Well, I think it's safe to say a lot of us did not expect to find ourselves here. Asked to stay at home and practice “social distancing”… and really do nothing but that. Maybe we’re getting outside for some fresh air, becoming tele-communication masters, tapping into our creativity, or, for some, starting to connect with parts of ourselves we’ve kept shuttered away for a long time. Time feels limitless, while also tense and uncertain as we wonder, “What will the next hour, the next day, or the next month bring?” Countless thoughts have been ruminating in my head over the past week, that I’m starting to connect with a part of myself I’ve avoided for far too long. So here I am, using a healthy coping skill I’ve also ignored for a long time (writing), to share my thoughts, feelings, and how I’m processing this all in a very real and very vulnerable way.
I would be lying if I said I like, embrace, or even welcome change. I thrive on stability, structure, and routine. Do I know that change occurs regardless? Yes. Am I able to adapt to changes during my day to day life? Yes.
But this… this is different.
With such a quick shift in how we are expected to function on a daily basis, there are a lot of feelings coming up— on one side of the spectrum there is fear, sadness, and anxiety, while the other side holds gratitude, peace, and understanding. The important thing to remember is that while these feelings may be different, they are all incredibly valid. It is not realistic to expect everyone to cope with this immense change by accepting and “making the most of” it, because hard times lead to hard emotions— and that is 100% okay. I’ve swung towards both sides of the spectrum countless times in the past week, and can undoubtedly say that what we’re experiencing is so new and so surreal that processing this change feels like being a little metal ball in the giant pinball machine that is life.
For most of the past week, I pushed away the harder feelings. I put pressure on myself to “process” what was happening so I could be there for my clients. I was actively looking for and spreading what, on the surface level, seemed like positivity. I thought I was coping. But in reality, I was hurting myself more than helping. So I then decided to lean into the discomfort, and I cried… a lot. I sat with my emotions and did nothing but feel.
This situation is not easy, and our coping process is not going to be easy. Rapid change and immense uncertainty has thrown a curveball into the practices and strategies many of us rely on to stay mentally strong. Parts of me feel lost, as I scramble to find a sense of normalcy— which has led to feelings of guilt and shame, as I realize the difficult truth that my hope for “normalcy” is quite privileged compared to those who are being hit even harder at this time.
And that's the part of myself I’m asking myself to name and acknowledge: the shame. I feel shame as I struggle to overcome what I feel I’ve lost, while I see others losing much, much more: from celebrations to jobs to loved ones. I feel shame as I’m not able to control what is happening or how it's impacting those I’m supposed to support. I feel shame for not being able to shake my constant and overwhelming anxiety. I started to feel shame just for feeling. But I’ve been here before (albeit in a much smaller capacity) and I know that shame cannot and will not foster resilience—for me or anyone else.
So today I’m choosing to focus on what is in my control.
I can control my choices… ones that impact me positively. I can work on my basic needs. I can build new routines. I can turn off the news and be present. I can hold onto hope. And I can lean into the discomfort, be vulnerable with the hard feelings, and strengthen my resiliency.
And I can control the choices that impact others positively: I can wash my hands, stay at home, and follow social distancing rules. I can maintain positive messaging, and spread kindness, grace, and understanding. I can focus on simply showing up for my clients and those struggling to cope, sit with them through the rough patches, and link them to all the new and amazing resources that have surfaced to support them in strengthening their resiliency.
But above all, we can work hard to keep shame at bay. Because if there is one thing that is more contagious than this big scary virus— it's that word right there: shame.
We are all feeling the impact of this epidemic differently, so please be mindful of the messages you are spreading— and whether they breed or squash shame. While it is essential to trust in the strength and resiliency of the human spirit, it is also essential to provide a safe and open space for people to feel the hard emotions and work on building up their ability to adapt and overcome. And I’ve been in awe to see just how fast people, our communities, and our systems are adapting and overcoming adversity already. Although it feels like this change has taken away a lot, it has provided so much more--perspective, solidarity, gratitude for the little things, and an even greater sense of empathy. We may not be able to control the loss and we can’t predict what tomorrow will bring, but we can do something.
So choose kindness, choose compassion, choose empathy. Choose to be vulnerable, and embrace vulnerability from others. Listen, understand, and validate. We truly have the power to come out of this stronger and more connected than ever. We, as people… as communities… as a society… can, and will, be resilient.
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