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Opinion: Skip the pleasantries and be honest about pandemic's impact on mental health

With social gatherings banned, many people didn't have a great Christmas, something that's important to acknowledge, writes Charla Huber.

I crossed paths with my neighbour outside the house the other day. I wished him a happy new year and asked how his holidays were. He said they were great and then asked me about mine.

I decided to answer honestly. “I enjoyed the time off with my daughter, but it didn’t feel like Christmas and it was kind of lonely,” I said.

He replied: “Yeah me too. I just said it was great, but it wasn’t. I didn’t have much of a holiday and spent it by myself.”

We had a far better conversation and I felt more connected to him when we shared our real experiences, rather than the robotic pleasantries we’ve been programmed to respond with.

I am an optimist and a big fan of moving forward instead of staying in the mud. I am also a big-picture thinker. I highly value optimism and I also acknowledge this past year has been a challenge for all of us. We can be optimistic about the future and still be honest about our feelings and experiences right now.

I know it’s important that we look at the positives this year, but I also think it is absolutely acceptable to acknowledge that it’s been hard.

We have all experienced some form of tragedy in our lives, and if we think back to those moments, there are positives that come from them, too. Those positives will never erase the personal tragedies we’ve experienced. This pandemic is one of the few times in history that we are living in the same tragedy.

We’ve all heard folks say: “There’s a lot of good that’s come out of this.” Some even go as far as to use the word “thriving.” When I have had conversations with friends I haven’t been able to see in a long time, and they mention all the great things that have come out of this pandemic, I can’t help but take it just a little personally.

The next time you are chatting with someone, before acknowledging the positives you’ve experienced, acknowledge the person you are connecting with and tell them that you miss them or are sad you can’t meet with them in person.

Only focusing on how great things are can make those around you feel unimportant or not valued. Even if you really enjoy working from home, be careful how to share that newfound love with your co-workers and know that video chat will never replace impromptu casual conversations that build camaraderie.

The underlying saving grace is that we are not being intentionally avoided; that would be much worse. We are keeping our distance and sticking to our households to keep safe and to keep others safe.

We can focus on the outcome and hope that one day soon it will be safe to meet in groups again.

I know we need to stay the course until this is over, but I think we can take a minute and reach out to people in our lives we have not seen and let them know that they are important to us. Sending those few words in a simple phone call or text could really go a long way.

Charla Huber is a communications expert based in Victoria. She's a regular contributor to the Times Colonist.