Week 12 - I feel fine
How are all of you doing - this 1st or 4th or 10th week of staying at home, of social distancing, of physical isolation?
I thought I was doing great, everything was just fine. And then, this meme brought it crashing down on me.
The tension between being there for our families in the human, messy redundacy filled way, and the internal pressure a lot of us feel to Be Productive, to Maximize our time, to use this time to improve ourselves tremendously, immersed as we are in this capitalist, efficiency obsessed - optimized to the extreme - performance - impact oriented culture of ours - is brought right to the surface, and bringing me down.
Aisha Ahmen, in her piece Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure says it right out:
Know that you are not failing. Let go of all of the profoundly daft ideas you have about what you should be doing right now. Instead, focus intensely on your physical and psychological security.
She calls this the first stage of dealing with epidemics - the stage where we secure our bases, where we give ourselves enough time, room, space for mental adjustments. According to her, this can feel uncomfortable, feed bad even.
Stage 2, the Mental Shift stage, according to Aisha, is when you feel more stable, and your body and mind have adjusted.
This mental shift will make it possible for you to return to being a high-performance scholar, even under extreme conditions. However, do not rush or prejudge your mental shift, especially if you have never experienced a disaster before.
At the start of the week, week 4 of this new state of things, I would have said that I was totally beyond this stage, and well on to Stage 3 - where I have embraced the new normal. At the start of this week, I have a routine. We, as a family have routines, Things are humming along pretty fine, maybe a groan here and a squeak there. It's all fine. Except, it wasn't.
Understand that this is a marathon. If you sprint at the beginning, you will vomit on your shoes by the end of the month. Emotionally prepare for this crisis to continue for 12 to 18 months, followed by a slow recovery.
And I found myself dry-heaving by Wednesday morning. The constant doing, the filling up of schedules to the brim, the constant adding of stuff to my to-do list, and the fretting of "I need to be doing that", when I'm doing this, worrying about my productivity, then worrying about not taking it easy. All these, my inherent patterns, all rose to the top helped along by the crisis.
Why this incessant, frantic doing? Grief, as per Scott Berinato, in his piece on HBR, That Discomfort You're Feeling is Grief. When I first read this piece, I was in denial - I am lucky. I am privileged. Why would I feel grief?
This cover of R.E.M's "Its the end of the world as we know it" by physicists Sabine Hossenfelder and Tim Palmer embodies this franticness the best:
Scott points out that
The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.
Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain.
I feel fortunate, and feel guilty that I am fortunate. Feel the need to do something, anything to help others. And realize that I am already full of things to do and I can't take on anything more without losing my mental health. Scott points out what causes this racing mind, this 'let me do everything and keep busy' thing.
One unfortunate byproduct of the self-help movement is we’re the first generation to have feelings about our feelings. We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad.
And Aisha tells us
Be slow. Let this distract you. Let it change how you think and how you see the world.
A few other ideas of what this slowing down means, what we need to do:
- Limit your inputs. Give yourself timed windows to browse, get on twitter, check the '#coronavirus' channels or reddits or what have you. Try to get away from other's incorporeal voices for at least some part of the day. Let the others being super productive or not - just be. (Ironically)
Be intentional and slow things down to a snail's pace. Even at work. Especially at work.
Slowing things down doesn't mean they don't get done - just at a different pace, in a different way
Choose to slow down.
Choose to feel.
Choose to accept
- Don't pick up the old normal way of doing things and being, and just shove it into this new. Give room and air for an evolution of your way of doing and being.
Pause, and transition between things with a break - deep breaths, a bit of calm, a bit of air and sunshine. Let the liminal moments bring you joy.
Written on April 5, 2020 because I needed to read this.
This was Issue #12 of the Year of the Turtle. You can see all the past newsletters on this website.
The fonts used here are from David Jonathan Ross' Font of the Month Club