Who do you expect yourself to be during a global pandemic?
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
Many of my clients are Type A, go-getters, with high expectations of themselves. They maintain a sense of calm by being in control of their schedules, tasks, and environments. And TBH...
Surprise, surprise - this points to some issues with control. As I've watched my previously regimented life disappear with a jarring suddenness, I have struggled to figure out how to replace what was taken.
For me, the way I made sure life was the way I wanted it was to create structure:
Morning routine of meditation, reading and writing
Gym 4 times a week
Dance class Saturdays
Skating on Sundays
TV night with friends about once a week
Community projects and meetings weekly
Eating healthy, often meal prepping and repeating recipes
Seeing and talking to my close circle regularly
Working on the expansion of my business
My life had a pretty good balance and flow to it. I felt stable, happy, in control.
Over the past month, as you all have, I've been on the rollercoaster of information, emotions, processing, and existential crisis. It's been a wild, rough ride made worse by the disappearance of people and activities that I had grown to depend on. While my first instinct was to stay as structured as I could in terms of diet, exercise, work, and projects, the stress quickly showed me who was boss and within a week I was eating all of the things on the couch while watching all of the shows, with my life force seeping into the floor.
As a therapist and in my personal life, I've been able to talk with a variety of clients and friends about how they are handling this crisis. While each person has a unique experience, I do notice something with Type A control-freaks (Hi.): we seem to expect ourselves to function the same as we did before this pandemic hit, and then are supremely disappointed in ourselves for not meeting our own standards.
To you I say: The world you lived in a few weeks ago is gone. We're here now, and the future is uncertain. There are things you could expect from Early 2020 You that no longer apply to Present Day You. As a matter of survival, the expectations must be adjusted.
As always, my priorities in discussing healing rest in gentleness and self-compassion. So with as much kindness and empathy as you can reach for, begin to ask yourself:
What did I lose?
What do I have now?
What do I need more of?
How can I find a way to get something like that by thinking outside the box?
Using myself as an example:
What did I lose? The physical distance from loved ones is self-explanatory. In terms of the gym, dancing, and skating - while physical, they also helped me to process my emotions, provided a social component, and an outlet for creative expression. That loss was unexpected and heavy.
What do I have now? I've kept up my daily morning practice, I can still work, I can exercise at home and go on walks and runs outside. I have my hobbies. I can continue to work on my business. I have TV for distraction and a sweet old lady cat. I have good friends that I keep in touch with daily.
A word: Though I have a long list here, these are options. I cannot always reach for the healthier options and I don't expect anyone else to. Try to do your best everyday. And. Your best looks different everyday.
A personal note: Since I don't drink or use any drugs, I've been eating my feelings. This has been the hardest part for me in terms of a resource that becomes problematic; I've struggled with my weight my whole life and had been on a good path for about 3 years prior to COVID. Seeing myself eating things I hadn't allowed myself for years because "this is all I've got!!" sent me to a bad place mentally and some pretty shockingly quick weight gain. I've had to do some deep reflection, on my own and with my therapist, on the distinction between eating for comfort versus compulsive patterns, as well as how to give myself some slack during this time of crisis. Work in process.
What do I need more of? Creative expression for sure, including a need to be seen. Patience with myself. Flexibility in my thinking about how to manage this long term, as safely as I can, while mindful of my mental health and emotional needs.
How can I find a way to get something like that by thinking outside of the box? As much as I generally like to stay minimal in my social media presence, I can post and interact a bit more. I cleaned out my garage for a mini skating rink, and I'm gonna look online for footwork tutorials. I dance in my living room and run in my neighborhood. I filled my bike tires with air to add that into the repertoire. And I continue to process and challenge the rules I set for myself about what I can and can't do in a pandemic while keeping myself and others safe.
Obviously many of these items are for consideration when you're in a relatively functional and optimistic place. And if there's anything else I've learned from talking to people, it's that mood swings and functionality are constantly changing. So take what works, when it works.
But remember: life is different now, and it's gonna keep changing for a while. So as much as you can, be flexible. Be gentle with yourself, shift your expectations away from what was possible for the version of yourself that existed before, and get curious about what is possible for you now.