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The Fear

There is so much we do not know. The world has gone into lockdown, and billions of rands/dollars/euros are thrown at finding a cure for COVID-19. Suddenly we have a common enemy. Suddenly we are faced with a pandemic that might threaten us, as opposed to pandemics that are far removed from our reality. And the world comes to a standstill.

This intrigues me. Why is COVID-19 so powerful? Why does it cause so much fear? Is it a result of the power of social media? It kills old people. That has never bothered the world before…why the global frenzy now?

I do not pay attention to conspiracy theories, yet suddenly even some of those are alluring. We are all spinning like tops, going nowhere fast. What is happening? It feels as if the globe has been hit by a meteor, about as big as Earth itself. We are reeling with shock.

How does this impact people living with dementia? In a discussion yesterday there was a reference to how we could curb their anxiety. Medicate them? Restrain them?

I wonder how much we transfer anxiety to vulnerable people. I see it in some of my friends unintentionally transferring their anxieties to their children. It happens without us even knowing it. People living with dementia become hyper-sensitive to our presence or lack thereof. They feel our fears, insecurities, and irritation.

That is what affects them.

I know we cannot always be perfectly calm and composed, especially not in the midst of so much uncertainty. Yet, I do believe that if we dive deep into our own feelings around this world event, we can nd calm in the eye of the storm. It is a choice, a conscious decision that we can make. A decision to just Be. This lockdown and everything that it brings is not necessarily the world for older people. Yesterday in a Zoom meeting an Elder spoke about this – how we misunderstand and misinterpret what he as an 83-year-old feels. He is not lonely, helpless or bored. He is irritated with how we project these things onto him, and how we do not hear him.

There is a generation gap that spans like an abyss between “us” and “them”. Try as we may, we will never be able to put ourselves into “their” shoes. Now that we taste a little bit of their medicine, being locked down, not free to come and go as we like, being at the mercy of an authoritarian system that tells us how we should be, we suddenly see a surge in sympathy, a mammoth effort to reach out to older people.

Guess what – this is about us, not them. Older people have mostly adapted, they have found a space for quiet solitude. I think our frenzy is more about us than it is about them! I do however hope that we will be forced into trying to see the world more from their perspective through this journey.

If we can turn inward and really try to unlearn everything that we think older people need and want, and for once get to a point where we can truly BE with someone, we might learn more than we bargained for. Yes, there is anxiety. But, let us not confuse anxiety with fear or depression. And more than that, let us sit with this anxiety, acknowledge it, embrace it. It is what it is. And let’s see what it is trying to teach us.

If I may be so bold to speak on behalf of older people, I would think that we are learning the following:

It is not the end of the world yet. Slow down, shut up, calm down, sit. Be still. Listen. Look me in the eyes, see me.

I do not need you to entertain me. I do not need you to constantly distract me. I do not want you to be cheerful on my behalf. I want you to be real, and authentic. I need you to allow me to Be with you, to be there for you, to comfort you. I am not your duty, I am in this with you. Let me Be.

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