Reluctance. Apathy. Malaise. Severe lack of motivation.
Call it whatever you like, it can be beautiful. Or perhaps, more accurately, insightful.
This I’ve just recently come to know, after spending an abundance of time stumbling aimlessly in no-man’s-land. The seemingly feckless land of no mojo.
Until COVID-19, I had rarely ever experienced this place. This strange, incredibly debilitating state of being. Like self-isolation, it felt old even before it fully set in.
It wore on my psyche. Despairingly heavy, like too much wet spring snow on tree branches bowing down right before they break. Add two weeks on top of most stay-at-home mandates (I was in self-quarantine early due to a likely exposure, which thankfully turned out negative), it brought me to my knees.
I could barely get myself to do anything. Sleep, yes. Eat, yes. Feed my dog, yes. But beyond that, next to nothing. I had no fire in the belly. No gas in the tank. I felt empty, enveloped by a great void. It was more than enough to take this type A down into a rat hole. It wasn’t depression, exactly. More like desolation.
The complete lack of structure and connection of my new reality incapacitated me. I had nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to do it with, and no ability to make future plans (God only knows when this will “end” and what the “new normal” will look like).
I became a real-life zombie. I guess riding the ever-changing waves of grief, overwhelm, anger, uncertainty, and everything else this pandemic is making us meet—aka coming face-to-face with ourselves—will do that.
And herein lies the insight and beauty of my recent bout with no mojo. It took me quite some time to understand the underlying cause of my apathy. But along the way, I had to learn about myself in an entirely new context. I had to make friends with myself as I am right now, even though I’d never shown up this way before. I had to appreciate who I am in this moment and discover what I find helpful and supportive for myself versus what may work for everyone else. And not to judge myself harshly using currently trending standards.
My first glimpse into this kind of self-awareness oddly came about because of social media and Zoom—our coronavirus go-to proxies for actual human contact, connection, and genuine interaction. It turns out, they’re triggers for me—portals drawing me in with their faux-restorative facades. But transporting me to nowhere.
Let me be clear, I’m not against social media or virtual conferencing. I’m not making some grandiose or philosophical statement of protest. I enjoy keeping up with friends around the globe on Facebook. I love a good animal video. Funny meme. Or thought-provoking post. My family used Zoom to celebrate my brother’s birthday. I now use it (somewhat begrudgingly) to teach online Pilates.
But drowning I was—and social media’s often simplistic, asynchronous, and narcissistic ways felt like someone throwing rocks on my head while I tried to stay afloat. Amidst the minute-by-minute political and media frenzy over coronavirus, my feed has become full of blame and righteous indignation.
I get it from a human perspective. Really, I do. The situation feels so inexplicable, we want to pin it on someone. Who is responsible for this? Who’s to blame? But that doesn’t make it healthy from my perspective. Instead, it was making me recoil.
Virtual meeting platforms were also hijacking me. What they have in networking prowess, they lack in heart. Without the in-person energy exchange, the expressive body language, the subtle shifts in facial expression and voice, it’s like watching a bad movie. I see and hear others—their pain and struggle, joy and happiness, overwhelm and grief, confusion and uncertainty—but I can’t feel it.
What I finally realized is that without deeply feeling with my whole being (which I have not been able to do via social media or virtual meetings, seemingly the only options with COVID-19), my natural path to cultivating compassion is blocked.
I know this may sound crazy. But, as an empathic, introverted, kinesthetic communicator and life-experiencer, it’s where my heart and soul fuse, my empathy surges forth, and my gratitude is born. Without this, I am lost—overwhelmed and unable to be me. I can barely function. I can’t fuel my heart or find my voice. As Eckhart Tolle so eloquently puts it, “Most human relationships consist mainly of minds interacting with each other, not of human beings communicating, being in communion. No relationship can thrive in that way.” Without real communion, my batteries ran dry.
I longed for meaningful, heart-felt, soul-drenched connection. Not the facsimile that’s currently in vogue—albeit by necessity. I could no longer abide by social norms and expectations of “it is how it is” these days. For my own mental well-being—more bluntly, my sanity—I needed to social distance from social media and virtual “meet-ups.” Not as a cure per se, but as a start. It allowed me the necessary space to think differently. To see other possibilities.
From there, I began to create a new reality for myself. I attended to my own self-care. My goal was to be able to be fully present for others—from six feet away, on the phone, or behind a mask—as weird as that may be.
Even without hugs, which I so desperately need and miss, I invented new ways to deeply connect with others. And in doing so, regain myself. Bob Goff says, “In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or keep planning for it. Simply put, love does.”
So, the first steps of my recovery from crushing malaise were to start doing what love does:
>> Making dates to have tea and a heart-felt chat with my best friend—sitting in her driveway, six feet apart, pouring our hearts out to each other.
>> Asking an out-of-state colleague and fellow Pilates/yoga instructor to guest teach my classes so my students have variety and she can grow her reach and access to revenue to keep her studio afloat.
>> Paying an out-of-work friend to move furniture in my house (wearing masks) after a home renovation project was completed so he can cover his rent and still eat.
>> Making meals and sweet treats for neighbors, knowing how difficult it is for many to stay abreast of household, work, and childcare needs.
>> Routinely checking in on a friend who suffers from depression and has a family history of suicide to make sure he knows he’s not alone.
>> Freely giving an orthopedic dog bed to a buddy with an ailing fur baby so they can be just a little more comfortable in their final days together.
>> Painting the interior of my beloved’s house while he works—something he’s had on his list for a long time—an act of service, a new environment, and a sense of accomplishment.
>> Walking a neighbor’s new puppy to give them all a much-needed break and enjoy outdoor time in the playful sweetness of Wally’s wiggles, kisses, and shenanigans.
>> Dropping off baby clothes (that my mom crocheted when she was still alive 30 years ago) so that the newborn’s new parents can wrap her in love and feel joy in these crazy times.
>> Temporarily quitting group therapy (until it can resume in-person) rather than giving in to the increasing levels of anxiety and disconnection I felt with the “Hollywood Squares” version.
>> Texting my ex to see if he’s safe and healthy.
Individually, these are small steps indeed, but together they are making a difference. Mostly for me, they are making a huge impact in terms of heart—and right now, I can’t think of anything we need more of—for ourselves and each other.
Rather than pushing aside despair, boredom, anxiety, anger, or any emotion that bubbles up, I’m learning to sit with them and truly listen to their underlying wisdom. By really practicing self-love, kindness, and compassion, I now gently walk away from anything that shuts me down, and mindfully nurture what speaks to my heart and soul.
If we each make this a practice, then our healing and recovery comes in the doing. Doing what love does.