What’s Chronic Pandemic Micro-Trauma?
Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health professional, a psychologist, or a specialist in traumatic disorders. I’m a human who feels things, reads things, notices things, and thinks about stuff. My happy place is the primordial ooze of the creative process, making non-linear connections and wondering why things are and how things work.
We’re coming up on a whole year of pandemic.
Way back in April of 2020, I noticed both that I was just more tired, for no reason I could figure, and that I was also working and working and working super long hours. Sound familiar?
As the months went on, psychologists and mental health professionals observed that one common response to the shock and stress of pandemic was to numb our feelings by overworking. Millions of people who were in jobs that they could do from home upended their regular work life and went through multiple iterations of adapting to Life Unexpected. The shift to work-from-home — for those of us fortunate enough to be able to do that — was hard and disruptive for dozens of reasons. If you’re like me, you tried a lot, failed a bunch, learned more, and are still figuring out how to make the best of it.
I have a LOT of thoughts about the pandemic work-from-home experience, and I’ll share those another day: what’s temporary, and what I think is gone forever, what will be forever changed, and what will come back (whether in its original form, or evolved) as things open up again.
I have a bad habit of developing theories — even good ones — telling other people about them, and not actually taking my own advice.
Here’s the theory I had and the advice I didn’t take. Remember I said I’m a person who has for most of my life placed a high value on productivity? The more you can get done, smarter and more worthy you must be? I want to say right up front that that’s not really a great way to look at either myself or other people in my life, and I’m working on changing that (the list of stuff I’m working on is long).
Pandemic represents layers and layers of stress, whether we realize it or just pretend it’s not happening. That stress kicks the stuffing out of us, and it lives in our bodies (see The Body Keeps The Score for more on that). So if we are treating ourselves compassionately — because we are not machines; if we keep pushing through, we break — the only way we can sustain ourselves is to dial back our expectations of what we can accomplish in a day by, say, about 30%.
Then, the same thing is happening to everybody around us. That means we need to have extra emotional bandwidth, conversation time, empathy, for everyone we’re talking to. We have to be more open to hear about what is going on for them, to routinely ask the question, “First of all, how ARE you?” and to genuinely care about the answer. We have to allow for all kinds of things to derail our schedules and plans because people we work with are having Things Happen to them, their friends and loved ones, because of pandemic, and we have to take care of each other because that’s what our responsibility is to each other as humans.
And so we also need to dial back that productivity expectation by another, say, 30%.
Nice theory. Lots of people like it!
But this is part of what I call Chronic Pandemic Micro Trauma, and it takes a lot of self care and awareness and mindfulness and self compassion to address.
Me, I pushed through and pushed through, interrupted by erratic mid-day meltdowns and 4 AM ugly crying jags…until last fall, when I had to face the fact that, by noon on Fridays, I was cooked.
I knew something had to change when I spend five hours trying to write a four item to do list.
Not do the list. Just WRITE the list.
NEW PLAN: Since October, I’ve shut the office at noon.
I have lunch.
And in the weeks I’m in Baltimore, my bubble mate and I go for a hike.
We never end up walking more than two or three miles because we keep stopping to take pictures. We get completely immersed in the beauty of the natural world and bring back images to savor and share.
It’s been life affirming.
What do YOU do that gets you through?