More than 10 months into this pandemic, each of us has felt its impact. While I am the first to acknowledge many have suffered great loss, the pandemic hasn’t left anyone untouched. In many respects this loss has been senseless – lives taken by a virus that has no feelings or ‘motivation’ except to reproduce. But humans have a remarkable ability to make sense from senselessness, and it is this ability that seems to provide a measure of protection, a vaccine if you will, from despair and hopelessness. It provides a light in the darkness.
Finding a reason to get up every morning will go a long way to improving our mental health. Especially if it includes a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. The Japanese have a name for this: Ikigai – a reason for being. Researchers suspect that having this ikigai is one of the factors behind the record longevity of people like Kane Tanaka from the Japanese island of Okinawa. At age 118, she is the oldest person currently alive. She was a teenager during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.
Your reason for being doesn’t have to be grandiose. It doesn’t have to be complicated. I’ve heard many during this pandemic:
“I want to do something nice for someone each day”
“I want to make things as normal as I can for my kids”
“I want to have the goofiest Zoom background at every meeting”
“I want to get to the end of each day and mark it off on my calendar”
Dr Bonnie Henry’s phrase, “Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe” could also be seen as a reason for being – an entreaty to bring kindness to every interaction, calmness to our affairs, and an awareness of the safety both to ourselves and to those around us.
Great loss can sometimes shroud our reason for being or even hide it completely for a while. But being human means we have the capability to explore our own ikigai, to find meaning in the mundane, and to connect with other human beings.
This pandemic has taken its toll emotionally, physically, and mentally. We’ve likely all experienced some down days where we lose sight of our reason for being. But if you are persistently questioning why you get up in the morning, are struggling to find a reason to engage with other people, or have completely lost touch with your reason for being, I encourage you to seek professional help. Others have been there before. Help is at hand. There is no reason to struggle in the darkness alone.
A reason for being. An ikigai. Our vaccine against the darkness. Our light for the future.
Where to find help:
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 9-1-1 for immediate help.
Crisis Services Canada’s toll-free helpline provides 24-7 support at 1-833-456-4566.
The toll-free Hope for Wellness helpline provides 24-7 support for Indigenous Peoples at 1-855-242-3310. Online chat services are also available.
Trans Lifeline operates a toll-free peer support hotline for trans and questioning people at 1-877-330-6366.
For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
The Physician Health Program supports BC doctors, doctors-in-training, and their families with a wide range of issues that can impact their mental health and well-being. Help is available 24/7 at 1-800-663-6729.
- Dr Matthew Chow