The one thing I know for certain is that I feel uncertain

The one thing I know for certain is that I feel uncertain

I have been a bit quiet lately. As someone whose profession is commentary and analysis — I “write from a position of expertise” on issues of gender equality and feminism (so my professional bio says) – I have felt that, on this occasion, I don’t have any particular expertise to offer. And more importantly, in recent times I haven’t had any of the certainty that usually comes along with my belief in my own expertise.

If I say something, I usually have confidence in my facts and my ability to back up my argument. Want to play “the gender pay gap is a myth”, try me.

But as we experience a global, once in a generation pandemic and people the world over are being asked to absorb an incredible amount of information in the midst of a highly fluid situation, I have felt an overwhelming desire to listen and, for once, refrain from projecting my opinion into the world– particularly on social media.

The last thing anyone needs, I have felt, is another opinion from me on what we should or should not be doing. Should the schools stay opened or close? Should our communities go into lockdown? I don’t know. I have no certainty to offer, I have no particular expertise here and it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that I do.

The one thing I know for certain is that I feel uncertain.

Like everyone, I’ve been absorbing a huge amount of information and coming to terms with the fact that we live in a very different world. The implications for us individually, our families, our communities are only now starting to sink in. I have likened it to being hit by a slow-motion tidal wave.

It is only natural to feel bewildered, at sea and caught up in different currents dragging you in one direction, or perhaps in a different direction from those you love or whose opinions you most admire and respect.

We all have different ways of coping.

That is the single most useful piece of advice I have heard from almost all the mental health experts interviewed at this time of crisis. And it has helped me to be a bit more forgiving of myself, those around me and our leaders, who are being forced to make some extraordinary decisions under incomprehensible pressure. Given the gravity of the situation, I can only hope they are acting on the best possible advice of the experts.

I have thought a lot about being in New York City in the days immediately following 9/11 where I watched the twin towers crumble from the roof of my building and then huddled on the ground with my neighbours as fighter jets flew overhead. For a brief moment we thought we were under attack until someone shouted, “they’re ours”.

I had seen the towers crumble with my own eyes. I had seen thousands of people covered in white dust run through the streets in panic. But still, somehow, I also joined the hoards wondering the streets in the following days in a kind of haze, not quite knowing what to do. Not quite being able to believe it was all real, before being overwhelmed with grief.

To be honest, back then I needed a minute. If you, like me, need a minute now, you’re amongst friends.

Feeling despair creep up on me in recent times for a variety of reasons not wholly related to the pandemic, but that certainly hasn’t helped, I have recently turned to re-reading Rebecca Solnit’s iconic essay “Hope in the Dark” for reassurance.

For fellow travellers in an uncertain world, I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Hope is the story of uncertainty, of coming to terms with the risk involved in not knowing what comes next, which is more demanding than despair and, in way, more frightening.”

Kristine Ziwica tweets @KZiwica

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