Pandemic Prompts – #1

Last week, as the Global Pandemic began rolling in, orders to stay indoors and to not go out of our homes began in earnest.

And just like that we all started to ask the same question:

“What are we going to do for the next few weeks at home, in isolation?”

In response, a tidal wave of ideas, content, and options to help keep you busy, motivated and productive began poring in. More and more every day.

So now the question isn’t so much, what will you do, but how do you choose?

How do you choose when the options are endless? And what are appropriate expectations for yourself and others during this strange time?

When we have so many choices and one little body that has finite energy and emotional bandwidth it’s a sure bet we will enter the overwhelmed state of Option Paralysis.

What should you do?” is what we all want to know, but, “What can you actually GET yourself to do?” is the question that is more than likely tripping most of us up.

This is an age old tension that is exacerbated in times of stress: while our brains go into hyper drive and start making lists, charts and graphs, your body can simultaneously become more and more unresponsive, heavy and resistant.

Right after your energized pep talk to yourself your body probably responded by regressing into an overtired and lethargic equivalent of a five year old who doesn’t want to do anything but sit on the floor and cry.

Then all of you is crying, Body, Heart and Soul.

How will you find your way when nothing is as it “should” be? How in the midst of so much new chaos and input, do you even figure out what you need and/or want?

But more importantly, how do coax your body out of the fetal position and toward the shiny object of a good book, self care or something “productive,” so you can start to feel at least semi okay again?

The questions from this poem invite us to consider that our bodies may not be the issue. It’s entirely likely that you haven’t moved because your body has no other way to tell you that something, (an expectation, process, or how a physical space is set up, etc…) isn’t working.

The body is communicating the only way it’s been given, through shutting down, pain, tension, tears, emotions, feelings and movements. If something isn’t working, maybe don’t push through, ignore, throw a fit, or bully him/her into submission. Rather, as gently as you can, listen for what your body asking you to look at, address or change.

In many ways, this global crisis has been made worse by our reluctance to listen to our bodies. As a society we have rewarded pushing through and ignoring symptoms. Listening to our bodies takes practice and intention and begins with noticing what feelings are coming up and what those feelings are asking you to name.

It’s okay to not know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and it’s okay to take time to let the scared, confused and grieving five year old in you hug your stuffed bear and calm down naturally. It’s good to go slow and ask yourself what sounds good and/or right for you to do next.

In my experience, the answers often won’t have much to do with productivity at first, but may prompt you to establish some boundaries and set up some safe or creative space for engagement with whomever and whatever you need to engage with.

Go slow. Take your time. Allow the limits of life right now to be re-framed as creative challenges. Let your body tell you what’s next, and believe him or her when they say, “The way you are trying to force yourself to do something, it isn’t working.”

Hello

I was so worried the weather would be poor, that the rain would pound and I wouldn’t be able to stay dry. I found myself rubbing my right wrist with my left hand and looking into a distance that the wall in front of me could not reveal.

What would happen when they stuck a tube up my nose? What did a heart cath procedure feel like? How much numbing medication would be available? Was anesthesia an option for any of this?

What would the “lung transplant class” actually teach me? Could I play hooky? What would I do with my hands while I listened? At what point during the two weeks of tests would I have an emotional break down? What if I got sick?!

The clouds of worry kept getting darker the closer to Sunday and my flight to Seattle became. I found myself more worried it would turn into a lightning storm setting fire to unknown parts of me, than I was about the fact that I was being evaluated for a double lung and liver transplant.

Anxiety wreaks havoc on my imagination, I  know this. I knew this. I did my best to mother myself before hand – responding to each internal outburst of worry with a deep sigh and, “you’ll be fine,” but also trying to hide my worry from my anxiety.

How do I reconcile the manic, the depressive, the anxious and the adult parts of myself? Knowing is only half the battle. The other is believing yourself.

I did my best to set up way stations of rest throughout the two weeks I would be gone. I flew my mom in half way through, in case of an emotional breakdown. I made sure to stay with family, and to not over-schedule myself. At the last minute I remembered to pack good food for my mind and soul.

A huge boon was Pádraig Ó Tuama’s meditation of saying hello to whatever you meet. I had his book, “In the Shelter” with me and it helped keep me grounded to each place and feeling I was in.

Hello to this room and this machine. Hello to this new experience. Hello to the knot rising in my chest and the cloud brewing in my head. Hello to the discomfort and the waiting. Hello to the funny jokes and delicious food. Hello to the knowing and to all the things still unknown. Hello.

The cadence of greeting changed the experience for me in a revolutionary way. All of a sudden I realized the choice had been to engage or not, to turn toward the experience with curiosity rather than letting my anxious imagination dictate the terms.

In many ways it felt like I was a child again and one of my parents was telling me to acknowledge a guest. Pay attention they would say, don’t be rude. Just stop and say hello.

I am always afraid I will be on the hook for something if I say hello or acknowledge that I have seen or heard. I’m terrified that I can only do everything or nothing. “Everything” in my mind is all the hypothetical situations I can imagine may happen. I create escape routes and try to predict how I will feel in each situation.

To justify this type of mental exercise I tell myself I’m “preparing,” but really, for me, I’m saying yes to burn out. It’s the quickest way to use up all my energy before anything has happened. I’m slowly getting better at catching and reminding myself to simply plan for what I know I will always need: a nourishing book (or podcast), good company, an easy schedule and food.

Engagement, as opposed to “preparing,” I’m finding, is simply looking up and saying hello without having to know “everything.” I would have missed the beauty and enjoyment of the last two weeks if I had insisted they needed to be hard. The truth is, I didn’t quite know what they would be. I knew, however, if I let the gloom of the clouds I was feeling write the story off before it happened, then I would have missed it. Each day was its own experience, and more often than not, the sun broke through the clouds and all went well.