The Shifting Sands Of COVID

"liminality [ lim-uh-nal-i-tee ] a state of transition between one stage and the next, especially between major stages in one's life or during a rite of passage"

Abridged extract from The 21 Sept 2021

The shifting sands of COVID and our uncertain future has a name – liminality.

Understanding liminality and its origins can provide ways to better understand the foggy, ambiguous space we currently inhabit.

European anthropologist Arnold van Gennep pioneered the study of liminality in the early 20th century. His work on liminal spaces focused on the rites of passage we transition through in life. Since then, the term liminality has been used to describe the paths we navigate when faced with life events. These are the times when we are in a metaphorical waiting room between one life stage and another.

During COVID, how we believe our lives "should" work ceases to exist. And we're left with uncertainty. We ask ourselves, others or Google, "how long will the pandemic last?", "when will lockdown end" or "when can we safely travel?". There's a newfound uncertainty about daily tasks we once took for granted. "I just need to pop to the shops" is now an exercise in decisions and questions about masks, social distancing and what's essential.

Liminality shows up in lost life-stage rituals such as the sudden end of the school year, but without the formals or graduation ceremonies. We may live between saying, "well, at least we are healthy" while quietly lamenting those missed opportunities.

The space between the life we had and the life we potentially will live can cause us distress.

Learning to "go with" all the twists and turns that come with rapidly changing science and the resultant uncertainty is what we need. We might enhance our lives by accepting liminality in how we navigate each day, to learn to tolerate ambiguity.

It is not simple to accept the unknown. However, in this pandemic, learning to accept public health advice (and the science that underpins it) might change is part of living through a worldwide event.

Not knowing what next week will look like and finding ways to "tolerate ambiguity" is where we are now. We can help ourselves by finding daily routines within our control, small moments of the day where we connect with a person, nature, or an activity that reminds us where we are and who we are.

We also need space to grieve the small and significant losses COVID has created safely. We need to accept that, globally, we are in the liminal space between here and there.

Hopefully, "there" is when life returns to somewhat normal and when popping down to the shops means just that.

Next Steps

As we begin a staggered transition back to school, out of lockdown & celebrating the graduating class of 2021, to life beyond Woodleigh, it's time to take a breath and move forward gently. To step and venture.

In the first week of term, we invited Paul Dillion from the Drug & Alcohol Research Training Centre to present to parents & to students in years 10, 11 & 12 respectively.

Paul is always on point with the evidence he shares from across the contemporary landscape of our young people's lived experience. I appreciate how he delivers statistical information about young people & drug use. While he shares information concerning the number of young people and at what ages they are using which drugs, he pointedly inverts these statistics to highlight how many young people are not, which reveals a much more optimistic picture.

However, the truth remains that alcohol, a legal drug, is the most easily accessible, socially accepted & most frequently consumed, remains the most harmful.

Paul shared his thoughts about how parents and carers can help young people to minimize harms associated with alcohol and other drugs as they emerge from what for many has felt like an eternity of covid lockdown life. To begin to experience increased freedoms, including much needed social "gatherings" that have been sorely absent in recent months.

With safety at the front of mind, he offers the following tips.

Four questions you need answered and planning ahead

To make an informed decision regarding whether you should allow your teen to go to a party or gathering, you need good quality information.

Four questions need to be answered:

  1. Who's party is it and do you know them/or their parents?
  2. Where will the party be held?
  3. Will the parents be there, and will they be "actively supervising" the party?
  4. What time does it start & what time does it finish?

If you decide that they are allowed to attend, you want to ensure that they plan.

  • Before leaving home, discuss "000", reminding them you support them if they need to call – "You call 000 & then you call me."
  • Ensure they have the emergency + APP on their phone
  • Ensure they have the address of the party on their phone
  • Identify a "buddy" for the night. Do you have their phone number?

The breadth of people's experiences during covid suggests a range of responses as we return to school and life outside lockdown. We will feel excited, nervous, anxious, overwhelmed, relieved and more, and less. Remember to play to your strengths, and encourage your children to ask for support if needed.

Director of counselling

Acknowledgements & further readings