Even more tenderness, even more compassion

In the US, we hear the pandemic is ending. A billion people have been vaccinated worldwide, and government restrictions are relaxing in many places. I’ve been fully vaccinated, and my pod will be fully vaccinated by next weekend. I have plans to see family members I haven’t seen in almost a year, and I’m so grateful for the hard work and science that went into the rapid creation of the COVID vaccines. 

And I’m sad. I’m so very sad, and so very angry, and so very, very, VERY tired.

I thought I knew exactly how tired I could get, because 2020. This time last year, I was tired in my bones — the stress of uncertainty, invisible risk everywhere, supply chain failure, the late stages of the Trump re-election campaign and presidency… it was exhausting.

So much of that rotten stuff is gone now, and I don’t feel better.

UGH! I just don’t feel better, and it makes me both mad and afraid. Anyone with chronic mental illness or a history of trauma will be familiar with the thoughts that surge: “What if I never feel better again? What if my capacity for joy and peace is just gone? What if this broke me permanently, like nothing else has been able to do… quite… so far?”

I keep talking to people who feel the same way. “Things are getting better,” we tell each other. “Why don’t I feel better? I feel so sad, so unhappy; why?” We look at each other in shared, helpless, irritated anguish. 

Here’s the thing about traumatic events: when a crisis hits, many people (like me) shift into survival mode, and focus on getting through the crisis with minimum damage and risk. I’m excellent at this, and so is my partner. We both survived traumatic events in our past, so survival mode is even familiar, in an almost-comforting way. You put as many feelings aside as you can, and you get the job done. One foot in front of the other; take a breath, and keep moving. 

But of course feelings don’t just go away because I’ve gotten too busy for them. And when it’s time to get out of survival mode, the feelings are there, and they suck. 

This is a kind of delayed grief, even a delayed reaction to trauma, and as far as I know, the only way out is through.

Image of a small dejected child, head lowered, with hair covering face. Child is wearing a fluorescent yellow shirt. Image is very dark.

I know I’m not alone in this — all around me, I see co-workers, friends, and family struggling with exhaustion and deeply painful emotions. This is a time to be tender with ourselves. “But I’ve been reaching for gentleness, for patience and kindness all year, and last year too!” my stubborn brain might say, “Surely it’s time for something else!” 

“It’s time for even more,” says my heart. “It’s time for even more tenderness, even more compassion.” However you get there: whether you start by being compassionate with someone else, and then find that same compassion for yourself… or if you need to start with yourself first, and then bring it to others. 

Because you can’t get blood from a stone. Productivity may have to wait a while longer; goals may be delayed. Quality might have to slip in some places. We’re not back to normal yet; not even close.

If we must be wretched a while longer, let us do so with grace, and grant grace to others.

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