In Ohio, we have now reached a startling anniversary — more than a month of shelter in place. I have had a lot of clients asking me “how do I cope?” What I have seen most often is questions about how to parent, what is healthy and normal or not, what is a sign of depression or anxiety versus what is expected anxiety and sadness. People don’t tend to want to cope when they don’t understand or cannot comprehend what is going on. People are asking what is “normal” and I fear that is the last thing we should be trying to do. It is one thing to make lemons out of lemonade, but it is another thing to pretend mud is chocolate. However, just because things aren’t normal doesn’t mean we can’t find positives, joy, grieve, learn etc. So here I am writing this blog with all the answers. Just kidding.
I have never been through a pandemic before. How about you? Yeah, we are figuring this out together. The only fleeting comparison I could wrangle about this experience was when I stayed home for a full 8 weeks when my first daughter was born. It was the middle of winter and the pediatrician recommended me not taking her out anywhere for 8 weeks. Even then when it was for her safety, I still felt all sorts of emotions. Then, I knew of an end date. I could leave the house when my husband came home. I could have visitors over. The toll it took on me mentally, even though I knew it was for the best, caused anxiety that was triggered every time I anticipated my next children’s due date.
This is a whole different level. This is unprecedented. I have anxiety about how this will change us. I am also afraid if it doesn’t change us. I have peace knowing my family is home and safe. But I feel a loss for my sister who is a senior in high school. I am on a teeter totter of gratitude, sadness, dread, hope, worry, love. Are you experiencing this, too? I would be concerned if you weren’t feeling a variety of emotions.
Remember that emotions and thoughts are fleeting. If we dig in and focus on the unpleasant thoughts and feelings, then they get more power (In a future blog, I’ll clarify that there is a difference between focusing on thoughts and feelings and acknowledging them, which is important). Our reactions to thoughts, feelings and our body have more weight than the thoughts and feelings themselves.
Jim Gaffigan, a comedian, told a joke that having a fourth child is like someone handing you a baby while you are drowning. There is truth to that. When the pandemic hit, some of you got handed, no many of you got handed, metaphorical babies: financial burdens, loneliness, lack of community, lack of human touch, lack of safety, and more. Some of you have been drowning for a while. Some of you were afraid to go into the water in the first place.
We don’t worry about coping when we feel like we are trying to survive. Students aren’t worrying about their grades when their lives have been turned upside down. We don’t worry about how our makeup looks when we are going into the shower. It would seem strange otherwise.
I wish I had all the answers. We are trying to get through each day too. My husband and I are grateful to both run our own company and can do so from home. The unfortunate slowness of both our jobs has allowed us to fill in as teachers. We are now somehow homeschooling our four children. (NOTE: There is a reason I went into higher ed and not k-12. I am a terrible teacher!)
As I am typing this, the power went out in our house. It is also hailing. What I wouldn’t give to get Starbucks and walk around Target just to get my steps in. I can’t do that right now.
However, I do have the ability to find ways to honor my values today: be nice and do my best. (Ugh, shopping at Target feels a lot easier. Even in the dark!!)
So, what’s my professional advice? Well, I don’t have one answer, but I have a few ideas that I will share over the next few days. What do you want to know, process, have support with? We want to hear your thoughts – leave them in the comments below.
Jennifer Yensel, PhD