It’s going on the third week of being at home. Looking at the map of the spread across the country is like watching the movie “The Day After Tomorrow”. The virtual invisible virus storm slowly creeping through each city. Literally moving at what feels like a glacial pace and freezing everything in its path. Even my Christmas cactus is confused and blooming – yeah, that probably has nothing to do with the pandemic... plants are like cats; they don’t care what is going on with us humans as long as they get food and water.
It is also interesting to see the inside of what is happening as a counselor. Surprisingly it is 50/50 in terms of impact. Some people are seeing it as a benefit and opportunity and others as a hardship and devastation. For some this is a break from what was a tremendous stressor in life. The demand. The relentless ticking of the clock to go out and perform. The anxiety and fear. The lockdown serving like a protective factor and insulation. An opportunity to gain some personal strength. Either with self, family, at home, catch up on work, quality time to improve a skill, or get some projects done. For others it is devastating. Not only due to the threat of catching the virus and possibly dying but also not being able to leave their home. Being stuck indefinitely creating a sense of claustrophobia and loneliness. This IS the worst-case scenario for many folks.
The lessons on both ends of that spectrum can be viewed in various ways. One of which is to demonstrate the value of the internet to keep us connected. The other, it’s lack of ability to fill a human need for physical connection. To be in the presence of other human beings. To have freedom of movement in life. Physically and otherwise. One of the lessons that we can agree on is that this situation forces us to refocus our lens as to what we think we need. A song by Joni Mitchell comes to mind, that “you don’t know what you got til its gone” … like toilet paper. Something we all need so much that the fear of being without it caused a run on it in stores. What we value can take on a whole new dimension from luxury to basics and everything in between when our freedoms are stripped away. Priorities change.
It can be easy to stay in that basic-need mentality but ever so important not to settle on either side of the spectrum. Like Vivien Leigh in “Gone with The Wind”, we can land in an attitude that swears that come hell or high water, “we’re going to live through this, and we will never be without toilet paper again!”. Ok, so it was about hunger in the movie scene, but you get the gist of it. She missed out on the love of her life… depending on your perspective of the movie. Seriously though, it is easy to feel a sense of drama in what is going on. Unfortunately, what we magnify will become bigger. Either to the good or to the bad. There is a lot we may be missing out on by focusing on a problem or lack.
I have my own lived experience with that. For a long time, I believed that I HAD TO HAVE a garage. I know, that is menial compared to what is going on in the world, but that belief cost me a small fortune, stress, and a lot of wasted time over four years. Why? I had set an ideal in my mind based on what I had been without. I became so focused on it that it overshadowed my goals. It became a distraction from doing what I loved and enjoyed. I had confused convenience and helpful with what mattered. Even though there was an entirely different side to my situation, I was focused on one problem; a lack of garage and having to clean off my car in the winter.
The other side, the positive side? For those, nearly, two decades without a garage, I had been privileged to have my own home and property with a private and spectacular panoramic view of several mountain ranges with unbelievable sunsets and serenity. I had also discovered who I was and my strengths, had survived my first bout with cancer, given birth to an amazing daughter, and figured out what I really wanted to do in life. Yet the garage was the focus [sarcasm]… Once I sold my property, and after several moves to find the right spot to settle, I had to forgo a garage. As it turns out it was a small price to pay for peace and a view. The cost of learning that lesson was nothing short of criminal.
So, how can we not let this time get the best of us, to focus, discover, and prioritize what we value the most? The answer begins with those little moment by moment experiences. Our strength is in taking inventory in the now, by leveraging what we know. It’s our underlying belief system that drives motivation and emotional content. The solution is not in one end of the spectrum or the other, it is everything in between. Filtering through the mess and actively being open to what we are experiencing each day. Taking stock and investing in what we favor. Not what we don’t...
Part of that strength is also in the wonderment of how the brain operates in the present. What we expose our mind to on a daily basis. It can create its own reality and the measuring stick by which we live. In other words, what you think you want, and need may not be IT unless you make it that way. There is an option. The saying to be careful what you wish for rings true. What you focus on is what will become not only bigger but clearer, and easier to think about.
Right now, the world, mother nature, or however you are framing it, has hit the re-set button. This is our chance to recalibrate. A moment of time-out for self-discovery about what we love that already exists in our world. On the other side of this could be your miracle. Something you’ve been waiting for. The chance to break free and do something new or build on that which already exists and make it even stronger in your life. Don’t limit your vision to what you don’t have or have been without. If there is one thing that you enjoy about everyday (do, see, experience) build on that. Magnify that. Make it a part of your process towards your larger goals and dreams. Remove the distractions.
I recommend two things while you are riding this COVID-storm out, to hang your hat on:
1. What you look for you will find. This is the time to be your own MacGyver and be creative with what you know and have. There are many wonderful resources from any number of other counselors, psychologists, and coaches who are posting information and practical tips through social media on how to cope. I’m not even going to attempt to add to that. Choose those that resonate with you then make them a part of your new, perhaps temporary routine. Especially first thing in the morning. Refocus to those positive resources. Be determined and stick with it. Change and adaptation takes time. Be patient with the process of adjusting.
2. You can only do what you can do. We are designed to notice and respond to threat. Unfortunately, even our own thoughts can create an internal state that the brain will interpret as a threat. Being drawn to news and information can feel natural and important for survival. We can even make the excuse that we need to “stay informed”. However, only allow it to take up a minimal amount of space in your routine. Pay attention to what is happening in YOUR local community because that is where you are most likely to see the impact for YOU. Then move about your business of discovering what you love about your life now and do what is physically possible not worrying about what you “can’t do”. Focus on what you can do. Be determined.
Getting through anything that shakes and destabilizes our world as we know it is all about normalizing and creating a sense of safety. Focusing on the good means we must limit exposure to the bad. Like the virus. Stay at home. At home in your mind and physically. Be careful what you get exposed to and let in, not just physically. Whatever has been consuming you, maybe its time to let it go. Don't worry about the garage. Stay sane. Stay safe.