We all have those “Aha” moments. The moment when you learn about something that gives you clarity that you may or may not have known you were seeking. I had this kind of moment tonight and it is a moment that I truly needed. Let me explain, I’m miserable. Starting a virtual school year after working non-stop all summer has left me feeling so drained. I’m used to feeling stressed at the beginning of a school year, but it’s usually a “good” stress. The stress of setting up a classroom and organizing materials so my students and I have a great year. This year my stress comes from the negative feedback from community members, the lack of social contact, and the stress of making everything physical, virtual. Trying to balance my chornic illness with my new virtual career has left me exhausted both physcially and emotionally. All of my energy goes into work and I sadly ave nothing left for myself. As exhausted as I am, I can’t sleep. I worry. I worry about my health. I worry about my parents and their health. I worry about working in person during COVID19. I often say I’m not afraid of getting the virus, but I fear the virus will prevent me from getting to my parents if they need me or preventing me from working and I can’t pay my bills. Working all day and worrying all night. Let’s just say, I’m not a party to be around right now. Someone recommended that I read an article called “Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful. Here’s how to pull yourself out of despair and live your life“ by Tara Haelle (click on title to go to the article). She said I may relate to the topic. Not only did I relate to the topic of Surge Depletion, I feel like it is helping me re-frame my COVID existance.
What is Surge Capacity? Haelle writes: “Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.” It’s how mom’s lift cars off of children, and how I was able to drag myself up a flight of stairs with a broken leg. It’s short term. I can honestly say that I entered this pandemic thinking it would be short term. I never expected to here 6 months later…..still feeling stressed. Still unsure of the future. Pandemics have no end date. We can hope. We’re told to expect the unexpected. It’s stressful, it’s exhausting, and sadly, it’s reality. Plus the political climate, social unrest, and economic status in the news can make anyone feel excess stress. I find myself limiting my access to news because my heart bleeds over situations in which I have no control over or ability to fix. There has been a commercial on the radio that says, “2020 has been a gut punch”. No truer words have ever been stated. I often joke that I want to take a nap that lasts until 2022 because I am too skeptical to have high hopes for 2021. Finding this article has convinced me that I need to change things in my life if I a going to come out the other side of 2020 with a healthy body and mind.
Haelle’s “Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted” article summarizes her struggles during the pandemic, then summarizes information from Masten, Boss, and Maddaus on figuring out a way to navigate experiences with which we have no compass. I found her writing to be profound and it has inspired me to take a deeper look at how I am dealing with life in a pandemic.
Accept that life is different now. This, I can do. I have a friend who keeps saying, “I hate hearing this is the NEW normal”. I don’t love hearing it, but I accept it. I’m not going to cling to how I like things to be. Change is never easy, but without it we become stuck. I miss going to dinner, I miss socializing. I know I will do it again, but for right now my normal is staying home and being extra cautious. I’ve also been pushing myself to change I terms of my understanding of social issues. I like to think I am a compassionate person who has an understanding of both sides; however, I did put time into read more about diversity, racism, and socioeconomic issues this summer I faced some uncomfortable realizations about myself and I am working to do better for my friends, my students, my community, and myself.(I’ll include those books at the end for your reference/interest).
Expect less from yourself: I admit it. I don’t know how to do this. I’m literally tying myself in knots. Being an educator, school closings have been very difficult. School being closed does not work for everyone. Those against school closure have demanded that teachers be fired. We’ve been called us cowards, lazy, and expendable. All the negativity made me put all my energy into doing a good job. That first month I worked from 8 am until 11 pm 4 days a week. Trying desperately to make my therapy “virtual” and accessible. Six months later and the vitriol is even worse. I literally feel sick starting a new year. Work has always been my haven. I love my career. I love my students/clients, and colleagues. I miss my normal life, but I am still trying to hold myself to my normal level of functioning and it’s exhasting me. I’m miserable, depressed, and so very, very tired. I don’t know how to expect less from myself when I feel like I am being judged more than ever. I realize these are uncharted waters and I should cut myself some slack, but I don’t know how to do that. One change I am making is working less. I worked multiple “second jobs” to provide for my sick dog. I needed money to fulfill her needs. I’m now trying to decrease my workload. Ironically, I feel lazy. This is an area in which I really need to get better.
Experiment with “both/and” thinking: This is a bit ambiguous. It basically means you reframe reality. For example, a loved one disappears at sea. Their body is never recovered. In reality, you know that loved one is most likely dead, BUT there is still that shred of hope that person may be alive somewhere and just can’t find their way home. One way to look at this is to avoid crippling your life due to fear of the unknown. So altough I am aware COVID-19 is dangerous, I still try to maintain some level of hope that I will be fine, and so will my loved ones. To do this, I’ve read tons of medical articles on rheumatic diseases and autoimmune disease and the virus. I don’t fear dying from the virus, but I am very aware that I am more likely to have complications or take a lot longer to recover due to organ damage/issues. I’ve protected myself by not going anywhere, but I know I need to expose myself a bit more in ways that are safe. I’m not 100% convinced that there is a completely safe way, but i guess I could get hit by a bus or slip in the shower. Nothing in life ever has a 100% guarantee
Look for activities, new and old, that continue to fulfill you: I love to read and/or listen to books. Since March, I’ve had a hard time reading something new. I’ve re-read or re-listened to so many favorite series. I find it oddly comforting to be able to know an outcome. Eventually, I did read some new things. I’m also pretty sure that I have finished streaming all TV programing and movies on the Internet (I’m patiently waiting for my certificate of completion). The one thing I have slacked off on is exercise. I need to get back to it. I miss it. My body hasn’t been cooperative, so I need to navigate that. Getting a puppy was definitely a good thing to do. My little ray of sunshine makes me so happy. I forgot what that felt like. I wanted to try a hobby like knitting or painting, but my hands are a bit too inflamed for that right now. I have time for that in the future.
Focus on maintaining and strengthening important relationships: Zoom has been a life saver in many ways, even when I dispise it. I’ve reconnected with old friends and have maintained relationship with others, including family. I’ve not been able to convince some of my friends to zoom with me. Their refusal hurt my feelings, but it is what it is. I choose to focus on people who are invested in me and check in. I’ve had friends experience some awful things over the past few months. I am trying to reach out to them as well. I have to be a friend to have friends. Life gets complicated, but I continue to invest in those who invest in me, but in saying that, I am aware that others may be having a hard time of their own. I’m not going to judge. My biggest support system during this time has been my neighbors. We get together outdoors and maintain distance as needed. I don’t think I would have survived this pandemic without them. We laugh, vent, and live together in fairly close quarters. It makes a difficult situation a bit better when you have a network surrounding you.
Begin slowly building your resilience bank account: This is the hardest one (in my opinion). You have to build up your your ability to handle the hard stuff. Slowly building up resilience so that you create patterns that allow you to compensate when the going gets tough. I think we all hope we have this bank of resilience, but honestly, I don’t think we ever know how much we have inside us until it’s time to dig in. I know people who are amazingly strong during emergencies. I’ve had times when I was strong and I’ve had times when I was weak. At the end of the day, I know I have to be strong and accept the weak moments arise then move on. I can’t be strong all the time. Being chronically ill has taught me that lesson well. Today was actually a day of weakness. I had a memory of Georgia come rushing back to me. I must have sobbed 5 times today because I miss her so much. In addition, I’m in some serious pain. I put in a full day work and then some all the while icing/heating my shoulder, and popping NSAIDs. I think it made the memories a little tougher to deal with today. Being chronically ill requires resiliance even when that illness stretches you too far. I’ve been struggling with resiliency. I’m not sleeping well. I’m wrung out. It makes being resliant very difficult. I’m going to try to get back in to meditation and yoga. I need to build my bank back up.
I’m trying to form a plan to be more positive, healthier, stronger, and resiliant. It’s daunting. I try so hard to be kind to others. I think it might be time to be more kind to myself. I’m literally running on empty and I’m tired of having this weird exhaustive depression. Life is hard enough trying to manage a chronic illness and all that it entails. Add in a pandemic and what is already hard begins to suffocate you. I will continue to try to live life caution in terms of Coronavirus, but I have to find that “but/and” while refilling my resiliency bank. Who is joining me? I know I am not alone.
The Tara Haelle article can be found here: https://elemental.medium.com/your-surge-capacity-is-depleted-it-s-why-you-feel-awful-de285d542f4c
Books I’ve read:
How to be Anti Racist by Ibram X. Kendi: https://www.ibramxkendi.com/how-to-be-an-antiracist-1