I am severely limiting my C-19 reading, and online chat, because I find it makes me happier, and because there’s even less that I can do about this disaster than previous disasters I have fretted over. I follow the science, and let others get engaged in the opinion game.
It’s working. Generally. I have a lot of good days and a few not-SO-good days, but no really bad ones. I know that’s not true for everyone, and I am grateful for my good fortune. As always. I sleep well, I’m doing everything as best I can, and I’m keeping optimistic.
Some days, it’s not easy. I am an intermittent realist, and I know this pandemic is not a good thing in itself – whatever good may come from it. Thus, negative thoughts are always on the periphery: I watch the stock market have its best month in decades, and yet I still think every day about pulling out; I talk to a friend whose real estate business is booming, and I still expect prices to be half what they are today in a year; I know that the curve is flattening, but I still expect many, many, MANY more dead in the U.S. alone.
I can go all the way negative, but I understand that I really know little of what’s to come. I expect a depression unlike anything any of us have seen, but I’ve bet against our economy before, and lost every time. I expect some chaos, as the knuckleheads with guns finally see their chance, but I know that chaos serves no one, including them. Meanwhile, the planet warms. It was 93 in mid-April in Sacramento. So I can worry about that, too.
But I’m trying not to. I’m focusing on what I can, and what works, for me; I’m focusing on what’s in front of me, what I can affect. In the past, I would have considered this ostrich behavior, but these days, it’s more about keeping sane. I’m still doing what I can with an eye to contributing, and I’ve cut some material for face masks, and donated some money here and there. I’m there for my friends. I’m focusing on doing what I can do, which is write, share my thoughts, and I know it has helped a few people, which is enormously gratifying.
I see people making references on Facebook to needing to unfriend or block people, and to online conflicts, and to protests, and to people pushing back against people who are protesting, and I see people getting angry, and others believing the most absurd conspiracy theories, and…it’s all just noise. I just let it all flow past. Most of it is just people having emotional outbursts, and who has time for that? Why in the world would anyone let themself get caught up in all of this nonsense?
The way I see it, this is a time to do a few very basic, very simple, and probably very challenging things: Get yourself together. Help others get themselves together. Everything else is just noise.
Most important is getting yourself together, on the basis of the oxygen mask analogy: You can’t help anyone else if you’re struggling to breathe yourself.
The thing is, getting yourself together is one of the most challenging projects one can take on at any time. Working on your health is harder than “buffering” with pot or booze or chips or cookies; getting your balance sheet right is harder than clicking “place order”; creating something new is harder than bingeing on Netflix; really diving into your fear is harder than overreacting to the latest outrage in the news; dealing with interpersonal strife is harder than making other people “wrong.”
Twas ever thus. In my experience, the things that are hard right now are the things that are always hard: Focus. Clarity. Discipline. Being kind to myself when I fall short of my high expectations for myself. Not reacting to people when they project their anxieties about themselves on me.
But our current situation – to the degree that we share it – makes dealing with these things more imperative than ever. It’s complex, because even if we’re not personally suffering any financial or medical hardship, we see it more clearly now, don’t we? The possibilities are dire, even if we have escaped them. Even if we know that we’re lucky, we can see how things go wrong. And no matter how good our situation, it could change.
And everywhere we look, we see news of the suffering of others. And we’re not even seeing the worst: Given our American self-centeredness, we’re not even seeing what’s going on in places far from our consciousness: The loneliness of quarantine in Italy. Serious government restrictions in Istanbul. People dying on the streets of Djakarta. I have friends who keep me apprised of those situations. It’s not good.
And it’s going to get worse. Here. Soon.
So to add to that this nonsense of getting into back-and-forths about insignificant details, especially as they regard other peoples’ behavior, or opinions, or choices, seems to me the height of folly. It always has been; but right now, it’s a dumb waste of energy that could be better used getting our own business together, whatever that may be. (And yes, I realize that’s my opinion about other people’s behavior. There’s no escape.)
But we can try. The good news is, I’m seeing a LOT of people working to improve their situation and their mind set. For every person getting into arguments about the “right” thing to do, or how “wrong” someone is, is a person just doing exactly the right thing, as they see it. For every person jumping in to “remind” someone that “people are suffering” is someone who is actually relieving someone’s suffering. We all get to decide for ourselves what the right thing to do is. No one else does.
So check yourself: Are you judging other people’s ideas or behavior during this time? Are you using others’ mistakes (as you see them) to feel better about yourself? Are you gathering information to prove your point of view about what’s happening? Are you rushing to judge people – a conspiracy nut impugning Bill Gates’ for his “obvious” plot to destroy humanity, or some macho nitwit protesting “fascism” at the state Capitol – when maybe they’re just coping with difficult emotions the best they can?
They may not even recognize their own emotions. Ignorance can’t see its own ignorance, and irrational anger always feels rational. Perhaps they’re just feeling weak and scared, but they can’t admit it? They want to feel strong and knowledgeable and as though they’re taking some action against something that neither they nor anyone else can control?
Maybe you don’t want to go down that rabbit hole, because you’ve got better things to think about?
Yes. Their thoughts are their problem. You have work to do, and taking in all these opinions doesn’t serve you. Feeling defensive about how your actions are received – or how you imagine they may be received – is a waste of your precious time.
This is the toughest challenge, I think, and more common than we might imagine. It’s certainly the one that has affected me the most: I’ve had a few down days, and more than few dark thoughts, but by and large I have found this time to be incredibly inspiring and creative – and how dare I? How dare I feel optimistic and energized and creative?
But whose voice is that? I have been self-conscious about this, based on what I imagine others might think. Putting my thoughts out there make me more of a target. But also, no one cares. So I do it anyway. Because better or worse, that’s who I am, and that’s what I do.
The fact is, there is no better time to be productive and creative than now, because there is NEVER a better time than right now. External circumstances don’t have a thing to do with it. Creativity is always precious, and if you’re feeling productive and creative and, dare I say, HAPPY, don’t let others’ judgment of you – or your inner judgement about it – stop you or cause you to question yourself. Forge ahead. You are a force in the world, and what you are creating is positive and making yourself, and the world, a better place.
I hear, every day, from someone who is shedding old habits, learning new things, creating new art, new attitudes, new relationships. This is an amazing time to be alive, and those who are caught up in conflict and bent on being right or putting down those who aren’t mirroring their negativity back are not worth your time or attention. They are digging their own graves; let ’em do what they gotta do.
YOU are free to be bold, be creative, be optimistic, be your best self. Don’t let the naysayers or worriers or critics stop you. And that goes DOUBLE for the naysayers and worriers and critics that live inside your head. They know your weakest spots, and they will exploit them ruthlessly, because they don’t want you to be hurt, or to change, or to grow.
Push back. Be brave. Be you. You may not realize it, and others may not acknowledge it, but who you are is what the world needs right now. More importantly, it’s who YOU need right now. Go for it.