When I was in my mid-late twenties, I’d sit down at my computer and spew my emotions onto a public blog that I ended up keeping for about nine years. I always wrote from a place of negativity during that time because, when the pain got too intense, I’d suddenly find myself able to write when I couldn’t most of the time. I guess I didn’t have space to judge myself in those moments.
But as I grew older and as the waters calmed a bit, I noticed the negativity of that blog was settling around my new life like a thick fog. It no longer matched where I was or where I wanted to be, so I decided to change direction and start a new (and less emotional) blog about my struggles as a writer.
My second blog wasn’t a full-on rebirth; it was somewhere in the middle—not totally negative but not totally positive, either. It wasn’t until I started my third blog in 2019 (this one) that I made a more permanent shift.
I tell this story because it’s a really good illustration of how reframing your thoughts can be a long and iterative process, especially when you have a lot of emotional baggage. It took me a full 12 years of slow steering to move from a negative space into a more positive one—and that’s just in this part of my life.
I’ve really struggled to craft a post for this blog over the last couple of weeks. And I realize now that it’s because I’d shifted back into a negative emotional place with the ongoing pandemic, and that everything I produced was tainted by it. I think many of us are waffling a bit right now, going up and down emotionally and thinking a bit too much. Or perhaps we’re stuck entirely in the down, as had been the case with me lately, because our natural tendency is to land there during times of stress.
What I learned over the last few days is that my internal state can have a dramatic impact on how I engage with loved ones and how I participate in the world. I also learned that, much like I shifted my way out of a negative writing space and into a more positive one, I can shift myself out of a mentally distraught place and into a better one. It just takes a herculean effort right now.
I opened Instagram the other day and stumbled upon Rainn Wilson doing his live TV show on SoulPancake. I didn’t tune in for long because I’d missed a lot of it, but I did hear the part where he said focusing too much on all the bad going on will spin us into a negative abyss. That yes, there’s so much of it right now, but that we can’t focus on it or we’ll drive ourselves crazy.
It hit me in that moment that I’ve been driving myself crazy.
For the last two weeks or so, I’ve spent hours scanning the news every day because I’ve been searching in vain for a sense of safety. I’ve been distraught and frantic because that safety is just not there, and as a trauma survivor, I have a deep need to find it during chaos. My automatic responses (panic and fear) can overtake me if I’m not careful, and that’s exactly what had happened as of late.
In fact, I’d been focusing so hard on everything that felt threatening to me that I’d lost sight of the experiences I was relishing a few weeks back. Things like the quiet, the breeze, the downtime to think and to change. The peaceful feeling of watching the earth slow down for a spell and maybe even heal itself a little, as we humans step back and stop wreaking havoc all over the place.
As I go into this next week of quarantine, I want to shift back into positivity despite the utter devastation on the other side of my window. I’ve been working really hard on it today by digging bermudagrass out of the dirt for a new garden bed. I know it sounds crazy, but I find getting on my knees and digging in dirt is really grounding for me. It reminds me that I’m on a solid foundation and that whatever is going on will just go on around me; I don’t necessarily have to participate. Well, I don’t have to participate in the emotional insanity.
I also need to protect myself better from the people, things and activities that throw me off and shift me in the wrong direction. So what I need to do more of is to turn off the news. I also need to ignore the people who are not following protocols, and remember that I’m only responsible for me. I cannot control the situations that come or how other people respond to them—I can only control my own responses.
I can also remind myself that, today, I’m safe in my home with my husband. And I can sit down with him for dinner, both of us ratty and unkempt, and be proud of my continued efforts to shift into positivity when I’m hardwired to remain stuck in the dark.
Like many people, I’m fighting an internal battle that is exacerbated by the pandemic and that nobody understands but me. You may be fighting a similar battle because of your specific circumstances, be it health or financial or family or disability. But I say, let’s forgive ourselves for not being perfect. Let’s forgive ourselves for experiencing temporary anger at other humans. Let’s forgive ourselves for our bitterness or our snappiness or our tears flowing onto the pillow.
The ups and downs are just part of a process of transformation that often comes out of catastrophes like the one we’re in the midst of. Just keep moving, day by day, to the best version of you that’s currently buried in the muck. You’ll eventually get where you’re supposed to be as long as you keep trying. It’s just how life works.
My first book, Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife, will be published in summer 2020. To be notified when it is available for purchase or to follow this blog, sign up for my mailing list.
The Big Pause