Two weeks ago, our nation entered into the reality of life in the age of COVID-19. Regardless of where you got your information, there was a noticeable shift in our collective attention to the severity of what Asia and Europe had already come face-to-face with. Within the scope of three days, conferences were cancelled, stadiums emptied, churches went virtual and schools began to close. Living in New York, we were (and are) literally on the front lines of this pandemic. I remember heading to the grocery store two Thursdays ago to get a few more items that we missed on our previous “preparedness run.” The lines, crowds and overflowing carts felt like the day before Thanksgiving collided with a classic Northeastern “Snowpocalypse.” Come Monday, countless companies and agencies scrambled to get their workforce remote-ready “out of an abundance of caution.” If your experience was anything like mine, week one of “Social Distancing” was disorienting, disruptive and filled with anxiety.
Welcome to the middle of week two.
One of my colleagues asked me if it was silly to invest all of this time and energy into developing remote working capabilities and attending countless webinars on the subjects of mental health, COVID-19 and innovative ways of sustaining and thriving in this new environment. Afterall, she argued, we could be back to “normal” in four weeks or so. Perhaps. But probably not. I’ve struggled with how to adjust, however temporary, to what we all are experiencing. I’ve felt anxiety like I never have before. I’ve caught myself standing in the middle of my living room unsure of what to do and where to move. I’ve sat down at the end of a long day and felt like weeping.
Welcome to collective grief.
I’ve been thinking about all of the things that we’ve “lost” – social connections that we under-valued, a sense of security that was over-estimated and the luxury of stability in a world that we can’t control. I’ve not only seen others go through the range of emotions that often accompany death, I’ve experienced many of them myself. I think it’s fair to say that something (and for many someone) has been taken away from us with what feels like little to no warning. Just like with death, we eventually get back to the business of living…but we are changed.
Welcome to now.
Wherever you are emotionally at this moment is where you need to be. You may hate it. You may think its unfair. You may think everyone else is overreacting. You may be scared shitless. Own your emotions – but let others own theirs, too. Pay attention to yourself and pay attention to those close to you. You may be that person who laughs at funerals but right now you also need to be the person whose shoulder gets wet from your sister’s tears. We all can be both what we need for ourselves and what others need from us. Once you’re ready to move on to a different understanding and experience of this current reality you will.
I have to confess a secret pleasure of mine: listening to or watching TV/music/news that are polar opposites from my political/social/religious views. I like to consider it a personal form of schadenfreude. My favorite form of self-inflicted outrage comes from the conservative Christian enclave...most recently "The Message" station on Sirius Radio.
Driving home after a exhausting weekend I needed something that would keep me alert for the final ten minutes of the trip. "I know, let's listen to contemporary Christian music...that will get me going!" I said to myself. Lo and behold was dear Amy Grant singing "Don't Try So Hard."
Now before anyone dismisses this as a religious-themed post, I ask you to stay with me, gentle reader.
The song, "Don't Try So Hard" (lyrics here), basically is a typical me-centered approach to God, salvation and our struggles and doubts through our lives. But what got me - what really got me - was the refrain: "Don't try so hard." Yes, the song talks about being too hard on ourselves (for our transgressions, flaws etc.) but it's basically a dulcet manifesto to complacency.
As a therapist and musician - and as as human being - I have learned, first hand, that the things in life that matter require work...lots of work. To be told that we should just relax and let things be (don't try so hard) is disingenuous. Things that matter require work...and patience and love. None of us are born with an innate ability to accept ourselves and other for who they are (or aren't). None of us can simply silence the inner voices of self-doubt and fear that plague our thoughts and emotions every day. It takes work.
I'm not saying that everything in life should be a struggle. The important things, however, will require more than a simple laissez-faire attitude. Society tells us that we must be thin, toned and tanned...most of us aren't - it takes work to overcome those voices. Most of us measure our worth against magazine images and reality TV shows...never realizing that those images are anything but reality. We define love and worth in terms of material possessions and Facebook "likes"...failing to see that real human support and relationships surround us daily.
So I say life should be work...hard work. Make it matter. Care about it. So try...try hard - I'm sure Amy Grant did.
My thoughts and reactions to the world in which we live...completely biased and unfiltered.