‘I am not getting the vaccine and everyone is giving me a hard time’

Tell Me About It: Family and friends don’t understand and rules around vaccination lead to feelings of alienation

PROBLEM: I’m finding it very difficult to cope with the repercussions from the recent legislation banning unvaccinated people from eating or drinking indoors in restaurants and pubs.

For private medical reasons, I have chosen to decline the Covid vaccine at this time. I never imagined it could have such alienating consequences.

It has caused division within my family unit and friend group, many of whom have no understanding or extend no empathy towards how deeply othered and vulnerable the passing of this legislation has made me feel.

I’ve been told to “just get it” and treated as if I’m the problem, and as if there is nothing abnormal about what I see as clear discrimination in society. I don’t believe I should need to discuss private medical matters with anyone but my doctor yet feel forced to justify my decision in public situations. Increasingly, I spend time alone as I can’t bring myself to connect with loved ones.

I’m extremely anxious about my job and feel my protection under data regulation not to disclose my status may be short lived, given the way legislation is going.

For me, it is a truly terrifying time to be alive, and the social intolerance is such that I question my future in this country.

My sleep in affected, I think about this every waking hour and I don’t know who to turn to.

ADVICE: You sound very distressed and the language you use – “alienated” and “othered” – indicates just how alone you feel and yet I wonder if your suffering could be eased somewhat by you taking a slightly different stance. Your loved ones and close friends do not understand why you are declining the vaccine and it is difficult for them to support you without that knowledge.

It is true that you have a right to keep your medical information private but without some flexibility on your behalf, particularly with those close to you, it will create distance and confusion. When we leave a gap in the truth, it allows rumour and conjecture in and in this case it seems that your community is filling that space with a view that you say is not accurate. This means that you are now very isolated, and this will be very bad for your emotional and mental health.

There is a wonderful TED talk: What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness, where Robert Waldinger speaks of 75 years of research that shows just how important relationships are to our mental health and how much small breaches, hurts and slights cost our capacity for happiness. Your family and friends are crucial to your happiness and these relationships are worth investing in and sticking by in these tough times.

What is important here is that you not just speak openly to your close community but that you also listen to their concerns.

We do not need to agree on everything or win an argument in order for relationships to survive but we do need to engage with care and affection. You talk about leaving the country and all your connections, but this could be detrimental to your happiness if you cut off all your important relationships. The first step would be to consult with your GP about what you might accurately say – your GP will be up to date on all things concerning the virus and public health guidelines and will have knowledge and expertise that will back up any conversations you have with people. If you listen to others, you might find that they, in turn, can really hear you out too. Anger or resentment make it impossible to listen so you may need to address these issues before attempting to talk to those close to you. Consciously adopting an attitude of openness or compassion is a starting point for allowing this to happen and this has the added bonus of drawing out the same sentiment back towards you.

The pandemic has created immense fear plus a sense of caution and with good reason as many lives have been taken by the illness and many are suffering from the effects of long-Covid. In this climate we all have a part to play in creating space for tolerance and inclusion, especially as the situation we are in is a rapidly changing one, so as a society we must act in the interests of the whole. People become angry when they feel there is injustice going on; you clearly feel an injustice is being done but your family and friends may feel it is the position you are adopting which is unfair.

All conflict resolution begins with talking and listening, so cutting yourself off is not the way to solving this difficulty, in fact it is making you isolated and upset and this is not a good place from which to make life decisions.

Reach out to those you care about, try listening to why they are taking such a strong stance and then explain, to the degree you are comfortable, why you are acting as you are and how you feel about the response you are getting to your actions. This may take many conversations and you might be surprised that the outcome is not a right/wrong answer but rather an evolving understanding of human nature and the frailties we all experience.

An Irish Times article, “Why we’re not getting the Covid-19 vaccine: Irish Times readers share their reasons”, August 19th, maybe a helpful read.