Get up and go again — A story of dealing with ambiguity in a pandemic.
I have a mate by the name of Pete. He’s a guy with a head full of dreams, and a heart of gold, who accidentally wrapped himself in a cloak of fear. Maybe you
Pete and I have regular calls to talk about the throws of life and in March of 2020, I got a different kind of call. He rang me to announce that there was a buzz about his office and a feeling that people might get sent home at any moment. “I feel like a schoolkid again, awaiting an announcement of a weather-induced closure,” he proclaimed with joy.
With a great pace, life did change quickly and working from home, once a privilege, became a necessity. Pete called me in April and he had suddenly had found himself with a lot of spare time, thanks to a widespread government support scheme. I recall the excitement in his voice at the prospect reclaiming this time to change pace in life and to find more fulfilling pursuits.
“I have started a blog, i’ve picked the guitar back up and started Spanish lessons, Pete said with an electricity to his voice. “I’ve also tried my hand at the stock market,” he said less enthusiastically. “In the afternoon, I go for long walks, literally smelling the flowers and looking up at buildings to see the beautiful architecture. I’m reading more and I have started a herb garden, I’ve cooked homemade meals every day,” He said with a tone of pleasure. “I have joined Toastmasters and have caught up with people on zoom that I hadn’t seen in a very long time.” Pete continued: “Although there’s a very harrowing invisible enemy outside, I don’t know anyone directly affected by the disease. I check the data daily and watch the news in awe, but feel disconnected from the narrative.”
Spring transitioned into Summer, the sun shone with gusto and it was warm and lively. As regulations relaxed, Pete went to the park and continued pursuing his interests as he wished, he could see more friends in person and go out again. The joy was incalculable and became one strangely fluid, hedonistic ride. Then, slowly as summer began to fade away, things started to feel a little funny. This utopian bliss had stretched on and an anticipated end date seemed like a distant reality, but as time went on, this elusive end date bred more uncertainty. Then, I received a call from Pete in August. He was beginning to lose it.
“It’s been four months and I’ve basically created a new life, and given myself ah a new ‘job’. I have created goals, and metrics for those goals, which have made me anxious about the deadlines I have missed,” he said pensively. “I am really scared about going back to reality, whatever that is. I am at a confusing intersection where I know reality is inevitable, but I don’t want to go back. I know that the longer that things are prolonged, the more I might forget how to be a normal, productive citizen.” Others had gone back to reality, and Pete was one of the final standing outsiders. A man caught between the joy of a borrowed retirement and the feeling of not being a valued individual in society. He was all over the shop.
As his cortisol levels rose, a sort of irrational fear had fed a fire of anxiety, which was burning brighter by the day. The very joy of this free time had blurred into one indistinguishable day from the next. The novelty of this new life had been erased. It was now too much in and of itself to bear, being mostly confined to his small apartment space. Once bounding out of bed for 7 am wakeups, became 8, 9 then 10 am begrudging shuffles to the living room, followed by mindless scrolling through social media, falling into YouTube conspiracy theory holes and staring into the abyss. Slowly, like one clay Pidgeon after the next, each pursuit was catapulted into the ether, to be shot to smithereens before falling in pieces to the ground
How had incalculable joy transmuted to anxiety, pain and suffering? However when all seemed lost, Pete saw a fork in the road. He could sink into despondent entropy or take responsibility for his life. He decided to take decisive action and in turn, corrective steps to find his True North when the map seemed to have lost its meaning.
Pete and I had our most recent call last week: “I have started my comeback by getting a good dose of reality and recommenced conversations with people that give me the right energy I need. I even spoke to a guy that outlined the fact that I had been furloughed, however a number of my counterpart colleagues had not, wich was confronting but strangely motivating,” Pete continued with authority. “I am devouring helpful books on how to become indispensable and how to view obstacles as positives, I have sought out a therapist and I am prioritising planning ahead for any outcome,” he said with an air of confidence.
Pete spoke openly to friends of the pains, he asked for help and he reached out the others. He unplugged from the internet’s overhyped obsession of “hustling” entrepreneurship, success and from the damaging misinformation and of the mainstream and social media. He realised that although a lot could be done over this valuable time, however he wasn’t going to change the world, become a millionaire or to be fluent in a new language in a few months. Moreover, this was the opportunity to get his house in order and build a rock-solid foundation
“I have picked my pursuits back up and found joy again in the process,” he said. “This time I am taking lighter in his approach and focusing on the energy-giving aspects of my activities.” “Most of all,” Pete pointed out, “I am making sure to get my daily dose of joy thought exercise, rest, meditation, journaling, gratitude and good eating.”
Pete had realised that the fear of uncertainty and of lack of self-resourcefulness and although he was not in the worst of situations, his situation was unique and just as relevant as any other. Pete noted that it was possible that the fear, the uncertainty and his experience was collective and universal. That he was beginning to feel sick, anxious and scared and he took action to find meaning and create space for self-understanding. To overcome the throws of the circumstance. Now that is something to stand by.
I’m not a specialist in psychology, but I don’t need a degree to know that it’s all a bit too much right now for the majrty of our fellow human community. I have had a number of conversations with people across the globe and those feeling is definitely universal. The best gift we can give ourselves now is to own our growth, for the good of ourselves, those around us and the greater good of all. This way we can regulate our response to what happens around us. It’s powerful, perspective-shifting stuff.
If we can think of your mind as a garden, and that we need to tend to daily with love care and the right nourishing properties in order to get the most out of it, then we can take those small, gradual steps toward a better way of coping with this uncertainty. I am so proud of Pete and anyone who is correcting their true north when the map seemed to have lost its meaning.
Ask yourself, have you taken the time to understand and tend to your mind?