March 27, 2020

Don’t make Yourself a Project: Why the Pandemic isn’t the time for Self-Improvement.

Elephant’s Continually-updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon


I’ve been seeing a lot of newsletters, articles, and texts from friends talking about taking advantage of all the free time at home that we all have as a result of the pandemic.

The general consensus seems to be that since we are all at home 24/7 now, why not learn a new language, gain a new skill, or just become more self-actualized, fit versions of ourselves?

It seems like I’ve received 60-plus emails from healers, teachers, and authors, all encouraging me to join in meditations and classes. And while I appreciate their efforts and insights, I feel like we are missing a beat here.

We as a society just went from 0 to 60, or rather—in this case—from 60 to 0 in the span of about a week. The public attitude seemed to go from “the virus won’t affect us, we will be okay,” to “everybody hunker down for several weeks or months, and don’t leave the home.” Things seemed safe…and then they weren’t.

Though work continues for the lucky among us, everything else has come to a screeching halt. Visits with friends and family, community events, entertainment, eating at restaurants, and for some, even leaving the house.

It’s important to pause and acknowledge that our entire reality has shifted fundamentally, both collectively and individually, in a span of days. We are stuck in our homes when two weeks ago, most of us could go out and operate freely without much of a care for our health. It seems as though we have entered an alternate reality in which we are 1) physically limited, 2) socially isolated, 3) uncertain about the future, and 4) each of our individual choices has enormous stakes and possibly dire consequences.

From afar, the Coronavirus didn’t look real. And now it is. And here we are—in a bit of a dystopian nightmare.

And, thus we have this existential, almost fanatical self-improvement phase. To me, this has an undertone of self-denial. As though if we say “all is well,” and embody the platitude, then maybe the world will put itself back together again.

But there is loss, there is grief, and there is fear that comes with what we are all experiencing now. To deny these feelings is to deny the reality of the situation, and to deny ourselves. It is my experience and understanding that these feelings of dis-ease will lurk in the background, demanding our attention, until we acknowledge and process them, on our own and together.

So I’m here to encourage a pause, to let it all sink in. I want to invite us all to slow down and acknowledge the tragedy and hardship that has just befallen us—to take a beat. There is a collective trauma taking place, and right now it feels as though we are unwilling to be with it. But through decades of psychological research and experience, we know better.

So be in your feelings. Do nothing for a little bit. See what is present inside you. Try not to distract yourself 24/7 unless you need to (which many of us do). If you have the capacity to hold space for yourself, to feel upset about the situation without spiraling, then please do so. For yourself, and for all of us. Because otherwise, we are operating from distraction, appeasement, and denial. Not from presence and wisdom.

If there is sadness, fear, anxiety, terror, uncertainty, or all the above, allow those feelings to be there. Name them to yourself, feel them in your body. Then dance, move, sing, create, run, write, punch pillows, cry—do whatever feels expressive of what’s inside. And if you need help coping, reach out to a trusted friend or mental health professional.

In conclusion, distraction is a handy and effective pacifier, allowing us to safely gain distance from what’s happening. I myself use it when I can’t cope with life—as my Netflix queue would attest. Of all the vices, it’s pretty innocuous and shouldn’t be demonized, especially in moderation. But it also won’t solve what ails us. Denying what we feel, even to ourselves, takes us further away from true connection with ourselves and others.

So be real and vulnerable with yourself. Admit what is going on inside, and if it feels right, share it with others.

Then do what feels good. Don’t force yourself to take up Claymation or Mandarin, or anything else. Don’t make yourself a project. Don’t pretend, to yourself or to others, that you’re anything other than what you are—human and, most likely, afraid.

Breathe. Feel. Get through the day. And repeat.

That is enough for right now.




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