My favourite dating app opener has always been “Describe your year so far in one word?” It produces a variety of responses. And even though I’m asking for a ‘one word answer’, it would almost always lead to a more elaborate and engaging conversation that I looking for.
2020’s still fresh, but I’m certain this year’s word is going to be “change”. And my story that follows is going to involve change for the better. And change for the worse.
Starting with the good news — after more than a decade of being “officially single”, I met someone. The catch — which I shared on a longer social media post — is that it finally happened as I made the decision to take a break from dating. My last match was also my lucky one. This was also preceded by the decision to be more selective and hold myself in higher regard. Who `woulda known! However, for the relationship flourish, I had to make another change: reducing my study load at uni. I had my heart set on finishing my Graduate Diploma in Counselling this year — it was my “life plan”. But I also knew in my heart that it wasn’t possible to balance study, work and a relationship.
Accepting our limitations can allow us to accomplish more and feel more fulfilled rather than frustrated. Still, I still struggled with the decision. Then a friend commented that I’m “changing my ‘life plan’ for life” — for which “there’s no better reason”. And I agreed. I came to the resolution that my end goal isn’t just being a counsellor and progressing my career. It’s being a happy and integrated person as a whole. And a romanic relationship could nourish many other areas of my life. (Which it has — like when she cooks me dinner so I can focus on my assignments.)
So I skipped along with a grin of someone who’s getting laid on the `reg and the affirming belief that life can change — life can surprise us… Then COVID happened. Or as I should say, is happening… It feels like the storm is simultaneously here and still approaching. And saying “we’ll get through this” doesn’t feel assuring because we don’t truly know what this is.
My father, being his stoic self, told me it’s a matter of being “mentally strong.” My mother urged me to always wear a mask and gloves. I would feel stranded between these two two polarities. But I’m lucky I have my partner and my friends to help me gather my bearings and navigate this traumatic event.
And traumatic it is. As my friend Aron (who vlogs online from South Africa) recently shared, we shouldn’t downplay the seriousness of what’s happening in an effort to move on. COVID has shattered our sense of safety, security and stability. It has left us grieving for the lives we had with no idea of when we’ll have them back.
I will acknowledge my father isn’t alone. Everyone is handling this period differently. Some are taking it in their stride and standing strong. That’s not me. While I’m not as negatively impacted as others — I’ve been able to transition smoothly to working from home — it’s still proving to be a struggle.
I’ve identified that this period is rekindling feelings of hopeless and powerless that I’ve experienced in the past — where I felt up against something far bigger than me (I graduated during the GFC and really struggled to find work for a long time). And with the closure of gyms, parks and hikes, I’ve lost the things essential to my wellbeing. They are the best treatments for ADHD and depression along with social face-to-face contact. Like a plant does with the sun, I source energy from an active life and hope from things to look forward to. Like a cloud, COVID has changed the conditions I need to flourish. With the arrival of Winter, the sun will also be making less of an appearance which only adds to the gloom. Blergh.
Being a sensitive soul, I’m also being affected by the desperation, the arguments and the general sense of mistrust from strangers — as if smiling can transmit the virus. The more we stay inside to flatten the curve, the more fear and anxiety rises. And I believe this is something to be more concerned about. Living under constant threat is no way to live. COVID is not going away any time soon, so we need to remember to take time out if we’re going to make it.
I’ve been turning to the night sky since hiking isn’t an option. I recently found myself on the balcony couch looking up at the stars, longing. Longing for a world where I’m not so scared of surfaces that I don’t notice the colours of the falling leaves as I walk down the street. A world where I don’t avoid smiling at someone and saying hello. A world where profit isn’t more important than people — where the economic treadmill can stop. A world were people don’t panic buy because they feel comforted belonging to a community that takes care of those in need.
Sadly, this is wishful thinking. I am here in this world. And as it changes I have to learn how to live in it. While I can’t turn to anyone for the answer, there is a positive — I can turn to almost everyone for support. It’s beautiful to hear stories of community and compassion in contrast to the fear and anxiety.
I’ve received some great advice from my friends too: focus on what I can control, establish a routine. Also take this time to really focus on what’s important and where my values lie. For me, this means approaching isolation like the Vipassana meditation I did at the end of the last year — viewing discomfort as an opportunity for growth and awareness. I know that as I bring myself to a still point, I should expect things to surface… Old wounds are going to split under the stress of this situation. This is why I’m not putting pressure on myself to be super productive — to learn guitar or another language. We’re going through something big here. We need awareness and self-compassion.
We also need to dream. Not just to remember, but to dream… Because we won’t be going back. We’ll be going forward — to a new world with new ways of living. And dreaming is about the positives that can come from all of this. From what I’ve seen, flexibility around working locations and hours are here to stay. Work-life balance is closer to becoming a real thing. The rest will be a matter of waiting…
Maybe we will see that the economic system we’ve leaning on isn’t as stable as we thought? Maybe the separation will drive more efforts to build strong communities and live with collective mindsets. Maybe we will become more creative and less consumption driven. Maybe we’ll see that nothing should be taken for granted — and go on to live with more gratitude than we’ve ever had. As Charles Eisenstein discusses, there’s so much potential for positive change on the other side of this. We just need to get through.
I’ve tried to be assuring with my writing, too. And my closing attempt will be with the point that while we haven’t collectively been “here” before, we’ve all individually experienced uncertainty in our lives. Think about the storms you’ve seen. About the times you’ve gritted your teeth, braced yourself and marched ahead into the unknown.
That’s where I’m sourcing my strength — from what I’ve been through. But also from what I’m going to go through. From returning to my “ordinary life” which is going to feel so fu*king extraordinary — seeing my friends, eating out, traveling with my partner, exploring the dynamic fascinating and creative city I live in. I honestly believe that as we come to a new found appreciation for all we have, the world is going to come alive in ways it never has!
But that’s the future. Right now we’re going through a period of grief and readjustment. The reality is that we’re up against something ‘bigger than ourselves’. And while it’s easy to feel powerless, we can consider that extraordinary circumstances can create heroes out of ordinary people. We don’t have to find the cure for COVID to contribute…
We can say hello and smile at strangers. We can notice the leaves and the laughs of children in the park. We check in on one another. There are many ways we can spark hope and share some kindness in this world where people are feeling more alone than ever. Meaning can make this more manageable. Let’s do everything we can to find it — so that later on in the year, when we talk about “change”, it’s followed by a story we’re happy to tell.
Wishing you well for now.
Photo credit to my dear soul sister & astrologer, Candice. Visit her at Auralen.com