some level, enjoyed myself. Then I realised that it’s all about perspective. I chose to take a positive perspective which probably did wonders for my mental health and helped to cushion the transition between being a full time teacher running round like a headless chicken to being a 3-4 day a week childminder.
After I was positive, I had a week of ‘real life’ perspective, and I got down and sad and fed up. I was undoing all the good work my positive mindset had done for me previously. And here we are, into 5 weeks of lockdown and I’m living by the Stoic perspective. I will worry about what I can control and let those that I cannot to continue happening around me. This perspective will save me a lot of worry, and I hope some of this is helpful for you too.