All over the globe, the COVID 19 pandemic has turned life upside down. While we attempt to adjust to our new “normal,” the uncertainty of what the next day or even the next hour may bring looms over us all.
Anxiety and hysteria run wild making it hard not to get swept up in the collective wave of fear crashing over our entire planet.
Already an anxious person, I have coped in the past by focusing on my body and weight using symptoms of an eating disorder I developed decades ago. Now, four years into recovery, I find myself facing old demons in the scary uncharted water we are all suddenly swimming in. I am clinging to my recovery with white knuckles, but feel on the verge of losing it at any moment. And I know that I am not alone. The way I cope may differ from yours, but we are all attempting to cope to the same crisis.
One thing that unites us all is the human condition. The desires to control outcomes, to seek happiness and peace, and to connect with others are natural and normal. And at this moment in time, they are all being challenged. It is hard to ignore just how little control we really have over many outcomes. We will all suffer loss throughout our lives, and we will all die eventually. Nothing brings this universal truth to the forefront like a novel virus that spreads silently and threatens to kill millions. Connecting with others has changed almost overnight as we shelter in place and quarantine. As a collective, we are experiencing very difficult times. They are scary and unknown, and we all cope with it in our unique ways. I recognize fully just how privileged I am during it all. I have a husband and partner to share responsibilities with, and we live in a safe home with our healthy children. My husband has a job, we have food, and in this moment we are all OK. And for this, I am tremendously grateful. And yet, I am still extremely overwhelmed.
One blessing amidst the uncertainty of today’s world is the sudden slowing down of our lives. With schools, trips, and extracurricular activities suspended indefinitely, families around the world are collectively catching a breath, sitting down, and eating meals together regularly. To be honest, the introvert inside of me welcomes this with a sigh of relief. Perhaps something positive can come out of this strange dark time. Maybe we can learn from this experience to slow down, connect with our loved ones, count our blessings (no matter how small) and focus on the present moment. But almost as quickly as I caught my breath, the emails started to pour in. I got solicitations from every website I have ever visited telling me about their new online programs. Social media blew up with free concerts, free classes, free talks, free tours, and free events. And then the avalanche of teacher emails flooded in. For each child I started receiving emails from multiple teachers containing suggested links, videos, choice boards, extra curricular activities, and online meetings. As we watch videos learning about astronauts we can tour the castles in England, learn to doodle with Mo Willems, and have a Spanish story time. My kids can learn Taekwondo through videos, take piano lessons through facetime; there is even a chat room for my five year old to “connect through screen time.” My clogging studio is offering virtual lessons, my friends have scheduled multiple zoom happy hours, and my courses have turned into virtual classes. And I feel a new level of panic rising in my chest. I fear we, as a society, may be missing something big.
Because what if the beauty of what is happening right now lies within the empty moments in between the business of life we have all become accustomed to? What if our opportunity to slow down and look within during this moment in history is completely missed by our mad rush to fill the possibility of silence and solitude? What if instead of researching every possible way to connect our children, we instead allowed them to be bored. To be creative. To sit, in silence, with themselves. If instead we suddenly and completely pack every moment of our open schedules with virtual classes, meetings, chats, and activities, then the only thing that has changed through all of this is: we are now doing the same frantic running around through screens but while wearing yoga pants (or maybe our pjs).
I understand that as human beings we are social creatures and I believe we need connection to thrive. I am not saying we shouldn’t plan video chats with our friends, try to work with our children on learning, set up video chats with our grandparents, and enjoy a netflix binge here or there (or constantly- whatever gets you through). I just wonder what would happen if we all gave ourselves and our children permission to stop, to take a breath, and to slow down during this world crisis? What if instead of fearing solitude, we embraced it? What if we modeled the same for our children? What if we took in the beauty of the silence in the moment between? What if we worked as hard to find small blessings and moments of gratitude as we do at washing our hands? What if we were open to lessons on the importance of staying in the present and allowing ourselves to feel whatever we feel. What if we made space for all of the mixed up feelings we are having right now, with out judging ourselves or others? What if we realized that in every single hardship in life, there is a lesson if we are willing to learn it? We can’t even begin to be open to the lessons if we are on autopilot and don’t slow down enough to even let them in. Because although we have little control over what happens in the outside world, we very much have control over what we choose to do with our time and how we choose to focus our thoughts and energies. What if we recognized the positives that are happening now amidst the tragedies? My boys are playing outside together more than they have their entire lives. I know more about what they are learning, how they learn, and what it looks like when an idea makes sense in their innocent eyes. My husband is pitching in and cooking more meals, and I have actually talked on my phone more the past month than I have in five years. There are blessings here if we look. There are lessons as well. My wish for everyone is that we stay safe, we stay connected, and we stay open to learning the lessons during this very difficult time.