the importance of both - And.
It’s officially been a year since our lives were changed by Covid-19. March 13, 2020 I remember attending a mandatory staff meeting on my campus. All we knew was that our Spring Break could look different. Our principal encouraged us to still try to unplug, spend time with our families, and recharge. I remember telling my husband, “I think we need to go by HEB for some groceries. I think things could get a little crazy, kind of like when we knew a hurricane was coming to share in Florida”. He trusted my instincts and we went to the store. It was overwhelming as there were so many people who had the same idea. Shelves were empty of staples, lines were so long, and you could feel the stress and tension radiating off of people. Later that week, our Spring Break was extended as local officials tried to work out a plan...I think you know the rest because our story is a similar story to so many people around the world.
I’ll be honest, it is still really hard for me to think back on those first few weeks and then months of sheltering in place without getting emotional. There was so much unknown about this virus that was sweeping the world, affecting so many. Our lives were turned upside down as we went from seeing family and friends almost every day to being around just our little immediate family. And while we truly have so much to be grateful for...it was still really hard. A year later, I don’t know that we’ve really had the time or space to begin to truly process all the emotions, thoughts, and feelings we had. (And I don’t think that I am alone in this because every therapist friend or colleague that I talk to has expressed this. Every. Single. One). As a therapist, I quickly had more people wanting therapy and counseling than I had availability for. Now, a year later, things have not slowed up either. My concerns about the longer lasting effects the pandemic is having on mental health and wellness are for another day, though.
Today, I want to focus on probably the single biggest thing I want to not forget from this past year. While this past year was incredibly challenging in so many different ways, there was also good that has come from this past year. I’ve written about some of that before and you can check that out here. Mostly, I realized how much a slower pace is good for me and my family. Connecting with our friends and really focusing on being present with them, not multitasking and taking for granted that we can get together whenever. Spending time exploring outside and making cool discoveries with our kids is way better than trying to stay “busy” indoors. Yet, in the last few months I’ve realized while all of those things are good, this past year also represents a lot of loss. Loss of time with family. Loss of routine. For some people, loss of a loved one. When we can recognize the incredible beauty of life and the absolute fragility of life at the same time, we are actually more emotionally healthy. Instead of burying our feelings of overwhelm, weariness, and grief, we need to acknowledge them. Even just giving voice to the thought that “I’m not doing okay right now” can give your heart and your head the moment it needs to pause, breathe, and just be. If we don’t acknowledge how we are actually feeling and instead stuff those feelings, they will eventually come out sideways in unhealthy ways and spill over onto those around us. Dr. Susan David is an incredible researcher and teacher out of Harvard. Her work on emotional agility has been so helpful to me as I navigate my own “big feelings” of the past year. It’s the tension of holding space for both the good and the hard parts of life that we find the ability to embrace life with all of its ups and downs.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “Hitting our pandemic wall” either about 6 months ago or very recently. 6 months and 12 months into any major natural disaster or crisis, we inevitably hit a wall. The wall usually sounds like “I’ve had enough. I can’t take this. When will things be better?” you get the idea. The wall can feel like utter weariness, no patience, the inability to make decisions, etc. I remember hitting my pandemic wall about 6 months ago and I could feel it coming on again the past few weeks. This time though, I’ve learned not to stuff those harder feelings and instead acknowledge them. It goes back to a basic principle I learned in grad school - name it to tame it. This is my encouragement to you as we move forward. Be courageous enough to hold the tension of “Both-And” with your feelings. We are not our feelings. It is possible to take charge of them and move through them in a healthy way. And it starts with recognizing them. Giving yourself space to voice them. Sometimes that can be with a trusted friend or loved one, with a therapist, or sometimes alone in our car, just to ourselves. However you choose, I hope you can embrace the “Both-And” strategy. It has certainly helped me navigate these last few months better!
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I'm JoEllen and I'm so glad you're here. Thanks for visiting and let me know how I can best serve you!