How NZ migrants can overcome Covid guilt

It’s been a year, almost to the day, since Zealand has locked itself down, allowing us to go about our daily lives (mostly) unscathed. But as we enjoy some quality time with our five-million bubble, it’s hard for us migrants to forget how unreal this normalcy is on a global scale.

Every phone call home reminds us how blessed we are, and how tough life must be for our families living overseas. Our freedom is tinged with remorse and the concern that, if anything happened to our loved ones, we would be unable to board the next flight.

If you’re feeling guilty, please know this: you’re not alone. Covid guilt is a thing. You might feel bad because you are free to socialise with your friends. Because you’re not expected to wear a mask. Because our lockdowns are short and work. Because you’re not there to support your family. Because you didn’t lose your job. Because you’re not scared.

Deep down, you know that you have nothing to blame yourself for. You just happened to be in the right place, at the right time. But that’s not how guilt works, is it? You’re stuck in a rut, beating yourself up for something you can’t change. So here’s what I do, whenever I feel that Covid guilt is getting the best of me.

Repeat with me: I can’t control this

You can’t control a pandemic, but you can control your own response by putting things in context. Covid-19 is a once-in-a-century event; it’s not the first-ever pandemic, nor will it be the last. There isn’t anything we can do about it except endure it, be kind to one another, and try to keep each other safe. Feeling bad for something you can’t control is counterproductive; instead, concentrate on something you can control: your reaction.

Be empathetic

It’s okay to feel lucky for living Covid-free while still empathising with those who aren’t. When you’re on the phone with your loved ones overseas, listen to them. Don’t shy away from their angst, and don’t minimise their fear: be there for them in the only way possible, with your ears and your words. You can make a difference just by asking someone what they want or need.

Don’t take it personally

Never take it personally if anyone shames you or simply envies you. That’s just a completely normal reaction. How many times have you heard people dismiss New Zealand’s Covid response because “it’s a small, underpopulated island”? Or perhaps, someone has questioned how you could possibly be happy at a time like this? Let them say what they want. Regardless of how New Zealand earned its Covid-free status, you have the right to be happy. And if these remarks come from someone you love and admire, you should know that they love you, and they want you to be happy: they’re only going through a rough patch.

Count your blessings

It’s okay to be grateful, so don’t be afraid to seize the day and make the most of your good fortune. The first step is to acknowledge your guilt: ignoring it or suppressing it almost never works. Take note of how you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way, and if it’s anything you can manage. Then, try, really try, to move forward. Make the most of your freedom by going on a stroll, meeting up with friends, and laughing. Make time for yourself and practise self-compassion by doing the things you love.

Remember, this too shall pass

Dealing with Covid-19 is uncharted territory. It’s as if we’re writing the instruction manual as we go. Even past pandemics, like the infamous Spanish flu, have little to offer that might be useful today. The world has changed so much since then, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past year, it’s how much we used to take for granted. International travel, for starters. Would you have moved to New Zealand in the first place, if it hadn’t been so easy to get a flight? Probably not. Almost certainly not.

But here we are. And at least, we can virtually see our families and friends. One day, hopefully not so far off, we will look back at this moment and pat ourselves on the back for riding out the storm. This, too, shall pass.