Hey guys! Remember how 10 years ago we all used to have blogs? And we'd post ideas, or recipes, or get up on our soapboxes and stuff. And we weren't all self quarantining because of a massive pandemic? We didn't know it then, but those were the days, huh?
After coming up with a list of things my kids should do and work on while we are social distancing, I started thinking maybe I should work on some stuff too. Maybe with the extra time I could work out more, or write again, or cook again, or be a person again. And then I decided to do the least hard thing on my list and write a blog! So here I am blogging like it's 2010!
In the storm of covid-19 I've had a lot on my mind (as I'm sure everyone has). The many changes to daily life have had me reeling and the fact that things change drastically from hour to hour leaves me feeling like I'll never catch up. In addition to a massive influx of statistics, news stories, and directives from various levels of government across my social media, I've also been reading a large number of posts from people responding to said statistics, news and directives.
Many of these responses are reminders for us that we need not fear or that we must have hope. While messages of hope are important, we need to remember that there are many steps to finding hope. Hope and faith are not just things we can turn on and off like a lightswitch. Before we can come up with constructive ways of promoting the positive, we need to take the step of acknowleding that fear is present in most of us and that it is an emotion that must be felt and accepted before we can move past it. Just willing ourselves to be less afraid isn't enough. Fear has to be processed before it can be removed, and it must be acknowledged before it is processed.
When we skip this step of acknoweledgement we miss out on understanding ourselves better and on empathic connection. When we are disconnected from each other and the world it's hard to spread feelings of hope. If we don't let people know it's okay to feel afraid it attaches shame to that feeling. Shame isn't the way to make us feel less fearful. If anything it makes us less inclined to discuss our fears with others which, in turn, magnifies them. Our reaction to the feeling is just as important as the feeling itself. Telling someone fear is wrong and bad leads to greater fear. Telling someone fear is okay and something we can face together leads to hope.
This can especially be true in our religious communities. We have to be careful that we remember to acknowledge that this is an extremely difficult time and empathize with others before reminding people to "fear not". Otherwise we leave them thinking now I'm afraid, ashamed, and letting God down. Empathy is a central theme to not only counseling theory, but to many philosphies and religions throughout history. From a Christian standpoint we can see it in Romans 12 where Paul is explaining how to use our spiritual gifts to be unified with our neighbors. In 12:15 he says "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep". I attended an amazing conference where a speaker highlighted this verse and reminded us that it doesn't say cheer up the weepers. It doesn't say tell them to stop weeping. It says weep with them. Empathy is meeting them in that moment of mourning and connecting with them. Only then can we move- together- into a place of hope.
Another step is acknoweleging our blindspots. We all have areas of struggle and privelege. When we are priveleged in one area it can be hard for us to see that it is a struggle for others. When we're healthy and not likely to die from a virus it may be harder to see it from the perspective of a person who is in a more vulnerable demographic than ourselves. Priveleges of being healthy, or young, or wealthy may make it tempting for us to say this virus is no big deal. When we don't acknowledge that others may be experiencing hardships that are different from our own, our words fall flat. Messages of "why are you all so worried" or "people are just overreacting" aren't going to promote hope or connectedness and clearly reflect that the author has not taken time to acknowledge their priveleged blindspots. Same with messages of "this thing worked for me so it will definitely work the exact same way for you". Kind of like those advertisements where an already fit woman tells me that she can eat a donut every day and still lose weight and if I just download their app I can too. Sure I can lady, sure I can.
It's also important to remember that although we are all going through the same pandemic together it effects us all in different ways. In addition to the trauma that comes from a virus that spreads quickly and has the ability to hospitalize and kill people, there are also many other traumas people are facing as a result of this virus. Some are vulnerable to the virus. Some have family members who are vulnerable to the virus. Some work in the medical field and because of their exposure at work now have to isolate from other family members and support systems. Some have had very needed and anticipated surgeries put on hold. Some have had to close small businesses or drastically adjust their business plans and don't know how they will stay afloat. Some have had important life events altered or cancelled such as weddings, funerals, graduations and more. Some have worried about giving birth alone because birth partners weren't being allowed in hospitals under new essential procedures. Some are children who have just found out they won't be going back to school this year. Just to name a few trials people may be going through right now. And just so no one thinks these are overly-exaggerated hypothetical situations this entire list is comprised of things that are actually happening within my family around the country right now. Imagine how long the list would be if each of you wrote out what was going on with your families too. That is a lot of different trauma going on around the world.
I recently had a conversation with someone who said that she had been doing fine with everything until she went into the store for milk last week. She was able to get a small carton for her kids but she said she would rather have gone without than see the store in that condition. Seeing all the shelves bare and people frantic made her realize how much we depend on things like grocery stores, and utilities departments, and hospitals for the essentials that make up normal life. We are starting to see how fragile our "normal" life is and that can be traumatizing. And that's for those of us who were lucky enough to have a pretty cushy "normal" way of life. Now consider those who were already struggling to have enough to eat or who don't have safe home environments and the pain this situation is adding to their already painful "normal". And no matter how big or small our traumas are they need to be addressed with more than statements of "everything will be fine".
Here's where I so badly want to talk forever about empathy but instead I'm just going to really recommend that you read some Brene Brown! If I could I'd just insert an entire book of hers and call it a day but instead I will just stick with this quote: "Empathy doesn't require that we have the exact same experiences as the person sharing their story with us...Empathy is connecting with the emotion that someone is experiencing, not the event or the circumstance". -Brene Brown Even though I've read this quote countless times this pandemic makes me gain even new perspective from it. Because here we find ourselves going through the same event at the same time but even in this we are all having different experiences and find ourselves in different circumstances. So we have to start connecting on an emotional level if we are ever going to have enough empathy to collectively get through this trauma.
Granted this connectedness is hard to do online where so much of this discussion is happening. But I think that if we consider these ideas it can make a difference in the articles we choose to share, the voices we choose to listen to and the way we respond to others. I do have hope that we will see better days. I also have a lot of immediate concerns for my family members, friends and community. I'm also grieving losses of normalcy like being with friends, my kids enjoying school (they really miss teachers that aren't mom!), spending time at a park, and casually buying milk. And I'm telling you it's okay to feel those things too. It is okay if you are afraid and overwhelmed right now. You're not hopeless or wrong for feeling that way and it's not because you're not working or praying hard enough. Fears are part of life. Write them down. Share them with a friend. Meditate. Pray. Finally make that therapy appointment you've been wanting to make (sorry that it's going to be virtual sessions for awhile! I miss seeing my therapist face to face) But do something to acknowledge and validate your feelings. Don't keep them hidden and don't let them fester.
Empathy and unity are the ground true hope is built on. Connection creates the soil where respectful dialogue can take place and new ideas can grow. And honestly our world could use some help in those areas right now. If it takes awhile to figure out your part that's okay. If you have to take a little longer to decide which articles pass the test of empathy that's fine too. Lets use this as a time to gain greater empathy for the constant struggles and joys that others experience every day. Let people know you are there. Let people know you care about their opinions and feelings (regardless of whether you agree with them). Let people know it's okay to feel hurt right now.
Maybe the good tastes that much sweeter after we've experienced the bitter together. Maybe the good that will come from this is that we can all be a little more comfortable with the fact that there is bitter and sweet in every lifetime. I'm learning so much from those around me even though we are seperated right now. Maybe our time of isolation will lead us to deeper connection. That's something that keeps me smiling even in these overwhelming times. That and memes about home-haircuts. Those things are comedy gold!