In recent times, my dreams have been intense. I don’t always remember them, but I often wake up with a feeling like I’ve already lived an active day and confused about starting another. The confusion is born from a strange misalignment of whatever was happening in my dream against what I am facing in the real world for the day ahead. Even when I don’t remember what was happening, I’m left with emotions or feelings that are not applicable to my day.
It occurred to me, these last few weeks, that life is settling back into what it was before the pandemic. Covid is very much still here, and I am not saying that the pandemic is over by far, but things are looking a lot like people seem to believe may well be. Mask wearing is sparse, with the only masks I see on other people tending to be at the hospital. People are gathering again, social distancing seemingly forgotten in open spaces and indoors. All the cancelled events are now happening, music gigs and festivals celebrating a return after two years absent.
Facing this, from my perspective, feels a bit like that post-dream state. Everything is mostly fine, and the majority of people have gone back to their lives. Yet here I am, feeling all kinds of emotions that don’t align with that.
I learnt this week about the term moral injury. Moral injury is where someone has acted in a way against their basic principles and therefore feels a sense of guilt, anger or disgust in response. This can also be seen as a response to events happening around you that force you to feel this way, not necessarily conducted by yourself. It is a concept that is largely unfamiliar outside of the military and for veterans, but is beginning to be used not only for healthcare workers generally but also in response to the pandemic situations we experienced.
Since the pandemic began to impact our work, I have openly discussed the ways in which it meant a lot of our work had to change. Witnessing people being unable to say goodbye to loved ones who were dying and speaking to the bereaved after this is one good example. It was a denial of something that we expected to always happen before we had heard of Covid-19. This moral injury experienced, is also affected by those flouting the rules or seeing themselves as outside of this when you have followed the rules entirely. It’s a sense of injustice in any form that provokes strong emotions within oneself.
What I think is most interesting now about the last couple of years is the way in which we are growing to understand the impact day by day. This understanding won’t be over for months, even years, as we unpick and learn the damage it has caused to people mentally. I don’t expect this to be the first time I am able to label something I believe to experience or have experienced. We are fortunate to be living at a time when mental health is, mostly, better understood than it was in the past with major events. We all knew that the mental health impact was going to be huge from this, as soon as the country when into that first lockdown.
I must assure everyone, I am okay, and I am getting the help and support I need. I would encourage others to do the same, and to explore the impact this has had on them too if they feel it would help in any way. Lingering emotions of any kind like what I experience feel a bit like waking up from a dream, but they hit harder when you know it’s from something real. If anyone would like to discuss or get in contact regarding this please don’t hesitate and you can find my contact details on the Contact section of this blog.