Change is Constant
I haven’t been able to write a blog in over three months. And now it’s the end of Mental Health Awareness Month (well, that was back in May, and I never acknowledged it), and over a month past the year’s anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, and over a year of pandemic shut down that’s recently being lifted, and a full moon, lunar eclipse and blood moon occurring all at once, followed by the summer solstice, terrible anti-Asian hate, mass shootings in my home town and where I live, Derek Chauvin’s sentencing (not enough years to make up for the pain and loss he brought about), building collapse in my sibling’s neighborhood, friends’ memorial services, loved ones suffering illness, injury, devastation…
Seems like a good time to try to write something that might be helpful, soothing, informational, clarifying. Some folks have inquired with me, wondering where my words are, because they’ve been so long in coming and they miss what I might say or offer about these times. So, I will try to do that here. I’ll try to reflect a bit and offer some gentle (but hard-earned) wisdom. – and I will try to finish this one as well. (My apologies in advance for the lengthiness of this post.)
I certainly have a lot of notes, a lot of ideas, and reflections of what this last period of time has meant to me, or what I’ve been thinking about and contemplating. I have many experiences to draw inspiration from; many emotional landscapes I have visited throughout this time – ranging from things I’ve been deeply touched by, or wounded by, enraged by, and even inspired by; things I’ve ventured to try; things I’ve retreated in fear from…
I’m sure you’ve had your own (interesting and sometimes overwhelming) journey as well. These up and down journeys can feel a little unwieldy or unsettling, or outright crazy making. They can make us doubtful to express what we are troubled or confused by, and contribute to a sense of aloneness.
I’m here to say it’s all a natural and understandable process to go through, after a year-plus of what we have collectively experienced and struggled through. That would be good mental health actually – to simply name and make space for the range of emotions you have had – even the unpleasant ones. Identifying what we struggle with is an important early step in our healing. I wish more of us (including myself) could see our own difficult emotions as a gentle beckoning to take care of ourselves and have some self compassion for what we go through. More acceptance of these emotional landscapes.
There’s a lot of pressure to act like everything is fine; back to normal like it was before, denying all these crazy things we’ve been through and all these crazy things we’ve been thinking and feeling.
I saw on a TV show somebody pointing out the damage or danger that can occur with too much positive thinking – that it can be traumatizing to hear someone focus only on the positive – glass-half-full part of life and ignore the real struggle that people are having. It can feel like gaslighting.
At the same time, we do need access to our joy, that is all around us, even in the most challenging of times. It’s a tricky balance, this holding space for the joys and sorrows, life and death, hopes and fears, self care and compassion for others, individual and community.
So I encourage you to be honest and true about what’s happening for you. And know you are not alone, if you still can only think of more negative than positive feelings. Do make space for and accept whatever is arising. Let the negativity invite compassion.
I know for me, the biggest thing and most pervasive feeling I’ve been struggling with is a quasi-depression, a sense of no motivation whatsoever, or profound lack of energy to do things I need to do. Burnt out? Feeling like ‘I just don’t feel like …” And all that slogging through the mud but not making much progress or movement…
Of course, as I look at all the privilege I have and have had throughout the pandemic, and all the blessings I’ve had, to not suffer serious and significant loss of anyone close to me, I do also feel some shame to be experiencing this malaise. How dare I complain when so many have struggled so much? But then I remember an important mindfulness principle: “Yes, even this, too.“ I remind myself to be open to all aspects of my experience and hold space for them…
…Like I do for others… I had a client say to me recently, that I am her Mr. Miyagi, continually helping her to “Stay out of the mud, Daniel-san.” I love that image and the gentle acceptance that that conveys.
And that’s what I would like to convey to you in this blog. A Mr. Miyagi path of sorts, to follow, to get out of the mud, that so easily draws us in. My own path out of the mud has been to simply write and start to let things flow. (Although you wouldn’t know it by the numbers of starts and fits, and edits and stops, and doubts, this particular article has been fraught with!)
The MUD can feel like and include:
- Being blindsided and confused by recent CDC mask requirements and the seeming free-for-all opening up, even though all is not safe
- The feeling of languishing (failure to make progress or to be successful, stagnation and emptiness) or not being able to be motivated or to move forward on anything (did I mention the slogging?)
- Hearing about breakthrough infections for people who have been vaccinated
- A ‘cave syndrome’ that we’re experiencing where we may have strong negative associations with encountering other folks, even those we love
- An anxiety we feel about opening up, showing up as ongoing low level panic attacks
- Not being used to (and feeling a little afraid of) seeing full faces on people or being able to give hugs
- Variants that get transmitted rapidly causing devastation to countries like India, or vulnerable communities at home
- Wanting to go out and get out, but feeling uncertain and scared at the same time. Or simply forgetting safe practices we’ve adopted.
- Couples spending too much time together and experiencing too much boredom, distress, lack of connection, arguing, being on separate paths
- Anti-Asian (AAPI) hate and escalated violence in our communities
- Thinking about returning to the workplace, which can be tricky especially when there are others who haven’t been vaccinated
- Or being apprehensive about returning to work and having to relinquish the autonomy or control (or maybe even peace and quiet) you’ve developed recently, over your work space and productivity, having been able to work from home.
- Or having to give up all that extra time you’ve gotten used to spending with your family.
- Knowing there’s still quite a number of people who do not want to vaccinate no matter what. Hard to know how to relate to them.
- A feeling that we can’t keep up with all the changes
- Having rusty social skills since we haven’t used them in such a long time, or feeling ‘dumb’ when you have to talk to someone and you can’t find the words or thoughts in any coherent form.
- A steep learning curve (again). It takes time to learn or unlearn. The awkwardness we feel when learning how to unlearn. “Our brains are wired for connection, but trauma rewired us for self-preservation.” – Jeremy Adam Smith
- Risk is never zero and we’re looking for a perfect situation or total control
- So much pain of isolation that people have experienced during the prolonged shut down
- Feels a little like PTSD – only there’s no Post to this trauma yet
- Introverts may have appreciated the changes we’ve adapted to and feel anxious as things are changing back
- Any kind of socializing can feel seriously over-exhausting
- Lots of painful recognition of the extent of some people’s privilege and the lack of others’, especially POC and essential workers, and all the inequities that have ensued during Covid time, and our awareness that this isn’t over
- Grief and loss we haven’t been able to tend to or heal from
- Anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, Derek Chauvin’s trial and all of the trauma it brings up again and again.
- Dreading having to deal with traffic, parking, schedules, the streets, micro aggressions, the busyness of life.
- The stories we tell ourselves when we feel overwhelmed, scared, not in control, angry, othered, that don’t fuel compassion for oneself or another. Yes, the world can suck, but do we have to make it worse for ourselves?
…Now Danielle-san, gently step out of the mud. When you jump up and down in it, you sink. The path out is not the quickest or easy way out path. It takes practice and hard work. But you can do it, Danielle-san…Don’t look outside of yourself for the path. Look inside. I will help you Danielle-san. Close your eyes and listen to your heart, Danielle-san….I have seen you show your courage before, Danielle-san. This is no different. Remember what you have learned, Danielle-san…Remember who you are. Your struggle does not define you Danielle-san…Practicing mindful breathing every day for a few moments will give you peace in your heart when it gets inflamed, Danielle-San…
And here is a PATH of sorts, to guide you out of the mud…
- This is another time of adaptation. You have to unlearn old behaviors and remember your capacity to learn new behaviors again
- When breathing, breathe compassion in and out. Compassion for yourself in, and compassion for others out
- In your couple relationships make sure to talk through the changes that are coming up and how you feel about them
- Remember the importance of gratitude, for things large and small in your life
- Reflect on what the pandemic has meant to you
- What have you learned about yourself, your relationship, your family, your priorities, your community? Reflect on these and hold them.
- What are the new priorities you have come to understand that you want to include in your daily life?
- Allow yourself and your family groups and work groups to stave off the noise – limit social media and negative news sources. Have awareness of your body and breath. Let everyone’s voice be heard, by checking in and acknowledge where they are at.
- Notice how the pandemic has changed you
- Name the blessings and hardships of the pandemic you have discovered
- Slowly start to host parties or gatherings or reconnect with loved ones
- Start small. It’s OK to go back to more restrictiveness
- Take every opportunity to pause, name how you’re feeling – even (and especially) the difficult feelings (fear, loss, anger, sadness about your cozy world changing, etc.)
- Have patience for the fact that nobody is their best self right now
- Be gentle and mindful
- Count your breaths in. Count your exhales
- Take the time that it takes to unlearn and learn new
- Adapt slowly as the situation changes
- Renew connections even though risk might be involved. Be thoughtful but not paralyzed with fear about that risk.
- Don’t try to avoid any anxiety whatsoever, but to learn to live with it better
- Pause, allow yourself to change the story you tell yourself about habits, connections, struggles, the way things should be
- Set, accept and hold your boundaries – thank you for taking care of yourself. Practice fierce self compassion
- Have curiosity about other peoples’ burdens and boundaries.
- Have appreciation for every little hard thing you have faced and gotten through
- Wonder out loud ‘What has this time been like for you?’
- Take small risks in part to build a life worth living. When not doing what we feel anxious or nervous about is carried out too long, the more reticent we become.
- Weigh the risks of isolation to mental health versus to your personal health
- Change your expectations, break things down to small doable pieces
- Have faith in your own ability to adapt
- Don’t forget the extent of your own privilege and use it to help rather than cause harm
- Remember your best practices for dealing with this pandemic: 1) wash your hands frequently 2) practice social distancing, 3) follow mask guidelines 4) stay home if you feel ill 5) *Practice Mindfulness (*This last one hasn’t been emphasized enough, but should be at the top of the list!)
- And finally, a Pathway to Inner Peace poem, written by Dorothy Hunt: “Do you think peace will come some other place than here; some other time than now; in some other heart than yours? Peace is this moment without judgment. That is all. This moment in the heart space where everything that is, is welcome. Peace in this moment without thinking it should be some other way. That you should feel some other thing. That your life should unfold according to your plans. Peace is this moment without judgment. This moment in the heart space where everything that is, is welcome…”
I WISH YOU PEACE…
So that’s my long and long overdue blog post. This has helped me to get a little out of the mud, by writing it out. Of course the path is a little muddy too, but I understand and expect that.
Thank you if you’ve read this far. And thank you for the courage you have shown, and the tender and open heartedness you have shown over the last fifteen-plus months. Many blessings and gratitudes to you.
I have just finished participating in a series on mindfulness and compassion that was lovely and healing to me, and will share the gems I got from that in my next blog – soon. I’ve also got some reflections on the many blessings we’ve discovered during the pandemic, coming soon. And then some focus on helping couples of color to manage through post-pandemic challenges and transitions with more joy and connection. Look for those articles in your email or on my website.