by Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW
Here in Washington state, our governor just clamped down restrictions to slow the spread of the Corona virus and prevent deaths. In this strange time, we must minimize contact with the outside world. Our winter rituals have changed. No longer do we gather in extended family and friend groups around a table filled with communal food. No longer do we lighten the dark, chilly days with the warmth of our tribe.
Collectively we are in the wilderness, looking for ways to find comfort and remember: even the longest winter ends. And then comes spring. We are left hoping. Hoping a decent vaccine will be made. Hoping our world will return to some semblance of safe-enough. Hoping to return to our offices and schools. Hoping we can once again take up our petty concerns and stop tracking projected body counts.
When my twins were born, premature and medically fragile, I looked forward to the day I could get mad at them for stupid things: leaving socks on the floor, refusing broccoli. Trivial annoyance meant they were safe, and I longed to be free of the terror of their deaths. (I got my wish. So. Many. Piles. Of. Objects…So. Much. Food. Pickiness.)
We don’t think about irritation as evidence of good luck, but guess what people in real crisis are not doing? They are not thinking about who owes them a text back or how many weeds in their own yard came from the neighbor’s non-gardening.
There are some deep healing opportunities within this Covid restriction time. We live in a cornucopia of distractions: the news, Netflix, pasta, Paris, Amazon, beer, books, pot, porn, gambling, virtual farming, cat collecting, this world offers distraction 24/7.
With Covid getting worse, some of those distractions are no longer available. Loss of distractions is uncomfortable at first. What do we do with ourselves? With our time? We can comfort ourselves by doubling down on the ones that are still in our grasp. Numbing out with food and television was already a national pastime before Covid, and it’s only become more common.
Or we can try something else. With the television off and phone down, there is an opportunity to sit alone in the company of our own consciousness. Try this. Take stock of what you notice, feel, and think.
In this moment I’m sitting in my sweet little backyard office. The space heater is noisy. The amber light bulbs above my desk cast a weak ring of light. It’s still dark out, and the shapes of the tree branches shade the sky. I’m tired but also proud of myself for waking up early. I’ve been wrestling with non-writing, trying and failing to become more productive. I wish I craved writing like I crave coffee. But I don’t. I regret this.
If you want to grow emotionally, to be more resilient and kinder there is a simple way. All we have to do, in any given moment, is to notice and then tolerate whatever feelings arise. The good feeling ones and the bad feeling ones have this in common: They won’t last forever. A moment of irritation will turn into a moment of gratitude and then we might feel hungry. Or bored. Or overwhelmed. Or sad. Or playful. Or focused. Or inspired.
Today I’m going to try and tolerate feelings, one moment at a time.