Giving everyone the right to complain about just about anything and everything. Even now

The new normal has been going on for a year at this point, and whilst the first lockdown brought with it an increased focused and the life-altering revelation that without having to commute to the office every day and the ensuing habitual ritual of spending all my free time on preparing for the next day, I actually had some time left. Which I wisely spent on exercising, meditating, and generally making myself the best version of me that I could. Can you guess how long that lasted?

After a year of being told to be resilient, the announcement of a third lockdown and finally having watched the whole of Netflix, I must admit my motivation level has plummeted. You see, I’m the kind of gal who likes a set plan. Changing a recipe is just asking for trouble, and going on a trip without an itinerary is pure anarchy. I bet you can guess how well I am coping right now, in the middle of an unprecedented situation in which new vectors, stats and scenarios are added on a daily basis.

So it’s no surprise I am struggling. My previous exercise program is now mostly being done from my sofa (horizontal running anyone?), with the occasional arm workout when pressing the ‘yes’ button as Netflix asks with disdain if I’m still watching. Of course I’m still watching, you evil troll. What else is there to do?

And as I type those words, I can already hear you complain about my complaining. What have I got to moan about right? Asked to stay in a nice warm house with access to a never-ending stream of entertainment and the option to have pretty much anything I want delivered straight to my door. Contactless weight gain at your fingertips! And this complaining, my friend, is what I am unashamedly reclaiming.

On the topic of who’s got it worst at the moment, there seems to be an unspoken competition between demographics. Parents, those living alone, parents with young children, those living alone without a pet, those living alone with a fluffy pet, those living alone with a non-fluffy pet… Someone, somewhere has got it worse than you. So any mention of feeling lonely, isolated or just plain fed up gets met with a well-rehearsed: ‘Well at least you’re not (insert appropriate response)… Trying to work whilst home-schooling / sick / trying to work whilst home-schooling and also suffering from COVID-19 and juggling 17 kids all under the age of three.’

And the list goes on. So I have learnt to say nothing. Because yeah, ok, maybe I should just be grateful to be in my position. Maybe I am wrong to feel the way I feel. Of course, there are many people way worse off than me, right?

Luckily, this is when my supremely rational brain took over. If I accept the premise that I shouldn’t complain because someone, somewhere is worse off than me, only one person in the world is allowed to moan about anything. One. After all, there is always someone worse off than you. Remember the experiment with the whole trading a paper clip up until you get a house? This works in the same way. There is, and forever will be, going to be someone just a little bit worse off than everybody. Ipso facto, the idea that I shouldn’t moan just doesn’t hold, and it doesn’t hold for any of us. Because somewhere, there are people working in hospitals who have it very rough. And those people shouldn’t moan, because there are other people working in hospitals who have it very rough but in a badly-affected country. And those people shouldn’t moan either, because there are people working in hospitals who have it very rough whilst working in a third-world tiny village with no access to water. You get my drift. So whoever you are, single person most deserving of the right to complain about everything, well done. Well done you, volunteer doctor who hasn’t slept in over two years because you are helping kids in a war zone whilst battling leukaemia after donating your entire fortune to a donkey sanctuary, I absolutely salute you. But do you know what? I disagree with the fact that you alone have a right to be slightly miffed with your lot in life. So, so many people deserve the right to moan.

Because I do not adhere to the theory that someone, somewhere being worse off than me should invalidate my own feelings. We’re all struggling, in our very own customised ways. People living alone feel an unprecedented level of isolation. People living with their families feel an unprecedented level of pressure to perform on all fronts. Children, teenagers, mothers, fathers, all of us. We’ve all been pitched at one extreme end of the spectrum and neither of those positions are desirable. We have all lost our balance. The middle ground that makes any situation bearable has disintegrated from underneath our feet and telling each other how we should be grateful not to have fallen into the abyss doesn’t exactly generate happiness and resilience whilst we’re desperately trying to cling to the walls with our bare fingernails.

So, whether you all think I am right to moan about the small things that shouldn’t be important to me, I just am. And so should all of you. Take back your right to moan. About small things, big things, whatever you wish. And if your complaining doesn’t get the reception it deserves, switch audience. You absolutely deserve to be able to vent your frustrations as a failsafe mechanism against self-destruction.

So what do I have to moan about? Oh, so so many things are annoying me right now. The freaking queues everywhere. Being forced to take a trolley when all I need is a loaf of bread at the supermarket. Not being allowed to get out of my house past 8pm. And yes, I know full well that I am in my PJs at that time, so I probably wouldn’t go out even if a curfew wasn’t in place. But I like to know that if the craving for a bag of crisps was strong enough, I could always throw a jacket on and drive to the nearest petrol station at 10pm in my pyjamas. I am bored of drinking my coffee standing up, trying to juggle gloves, keys, mask and the cup because it’s illegal to sit down anywhere. I am annoyed that I can’t use my re-usable cup at Starbucks anymore. I feel guilty for destroying the world, one soya latte at a time.

And whilst this may sound self-indulgent when so many are truly suffering, my purpose in publicly reclaiming my right to complain is a selfless one. I hope that this will give everyone the courage to talk more and to express how they feel, without the toxic positivity of ‘it’ll all be okay’ rainbows or the fear of being told that it could be worse. Because right now, we all need to feel safe to talk about how we are doing, or else we may lose few soldiers along the way. And my deepest wish for you is that when you do express how fed up you are with your mask getting covered in foundation, or your nail salon being shut, your mates’ come back will be a resounding and understanding ‘yeah, I know what you mean’. None of us can predict what the new normal will look like, and it’s only human to try and hold on what normal use to be.

And if you happen to be on the receiving end of what seems like unjustified, petty moaning, be kind. Small things often hide big things. Just listen to each other. And help each other. That’s how resilience is born and the only way to get through it is to know that we are not alone in this. Even if the ‘this’ in question happens to be not being able to get your usual manicure, or your fancy shmancy venti mocha latte anymore. Let’s normalise complaining. Let’s normalise saying out loud that we are feeling Not Very Okay At All.



How I am trying to focus on the Minimum Viable Product version of myself

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Annie Gelinas

Globetrotting freelance writer. Founder of wecouldbeheroes.ca. I value kindness in all its forms. (She/Her)