Being a part of a pandemic is no picnic. Seriously.
It is quite different when you stay home by choice versus when you stay home by command.
Of course I don’t want to make anyone else sick. I don’t want to get sick, either.
But I also don’t want to lose my mental and emotional health in service to my physical health.
I mention this because it is up to me to remember that I wake up every morning still in charge of four unique and highly complex integrated systems – my body, my brain/mind, my limbic brain/emotions, and my spirit.
Each of these systems has its needs and priorities. Each one is always adding new items to the suggestion box (or, alternately, to the complaint box).
Through it all, somebody (aka me) has to work to earn rent money to keep a roof over everyone’s head. Often, that work involves writing blog posts here and elsewhere.
I love what I do and I am grateful for the chance to do it. But right now, the work I do often requires quite a bit of immersion into all things COVID-19, coronavirus and pandemic. It is understandable. Many clients want timely posts on these topics and guess who they want to write those posts for them?
So I am surfing about all day, every day, reading social media, other bloggers’ posts, official government edicts, scientific research, breaking news and so on and so forth.
Thus far, this has been alternately uplifting and disheartening.
The uplifting stuff. 🙂
One thing I am absolutely learning that is very uplifting indeed is that we each have a way to contribute.
For example, today I read a post on our community forums about people who are putting their holiday lights back up as a way to cheer everyone up. So sweet! (This also handily explains my sudden need for hanging multiple battery-operated light strings absolutely everywhere inside our tiny casa. Very cheery indeed.)
I have read about people who are volunteering to deliver meals and groceries to people who shouldn’t be going out at all. I’ve been delighted to learn how many people are banding together to support local businesses and gig economy workers who are suddenly jobless and scared as our mayor closes down so many public spaces to contain the threat.
And I have seen some of the funniest posts and cartoons on Instagram – seriously happy dopamine hits free for the enjoying. And I’ve done my best to return the favor (free happys courtesy of a certain set of feathers and two precious shells – get yours here).
The not-so-uplifting stuff. 🙁
One thing I am learning equally that is exceptionally disheartening is that not all of us are choosing to make our contributions.
Or perhaps I should say the way some of us are choosing to contribute is a real downer – an honest-to-goodness effort to make sure their own fears have plenty of unhappy company.
You can see some of this just by scrolling back through some of my own blog posts here and reading some of the comments.(Although I don’t suggest this. See “unhappy company” for why.)
Sometimes fear can make us very, very angry. Sometimes it can make us very judgmental. Sometimes it can turn into a vicious circle that becomes a pandemic in its own right. A fear-pandemic.
So I’ve decided now is the perfect moment to share three things I keep seeing far too much of that we absolutely do not need during a pandemic of any kind.
And then I will share what I personally believe are effective antidotes.
From “you should be ashamed of yourself” to “how dare you” to “how could they” to….well, I don’t even want to put thoughts in your head.
We are all just doing our best.
I like what Don Miguel Ruiz says:
Always do your best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
Sometimes my best is stellar. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes it is just so-so.
And I have to admit – I haven’t exactly been churning out best-of moments thus far during this pandemic.
But I truly am doing my best. As I believe we all are. Which makes the antidote to judgment spending a moment or two standing in the shoes of whomever is being judged in that moment.
Literally speaking, this isn’t always possible. But this is also what imagination is for.
Ask your creative, thought-loving mind, “why would someone say/do/not say/not do something like that at a time like this.” Imagine you are them and what might cause you to speak or act in a judging way during a totally scary crisis.
Then breathe out fear. Breathe in love. Send them grace. Send yourself grace. Put it all behind you. Move on with your day.
Antidote to judgment: Stand in the shoes of the judged to find compassionate perspective.
Boy howdy is it easy to fall into self-criticism at a time when there is so much need! We need all kinds of things even more than usual right now, like answers to questions and access to testing and a vaccine while we’re at it.
We need toilet paper and clean water and safety for our loved ones and guarantees that the people the buck stops with are getting it done at levels far beyond our voice or reach.
We need income and comfort and freedom of movement.
We need all kinds of reminders of our higher self and better nature right now.
Most of all, we need to give to ourselves what we may even now be criticizing ourselves for not giving enough of to others.
You see, I truly, wholeheartedly believe that nearly all of us (and hoping for 100% here) are essentially good.
In moments when I am presented with ample evidence to the contrary, I try hard to remind myself that there might just be a very good soul trapped underneath some very bad behaviors.
I need to try harder to remind myself that I am one of them.
This makes the antidote to self-criticism re-connection.
Self-criticism is a whole lot easier when we separate ourselves off from the herd, like the weakest one, the expendable member, the one that is different from all the rest.
But homo sapiens is a social species. With very rare exceptions, we really don’t do well when separated.
In this light, it makes sense that we might be a lot harder on ourselves when we are separated, like for instance during a pandemic where we are living under enforced social distancing.
The next time you catch yourself self-criticizing, stop for a moment and re-connect. Go read your social feed. FaceTime someone. Watch a podcast by one of your favorite speakers. Read a funny joke – did you laugh? So did one thousand or one million others.
See? You aren’t so different from all the rest of us after all. You deserve grace and gentleness and you need it. And these are tough times and by golly you’ve earned it.
Antidote to self-criticism:Re-connection to others – pets, people, the planet.
Fear is unavoidable. Our ancient reptilian brain is all about spotting fear anywhere it lurks and also lots of places where it actually doesn’t.
This means there is a part of ourselves that literally cannot tell the difference between a microscopic pathogen and a saber-toothed tiger, nor does it particularly want to stop and try.
It just wants to get the heck out of dodge and hopefully far ahead of the rest of the (slower, equally delicious) herd.
Fear is also the toughest to tackle and the instigator of the other two items on this list and many more besides.
The older I get, the more I realize that underneath my judgment, my self-criticism, my criticism in general, my shame, my anger, and even many moments of joy, there is always fear.
It lurks because its job is to keep us safe.
This is a critically important point to make.
It lurks because its job is not to keep us happy.
Its job is not to go easy on ourselves or others.
Its job is to keep us ALIVE.
So thanks, fear. Keep it up. One more day in the books. Still breathing, still terrified.
My point is, we have to figure out how to be with our fear because it will never ever ever go away. And truthfully, we kind of need it to stick around.
We just have to figure out how to not let it obliterate all the joy out of life just for the sake of our continued baseline existence, our survival.
We have to teach our brain to differentiate between “immediate threat” fears and “might happen later” fears. We have to send it to fear school so it can learn to take a pause right after fear arises and before it takes over to remind it who is still in charge and gets to make the top-down decisions around here.
Fear is by far the toughest thing to let go of during a pandemic, because we are not just fearing for our own survival but for the survival of everyone we love, especially those in highest-risk populations.
For instance, I am a tiny little bit afraid for myself and insanely afraid for my elderly parents.
And I am finding that these kinds of full-spectrum fears don’t average together to produce a moderate amount of manageable fear. They default to the strongest fear response, which in this case is predatory protectiveness.
So I have already been very guilty of fear-mongering at some level, both with myself and sometimes with others.
But I can be aware. I can blog about it. I can resolve to do my better-best tomorrow (see #2 here for more on this). I can look around and realize that, for right now at least, it would be easier to find that proverbial needle in a haystack than to find a person who is unafraid.
At some level, we are all filled with fear.
Luckily, we are also filled – at least in the upper front portion of our heads anyway – with a large and sophisticated prefrontal cortex that can feel the fear and then choose the brave.
Which is why the antidote to fear is BRAVE.
I highly recommend listening to one of my all-time favorite songs, “Brave,” by singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, for more insight on how to use BRAVE as an antidote to the fear you are feeling right now for yourself, for your loved ones, for the animals, for the planet.
Antidote to fear: BRAVE.
If you are reading this right now while struggling with judgment, self-criticism, fear or something else that feels super-daunting or even impossible to surmount, you are my hero.
If you have a different take on the best or just even more suggestions for helpful antidotes to judgment, self-criticism and fear (and other panic, I mean pandemic, related tough stuff) I would love to hear your insights!
With great respect and love,
p.s. And if you just want to comment to tell me this blog posts sucks do me a favor and read it just one more time – paying special attention to all three points – before you post, okay? Peace.