5 minute read

all this shit

When disaster strikes, we experience the initial shock, organize to respond, adapt, recover, and move forward.

As time passes, we are reminded of the incident, and react emotionally to the memory. But that emotion swells and subsides. Most of us return the memory to our mental archive and go back to our lives.

Think about 9/11; Americans watched in horror as the events of that day unfolded. In the weeks that followed, we heard the stories of first responders, survivors, and families who lost loved ones in a very tragic, horrific, and public way. So much changed in our lives almost overnight. We collectively grieved as a nation. But we recovered as a Nation and for most of us, life moved on relatively quickly. Unlike a tragic event or natural disaster, the Coronavirus Pandemic has stretched out our collective grief over a long period of time, and the end seems vague, uncertain, and unreachable.

Psychologist and child development professor, Ann Masten, has studied how we adapt to tragedies, emergencies, and disasters.  She refers to our ability to handle our initial reaction as, “surge capacity”: it’s a very effective reflex that allows us to spring into action and helps us process and work through stressful situations.

It has its limits, though.

When faced with something like Coronavirus and all of the recent, tragic events under it’s umbrella, we surge. We spring into action, but we also run out of steam once the adrenaline subsides. We go from giving major fucks about all of it to periods of zero fucks given, over and over again, indefinitely.

At the beginning of the Pandemic when it looked as if we were gonna be hunkered down for a while, we made grand plans to get organized, take on new projects, spend quality time with our kids, and learn to bake bread. We did some of these things, and then they lost their appeal.

I color coded my closet. Now, I am lucky to hang up my clothes at all. I’ll probably soon spend another few days doing it again. When done, I’ll stand back and admire how great it looks with a sense of accomplishment – finished, satisfied, complete.

Remember the Zoom happy hours with friends we hadn’t seen in years? We joined in because most everyones’ lives slowed down, which seemed nice – for a while. Then the meetings became a pain in the ass. (Or were they just a pain in MY ass?)

The Pandemic even gave birth to it’s own vocabulary and language:

  • New normal
  • Unprecedented times
  • Uncertain times
  • Can we get back to normal (whatever THAT means)
  • “You know, all of this shit!”, as we say here in Texas, gesturing around with our hands

It also gave birth to disagreements, arguments, fights, and investigations into (to name a few):

  • police brutality
  • racial inequality
  • masks
  • politics
  • conspiracy theories (OMG)
  • whether this is no worse than the flu
  • science
  • religion
  • virtual school
  • trying to figure out whose fault “all this shit is”

But in spite of the new vocabulary and the endless debates that rage on, the new normal remains an endless state of not knowing. Learning how to live with uncertainty is our new way of life.

Uncertainty is SO frustrating for someone like me who will research and research until I find the answers that satisfies my curiosity. It’s hard for me and those like me to accept that sometimes there are no answers. That is why we go back into our closets and organize, or create new things that we can look at and say, “this is done”. There is a clearly defined endpoint, and it gives us a sense of satisfaction and certainty to reach it.

We, as modern human beings are not accustomed to uncertainty. The longevity of this Pandemic is like nothing else we have experienced in our lifetime (unless you are like 125 years old and lived through the 1918 Pandemic). Surge capacity helps us get through short periods of crisis, but in times like these (another phrase I am growing weary of) we have to develop new ways to cope.

One thing we can do is recognize the waves; we are going to have periods of great inspiration, followed by periods of apathy or despair. Allow these waves to come and go. If you are a natural problem solver, this is extremely difficult. When you or someone around you is in a low mood, the inclination is to try and make it better. My husband can attest to how much it pisses me off when someone tries to cheer me up: “Just let me be unhappy for a few days! Damnit I am processing! Step OFF!”

Same goes for people who thrive on routine. I am one of those people. Unfortunately, I am not good at CREATING a routine, but I perform at my best when I have one. Before the Pandemic began, I would drop my kids at school at 8am, go to the gym for 30-40 min, then head to the coffee shop with my laptop for a flat white latte. I could focus on my work, write, read, and expand my coaching toolbox. By 11am I was loaded up with caffeine, endorphins, and crazy energy.

Now, I drag my ass out of bed, make coffee, sit at the kitchen table, and open my laptop. Sometimes I hit the gym or go for a walk, but it’s not a daily routine like when school was in session. These days, I have to psych myself up to just get dressed and do even those simple things.

Loss of routine, loss of rituals, loss of a daily schedule, all difficult in any situation. But unlike a natural disaster or a death, this time, our loss has no edges. It’s ambiguous at best, but it’s still loss. We are grieving, and there are stages to grief. Understanding this helps us to wrap our minds around the way we are feeling and why our feelings change without a clear pattern.

So – what do we do?

Well, we can start by accepting that this Pandemic sucks, it is going to keep sucking, and that we don’t know when it won’t suck. We also have choices we can make.

We can choose to either hold ourselves to an impossible standard of being effective, successful, and accomplishing great feats every day, OR we can be kind to ourselves during the low points, be grateful for the high points, and surf the bursts of awesome when they come along.

We can either look for things to be pissed about, argue about, or fight about, to get a little adrenaline rush of superiority, OR we can find instances of humanity, creativity, hilarity, goofiness, and laughter. (I love TikTok; it has all of that.)

One of the best things you can do during all of this is to find things that make you feel good and that raise your energy level; seek out things that inspire you. When you’re in a great mood list the reasons why, and put it somewhere. Decorate the list with stickers and stuff. (I like stickers and colored pens, okay?!? But I get it; that may not be your jam.)

Put that list somewhere and when you’re low, look at it. If there are things on it like: taking a bubble bath, painting your toenails, doing a facial mask, or sweeping the porch, then do those things! Bookmark articles that inspire you, or make you laugh, or remind you that what you’re feeling is normal (like this one)! Then go back and reread them and look for others.

Anyway, honey, you’re okay. Maybe you’re not feeling okay today, and you could wake up feeling the same way tomorrow. But by Friday, you could be super excited, write something brilliant that changes someone’s life, or cook the best dinner EVER and you overhear your kids talk about how good it was. You could wake up with a spring in your step, go for a walk in nature, and see something amazing and beautiful. You could start a business, write a book, or change someone’s life for the better with kind words and a smile.

So, be gentle with yourself today. You’re okay.  You’ve got this. We all do. I’m here if you need me.