October 15, 2020
As I write “Covid continues”, I feel the familiar ‘goose egg’ weight of emotion settle on my chest along with its host of familiar thoughts: “How is Covid still happening? I’m not sure I can keep doing this! How am I going to cope as we head deeper into the fall/winter…what if the situation gets worse? This is not where I expected nor wanted to be, nor is this how I pictured this season of my life.” I feel grief. I feel frustration.
Feeling that weight is not my happy place. I prefer the moments when I forget or ignore all this is happening. In the last few months I have noticed the increasing crave to scroll on my phone, to munch on my favourite treats even when I am not hungry, to be snarky and short with my partner. I’ve noticed myself feeling more low and irritable than usual and have caught myself jumping into conversation or distracting myself with a podcast as I walk past businesses with closed signs, long lines, or any other evidence that our world isn’t quite the same as it once was.
I notice myself bouncing between avoiding Covid at all costs or being hard on myself for feeling discomfort and not “handling all this like I should; I should tough this out and be stronger.”
Recently, I was watching my brother and his fiancée playing with their brand new, eight-week old puppy. The puppy is in the “chewing phase” with a special taste for anyone’s fingers he can get his little teeth on. As he began to munch on my fingers, my initial reaction was to quickly pull my hand away to safety and avoid the pain: big mistake! The more I pulled the harder the puppy chomped, excited to play. My brother’s fiancée jumped to the rescue: “Push your fingers in farther and he will let go!” This did not sound like the right plan to me, but at a loss for what else to do, in I pushed and let go he did.
This little experience brings some gentle reminders and invitations to me as I notice the growing “goose egg” feeling Covid triggers as we slip farther into the fall season.
The first reminder is that when it comes to emotions, just like puppy teeth, try as we might the more we pull away from them the more stuck and more painful they can get. The feelings get a little bit louder and more intense, prompting us to increase our efforts to get to safety.
Second, this desire to pull away, jump out, is so normal and so very beautiful. All our coping strategies, our initial “pull away” reactions, come from a very caring, core space within each of us that wants to protect us. Deep down, we know we matter and that our safety is important. We don’t want to hurt emotionally (or have our fingers chewed off!). It’s not that we “are handling this terribly” or “are broken”, we are trying to stay safe in a very strange and unusual time that doesn’t feel very safe for any of us. We are doing the best we can. These attempts to pull away come from a good place, even if they don’t necessarily provide us a lasting relief from strong painful emotions, or from puppy teeth.
So we arrive at the first invitation: an invitation to tune in to our emotions with compassion and curiosity. We know the fear, grief, sadness, anger is rising, so what if we slowed down, noticed it, paid attention to it without judgment, just like we might notice the puppy teeth closing in. We tune in. Taking this space, noticing, allows and empowers us to make a choice of what to do, rather than react and pull away without thinking.
Which brings us to a second invitation: to turn in. When we can give space for our distress and “turn in” towards the emotions we can heal them. Emotions let us know our needs. Maybe they invite us to rest a little more or set some new healthy boundaries during this hard time. Maybe they let us know that this pandemic is bringing up old painful fears and experiences that need attention and support. Whatever they might say, tuning in and turning towards our emotion lets us explore and take care of our needs in that moment. It gives us choice. It empowers us to take care of ourselves in these trying times and can in fact alleviate the weight of what we feel.
During these challenging times, I invite you to join me in practicing gentleness (and it truly is a practice!) for our emotions and our initial reactions to pull away, avoid, check out (whatever your ‘knee-jerk”, automatic safety maneuver might be). Though it doesn’t always feel like it, emotions are our friends. It can take time for us to know this deeply and integrate it. If we have an immediate escape reaction happen it is ok! It makes sense. How beautiful that your body is there trying to protect you in the best way it knows how. Trust yourself and what your emotions say to you.
As you look forward into this unknown future, this season of transition and uncertainty with Covid, know that you aren’t alone. There is no perfect way to do this, and we can practice “tuning in and turning in” together. If it feels too much, talk to someone, take the space you need to find shelter and support. You are not alone, fellow traveller.
Daniele N. Buschman