Does anyone else have to fill out myriad attestations on multiple different apps or websites for most, but not all, of their kids’ daily activities? It’s blowing my mind trying to keep track of these attestations and health checks and the remote/in-school schedules. I barely know what day it is let alone which kid is in school on this particular day versus at home learning. On top of that, somehow, we have adjusted to this pandemic time enough to have refilled our schedules with extracurricular activities and social engagements (distanced, of course). It’s like old times except amplified by masks and zooms and everything taking longer than it used to and requiring way more thought to pull off than before as well as this underlying sense of being perpetually slightly off balance. I set alarms for myself all day long so I don’t forget to show up for something or pick a kid up or pack a lunchbox or who even knows what I might (not) do next without cueing.
Along with all of this comes a lot, including a lot of feelings. My personal daily attestation looks something like this:
Do you have to check a calendar regularly to know what day or month it is? Yes or No
Do you know what year it is? Yes or No
Are you exceptionally exhausted for no clear reason? Yes or No
Do you live with a perpetual sense of foreboding? Yes or No
Are you overwhelmed or fighting feelings of sadness and malaise? Yes or No
Does socializing wear you out, almost like you are out of shape? Yes or No
When looking at old photographs, do you wonder if they occurred during this same lifetime? Yes or No
Do you cringe when people get too close together in a movie before remembering that we used to be able to do that? Yes or No
Do some days seem to go on forever, with no sense of time? Yes or No
Do series of days evaporate into an abyss of nothingness before your very eyes? Yes or No
Does the smallest thing sometimes suddenly push you right over the edge? Yes or No
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, it is NOT safe to carry on with your day. You are experiencing pandemic fatigue and are on the verge of meltdown (check out The Art of the Pandemic Meltdown for another take on this phenomena). Stop before you go any further, breathe, and check in with ALL OF THE FEELINGS.
For me, I have begun to notice – through a lot of work and reflection – that my response to any stress or uncertainty takes a pretty reliable and predictable course. It didn’t appear to be consistent, just horribly uncomfortable and upsetting, until I really started to pay attention. Now, I know that I am just going through my paces when that unsettled, yucky feeling starts between my stomach and diaphragm, right below my rib cage. No matter the stimulus, the trajectory is pretty much the same: adrenaline rush (fight or flight), go blank (temporarily), shake (literally), develop ache in pit of stomach, annoyance (why do I have to deal with X? = is this a good time to flee?), self-doubt (what did I do to cause X?/maybe (probably) I said something, did something, am something wrong), negative self-talk (why do you always react like this? if only you were X, you wouldn’t feel this way; every version of should have, could have, would have, and, then: just stop feeling like this), sleeplessness (more adrenaline), and, wait a second, I have seen this all before, I don’t like it and I don’t like how it feels but I know that eventually I will get to the other side (resilience and fight). And then I sit with whatever it is and I deal with it, be it a leak in the basement, a too windy day and swaying trees, a sick child, a dog attack, a public presentation, basically any sort of discord, or a global pandemic. All the same. And, fundamentally, underlying each of them, is the fact that something or everything about them is out of my control. And out of my control stokes anxiety. And the sooner I identify that, the sooner we all identify all these feelings and understand them for what they are, the better off we will all be. It still disappoints me to realize that knowing all this doesn’t make the feelings go away or stop them from coming the next time. But now I recognize what is happening so I go through my paces more efficiently and get to that more calm place faster. And that’s called resilience. And that’s how we make it through tough stuff, time and time again.
I invite you, as I invite myself, to welcome in all of the feelings, just as Rumi writes in the poem The Guest House. This is what putting your own oxygen mask on first is all about. You have to take good care of yourself – and that means noticing and allowing ALL OF THE FEELINGS to cycle their way through – before you can take good care of others.
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.
Still treat each guest honorably.
He may be cleaning you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.– Rumi
You will be alright
We are the solution
Put your own oxygen mask on first!
WEAR A MASK!!!!
We got this.