Finding Your New Edge
Unequivocally, we are grappling with how to navigate these unprecedented and quite frankly, heartbreaking times. In the midst of this dystopian nightmare, I find myself surrounded by a lot of content (social media, articles written and plentiful discussion and instructions) on how we should be taking advantage of all the free time at home that we all have as a result of the pandemic.
The general theme seems to be that since we are all (well, mostly all) at home 24/7 now, we should be filling every minute of that time. Why are we not learning a new language, studying for another degree or becoming more evolved, fitter versions of ourselves? I have received an avalanche of emails from spiritual advisors, business coaches, authors, self help gurus and training institutions . What did they all have in common? They were all encouraging me to join courses, take individual lessons or become part of group meditations and classes. I appreciate their efforts and insights, I really do. However, in getting lost down such rabbit holes, I cannot help but feel as though we may be missing something here.
We, as a society, quite literally went from 0 to 100, or rather, from 100 to 0 in about a week. The generalised attitude of the public metamorphosed from how COVID-19 wouldn’t affect us and that everything was okay, to everybody hunkering down for goodness knows how long. Things seemed safe…until they weren’t.
Although work continues for the lucky amongst us, everything else has come to a screeching halt. Everything being visits with friends and family; events in the community; entertainment; eating at restaurants, and; for some of us, even leaving the house is no longer an option. I truly feel that it is important to pause and acknowledge that our entire reality has shifted fundamentally, both collectively and individually, in a matter of days. This is no small thing. We are now living our entire lives in our homes when a short while ago, most of us could go out and operate freely without much of a care for our health. It seems as though we have entered an alternate reality in which we are physically limited, socially distanced and isolated and uncertain about the future. Above all, each and every one of our individual choices has enormous stakes and carries, quite possibly, far reaching and heaven forbid, dire consequences. From afar, COVID-19 did not appear real. And now it is. And here we are.
And, perhaps as a means of distraction or self soothing, we have an existential and almost fanatical phase of self improvement taking us by storm. In my opinion, this has an undertone of self-denial. As though if we say “all is well,” and embody the platitude, then maybe the world will put itself back together again. As a psychotherapist, I am used to sitting with and working with loss and grief. I am all too aware that this is not the norm for most people. This does not mean that I do not feel affected by all of this, far from it. However, I feel compelled to call out the distractions for what they are. Why? Because there is loss, there is grief and there is fear that comes hand in hand with what we are all collectively experiencing right now. To deny these feelings is to deny the reality of the situation, and most importantly of all, to deny ourselves. It is my experience and understanding that these feelings of dis-ease will lurk in the background and demand our attention, until we acknowledge and process them, on our own and together.
So my hope is that this post might encourage a pause, to create some space to let it all sink in. Why is this important? There is no healing and resolution of these difficult feelings without acknowledgement. I want to invite us all to slow down and acknowledge the tragedy and hardship that is occurring —to take a moment. There is a collective trauma that is taking place, and right now it feels as though we are unwilling to be with it. It is incredibly difficult, no one can deny that and it is easy to see why avoidance is preferable. There may be an underlying fear that acknowledging will lead us to being stuck in a swamp of negativity. As I often tell my clients (and myself), everything passes.
So, be in your feelings. Do nothing for a little bit. Take a good look and see what is present inside you. Try not to distract yourself 24/7 unless you need to (which many of us do). If you find that you have the capacity to hold a space for yourself to feel upset about the situation without spiralling, then please do so. Do so for yourself and for all of us. Why do I say this? I say it because otherwise, we are just operating from distraction and denial rather than presence and wisdom. I am not minimising or discounting the fact that right now, a lot of us need a distraction from a reality that feels terrifying and overwhelming. My hope is that that too will pass and slowly begin to give way for something that allows an integration of the reality in which we find ourselves.
If there is sadness, fear, anxiety, terror, uncertainty, or all the above, allow those feelings to just be there. You do not have to do anything with them. Or, if you want to, you could name them to yourself, perhaps be interested in where you may feel them in your body. Then dance, move, sing, create, run, write, punch pillows, cry—do whatever feels expressive of what is inside of you. It goes without saying (but I will say it) if you need support and help in coping, that is okay too. Please reach out to a trusted friend or mental health professional.
What do you do if you are not quite ready to embrace reality but you also want to practice self care and be present? Besides disinfecting the house and constantly washing my hands, I made a list of the best way in which I could take care of my heart and spirit in these times:
- Stick with my daily meditation practice. It’s easy to lose track of time when the days blend into one another, but now more than ever, and if it something that you usually do, meditation practice is so important. Also, I no longer have the excuse “I don’t have time” these days—all I seem to have is time, I just need to remain on track.
- Maintain contact. Now is a great time to make sure that we check on the ones who matter to us, and those who we rarely get to see in person because they are so far away. However, it’s very easy to lose track of time—especially across time zones—so perhaps setting up times to check in, chat and hang out and even eat “dinner” together can help to restore some social structure to the day.
- Get outdoors. If you are blessed to live in a place where there are green spaces or water (that are not closed during the pandemic) and you can access them with walks, runs, and bikes, it’s a blessing that should be used (complying with social distancing of course). Each day and usually early morning, I get outside and active for an endorphin release.
- Give yourself permission to cry. I know that I will inevitably feel sad, disheartened, or downright hopeless at times, but I also know that giving myself permission to feel these emotions fully will help me release any emotional pain.
- Limit how often I access the news and information. I have noticed how I feel when I watch the news or hear certain people speak, so now, I limit myself to 30 minutes of news per day on the television. Otherwise, I mostly get my news online by reading articles and transcripts of press conferences. I also make sure to not watch the news before I go to bed, because it can get me all worked up, which is counterproductive.
- Be there for others without depleting myself. I am in a position of privilege to help others and that I can use my platform to help family, friends, neighbours, community members and even strangers. What skills can you bring to this moment in order to be of service? As always, it’s important to recognise and hold the boundaries that are safe for you. Offering help to others can give you meaning during this time of uncertainty.
Remember, distraction can feel effective because it allowing us to gain a safe psychological distance from what is happening. It would not be authentic for me to say that I have never done it myself during times when I feel unable to fully cope with life—as my Netflix queue would attest. And of all the vices that we could have, it is pretty innocuous in moderation. It is worth holding that it also will not solve what is bothering us. Denying what we feel, even to ourselves, takes us further away from true connection, not only with ourselves but also with others. So be real and vulnerable with yourself. Admit what is going on and if it feels right, share it with others. You are not alone. Energetically, one perspective on all that we are experiencing is that we are all being pushed to face our deepest fears and to find our new emotional edge.