Field Notes on Living through a Crisis

It occurred to me a couple days ago that even though this situation is new, and this corona virus is novel, the feelings of daily panic in the face of an uncertain future are old hat for me. As one suddenly widowed last year, I’m no expert on epidemiology or pandemics, but I do know how to survive the (my) world falling apart.

So, if I may be so bold, I’ll share what I’ve learned in hopes that you too will feel like you can do this.

First, and most importantly, people will surprise you. And mostly in good ways. When crisis strikes, most people genuinely want to help ease the pain and burden of those affected. Even if they don’t always know how to actually be helpful. The people who know you want you to know you are loved. They want to assure you that while they can’t take away your suffering, they want to do whatever is in their power to help you survive it.

Mostly. Some people will surprise you by being even more terrible than they normally are. Sometimes the surprise will be that certain people can be MORE terrible. Let that terribleness be a sign for you, friends. Those are people you no longer need in your life. Pay them no mind. You do not have the energy now to wade into other people’s trauma, trying to figure out why they are the way they are, coming out the other side with new empathy. There will be time for that later.

Or not.

Focus on the goodness, the love and the help that is coming to you. And when people offer, just say yes. Don’t pretend that you can do this on your own, or that there is any value in trying to go it alone. That’s a great American myth that should contract COVID-19 and die. We are meant for community, so don’t refuse it when it’s offered, even when it feels like pity.

You don’t have to like it. Any of it. Cry about the vacation with your besties that’s been two years in the making and now will have to wait even longer. Scream in frustration (not at your kids, if at all possible) that you are simultaneously working and parenting and schooling. And all in the same space.

It’s important to stop pretending you feel other ways than you actually do. Feelings that get stuffed will not only find their way out in inconvenient times and ways, but they will  slow down the healing that is coming when all of this is over. As I tell my oldest daughters when their emotions are heavy: “You can do the work now, or you can do it later. You may as well dig in and get it over with.”

Take care of your body, because this stress is physically hard work. Sleep when you can, even if it’s not at night when your mind races blindly through the dark. Drink more water and less wine (she said to herself). Move your body in ways that help you remember you are more than a brain and less than a machine. Let the movement remind you that you are a miracle just as you are.

And I know you don’t want to hear this, because it sounds trite and also pushy. But please, for the love of God and yourself, notice that not everything is terrible. Even on the worst days, when your world is truly coming down around you, there will be moments that are holy. A child’s delight at swinging high into the air. A dog who greets you with the same enthusiasm whether you’ve come home from work or just in from the mailbox. A bird you haven’t seen since fall, returning as the days grow warmer and longer.

Hold those moments with both hands and let them lead you forward. They may not seem like much, but they are enough. You are enough. You are loved. You are held by a power greater than your own, and better days are coming.



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