Self Love in the Time of Coronavirus
Inner peace might not be the thing most people expect to find while on pandemic lockdown. But as with all great things, it wasn’t something I had planned for. I am a person of goals and aspirations, life curricula and studying and checkpoints, strategies and milestones and… constantly adapting when nothing goes as prescribed.
This was not supposed to be my first blog post. Recently I experienced a life-altering disappointment at work and I started writing about the struggles women face in a male dominated industry… then I made a bold decision to quit that job and I started to write about the value of mental health and the courage sometimes needed to say “no”... then I decided I wanted my blogging to be a universal message about rebuilding and positivity and I was writing about my big comeback as a freelancer in my field… and then a little something called coronavirus hit the news.
That’s typical though, right? That sometimes the tiniest things make the biggest impact. A virus that you can’t even see without a microscope shifted the entire world’s perspective like a tectonic plate lifting up. Suddenly all of those big complicated things in my life were cast from the forefront of my mind because the new concerns were even bigger, but so much simpler…
Stop. Be healthy. Stay alive.
The world did not collectively exhale and quietly agree to stay still and stop the spread of a virus. We’re only human. We did the human thing. We did what we’ve been doing for thousands of years and took “stay alive” and complicated it. We formed opinions and factions and needed to take action and started selling inspiration on a currency of fear. Good things happened and bad things happened and we’ll never know all of the stories to come out of this, so let me get back to telling the only one that I am an authority on… my story.
In the new reality, I was recently unemployed with no inkling of when I could start to remediate that. I filed for UI with a sense of shame and reminded myself that I was one of 36 million Americans doing the same thing. In my particular case, part of my exit strategy from the job was to make sure I was in an affordable domicilic situation while I was rebuilding. It was not and is not palatable, but I don’t need to tell you that life is not just desserts - I do feel grateful knowing I was and am still better off than a lot of people who lost their livelihoods. Sill, I couldn’t abide the thought of sitting in this situation, so I fell into my next well-intentioned “what am I going to do with my life” chapter and joined a volunteer organization. I started driving 30 miles in the predawn to package and distribute meals to children who weren’t receiving their state funded lunches as a result of the schools closing. Wash hands, sanitize, gloves, mask, apron, hairnet, count, carry. Then I’d drive home and spend the rest of the day being subjected to tilted news coverage that the other members of the household were ingesting. I decided I should use this “lockdown” time to catch up, get ahead, be productive, learn new things, do training courses, the reading I never had time for before, get in shape, finish craft projects I’d put on hold, walk the dogs, exercise, cook everything from scratch. How wonderful to have so much free time to not enjoy at all!
My life has been fraught with traumatic situations. I didn’t see any of them as traumas until after 30 years of carrying all this extra emotional weight around, I had an experience in 2018 that I couldn’t hide from or explain away, so I started cognitive behavioral therapy. I learned not to hide from my life. I learned coping methods for the physical symptoms of my Disorder and to get through the day with the racing thoughts and spiking emotions. It’s been a difficult road to walk, but the benefits have been well worth it; CBT helped and my life improved dramatically.
This is the story. This is what I want people to know:
Coping isn’t Healing.
I was carrying on at breakneck speed and feeling just as inadequate as usual. The volunteer organization I belong to is quite excellent and one of the things they excel at is recognizing the need for emotional health in troubled times and always. Mental health resources are always available through the volunteer website or the phone hotline, and it’s not unusual to get a call from someone on the team to check in on how you’re handling your volunteer assignment and life in general. That’s great, that’s wonderful, but no I’m fine, I’m not going to access any of those resources because I’m okay. Coping isn’t Healing… and Repressing isn’t Coping. I had been unwittingly Repressing for three decades and opening up little bits in CBT sessions had allowed me to fool myself that… I’m healthy, I’m fine. In March, volunteers who were working on the COVID-19 front lines were offered a free one year subscription to a meditation app. Meditation is something I had dabbled in as part of my martial arts training many many years ago, but it’s easy to lose sight of what “successful” meditation is. It’s about controlling the mind, no! it’s about clearing the mind, no! it’s about focusing. I was about to learn that for me, meditation is about relaxing the mind and once it’s relaxed, you can explore it without fear.
In the long list of productive activities I was subjecting myself to every day - because yay! free time to misuse! - I started squeezing in meditation. Because that’s how it works, right? Cram meditation in on the list like everything else. As I started to do routine sessions, changes started happening very quickly. Changes in my breathing, changes in my thought patterns, changes to my mood… And as my mind relaxed I started to see things very differently I was able to pull back for a broader viewpoint on the day-to-day. Generally, I became calmer, more content. Until one day, I was sitting quietly and painting, no music just alone with my thoughts, and BLAM my mind took me somewhere unexpected. I’m a regular sufferer of depression, anxiety, panic disorder and PTSD. But this wasn’t a PTSD episode like I had ever experienced. It was like I was watching myself experience a memory with all of its sensations and emotions intact. And when it finished playing I cried silently for a few moments because I realized that memory was something I’ve been carrying around in the background without having ever taken the time to fully process what had happened. I’m fine, move on, I’m fine, move on… but these experiences that we move on from linger there in the shadowy middle section of the mind, taking up space and adding weight to every single day.
My CBT and I discussed this experience and her reaction was essentially, “Ah, meditation. Yep. You’re doing it.”
Processing is incredibly exhausting, but nowhere near as exhausting as half living day to day with depression and anxiety as the norm. If I were living in my typical work-a-day life, there’s no way I could have taken the time to fully explore my repressed memories and learn to relax and enjoy the days for what they are and indulge in mindfulness activities. But friends - right now we have that time.
Have you ever heard someone say, “You need to take time for yourself.” I never knew what that meant until that time was forced upon me. I believe we’re staying home to help keep each other safe right now, but it’s not lockdown… it’s a retreat. And we don’t have to burn vacation days or sick time to embrace it. We’re not missing out on anything except for ourselves. We’re not missing out on anything except for mental and emotional health. Once you start looking inward, you start to realize you have all the space you need. And by investing the time in yourself now, when the pace of life picks up again, you get to take that peace with you.
Color is a little brighter. Sounds a little more clear. Tastes are richer. Smells more noticeable and enjoyable. Awareness and mindfulness are already there. Settle in to your life.