For me, the fog started Sunday. It yanked on my self-esteem, picked at all the things I should be doing, that I could be doing. It grew over the next few days, until I was doubting who I was and how I was letting everyone down. As it got darker, I started to hear from others. They had their own fogs, too. Maybe theirs looked like mine, dipped in anxiety, or their version had more fear or sadness. Either way, we were all feeling it.
It seemed like this was the week when all the emotions finally engulfed us, like a biting cold January day. The fear of leaving our house, the uncertainty of what’s next, the unending awful headlines, the loneliness, the grief, the growing numbers, and the continued injustices. No amount of binging TV, cleaning closets, snacking, or virtual happy hours could stop it. The emotions are too strong.
So, I thought I would come here to give us all a pep talk, or maybe just me a pep talk. Either way, I need to write the words I want to hear, and I prefer to share them will all of you. Grab a cup of something warm, and pretend that we are sitting on comfy couch in coffee shop with acoustic music in the background, a hazing afternoon sun streaming through the window, and plants nipping at our elbows.*
March was a long month, I know, and there isn’t much hope for April. Your emotions are heavy bricks. They vary in size and color, but they sit on your throat, making it impossible to ignore. You are OK, you say; others have it worse, so you don’t want to complain.
Still, it’s scary. This is an unprecedented time, meaning there is no playbook on what to do or what to feel. Outside of staying at home, especially if we are sick, and washing our hands for two rounds of Happy Birthday, there are no tips or tricks. There was before this event, and there is now. We don’t know what after looks like yet, but it’s so far away that we can’t even see its outline.
We cope with scrolling, ingesting, numbing. We apologize for our tears, our irritable moods, and our lack of productivity. We make fun of ourselves for too much sleeping, TV, and eating. We pretend that if we aren’t hit in the hardest of ways—with illness, death, loss of income or resources—then we should be OK.
But, we aren’t OK. We don’t have to be.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. I can’t predict how we will come out of this, but what I do know is that the human spirit is threaded with resilience. We are all capable of resilience, and it will look different for each us, as we face different obstacles, but it’s a tool we’ve been given.
Like almost all things in life, most of what is happening in the world is beyond our grasp, and the only thing we can control in this situation is ourselves and our reaction. That’s our focus for now. And the absolute greatest thing we can do during this time is to be gentle with ourselves, which allows us to be gentle with others.
So, friend, I ask you to take care of yourself. Give yourself the space to feel your emotions. Know that they are just and valid. As they stretch around you, comfort yourself. Use that warm voice you have when speaking to a friend. Do whatever you need in the moment, making sure no “should” enter into this sacred space.
Let go of expectation. You do not need to work on that passion project or tick off every item on your to-do list. Move your body only because it brings you peace. Eat without regards to weight. Sleep, watch TV, learn a language, read a book – do the things that bring your soul harmony, and only those things. This is not a time for pushing and punishing. Talk to friends and family but know that’s OK to take a day or a couple to hide under the covers. Ask for help, if you need it.
When the fog hits, be extra gentle to yourself. Take whatever time you need to usher yourself through the emotions, making sure you don’t numb them out but feel them and understand their purpose.
Because, one day, it will be clearer. The situation might not be over, but you will feel hopeful and renewed. These emotions are waves, and so when you are on the top, someone else will be on the bottom. If you have done the work of caring for yourself, only then will you be able to reach out to those with their own fog and give them a guiding light through it. Then, when you are down, others will be your light. That’s the way we get through this, with gentleness to ourselves and kindness to others.
It’s OK to be wherever you are in this journey as one bright spot in this devastating global crisis is that we are all in this together. We have each other, and because of that, we will endure.
Be safe. Be kind.
*(Sioux Falls friends, think Michelle’s, circa 2009.)