We are inundated with messages to stay positive, keep busy, learn a new skill, and stay socially connected alongside news and images of tragedies and mounds of flowers heaped at make-shift memorials. Radio and TV ads spin on catch phrases reminding us of ‘unprecedented times’ and ‘difficult times’ as they try to sell us something. Political leaders and public health people keep telling us to stay home, to be vigilant, and to treat this as a marathon as the country slowly tries to re-awaken.
Some health advocates have begun to warn of a possible mental health crisis; that it may not be over when it is over. It can all be emotionally draining. Some people may feel more emotional and want to talk and other people may seem numb to it all. Either way, the reaction of reaching our limits to care about any more of it, is predictable and understandable. There are limits to how much anxiety and sadness we can tolerate without switching off and into a survival mode.
I was a marathoner runner for years. The toughest part of any run began when the finish line was just coming into sight. Despite the cheering, clapping, and clamouring to keep going, I often just wanted them all to go away and leave me alone. Sometimes, I slowed to a snail’s pace or just walked, placing one foot in front of the other, blocking out pain, and focusing on some point in space – usually my wife’s face just past the finish line. The reality is that we each have limits to our physical and emotional endurance and only find the limit when we are at that line. Acknowledging our limits is important.
Sometimes the experience of exhaustion and wanting it all to end can add another layer of drain and concern because it contradicts the many positivity messages from others. Focusing on the little wins of completing a task or a chore can be essential in getting through to the next minute or the next day; putting one foot in front of the other. Remembering to eat, drink, sleep as much as necessary, getting some physical exercise (might want to leave the races to the young!), or just goofing around with music, gaming, playing with the kids or pets may be all that is possible. That’s enough.
At the risk if overdoing the marathon analogy; Stay at your own pace. Too fast risks burning out while running too slow can leave regrets that you could have done better. This is a different course since nobody is sure where the actual finish line is located. Take the time to walk through the refueling stops, going out when the parks or golf courses are opened, getting a haircut (for those of you so blessed), or going out for a meal when those doors re-open.
As the glimmers of this finish line approaches, instead of feeling excited and positive, we may realize just how drained we are emotionally and physically. This is also normal. Finding places and times to recharge, with others and alone, and staying away from despair may be enough of a goal for the immediate future. Getting over the line does not have to be pretty.
John J. Whelan
John J. Whelan, Ph.D., is the author of Going Crazy in the Green Machine, available now on FriesenPress.