Giving Ourselves Permission
As a child I was taught to obey authority, to look to leaders for answers and assume that they had my best interests at heart. It took me years to realize that no one knows what I need more than I do. That lesson becomes more clear to me every day during this pandemic as I see leaders giving us messages telling us what to do during this time, everything from working at home, staying at home, and to not go out unless it’s necessary. These messages are good and are meant to protect our physical health, but what I don’t hear from leaders are the messages about how to take care of our mental health during this stressful time. Taking care of our mental health is imperative as we navigate this time of uncertainty. No one knows what we need to maintain our mental health during this time better than we do. Our bodies tell us what they need, if we are open to listening to them.
I’ve talked with many people that are struggling to maintain any semblance of a normal life at this time. This time isn't normal, so we need to give ourselves permission to give up our preconceived notion of what normal should be during this time. I think we forget that we are human beings and that we are not meant to be productive all of the time. People are cracking under the stress of trying to work from home, homeschool, make meals, and timing their trips to the store when they’re likely to encounter less people, all while isolating themselves from others. Normally, when we are greatly stressed, it’s a time to reach out to our support people for help. We can still do that, but we need to put time and mental effort into making new arrangements to make these connections happen. Everything feels mentally exhausting these days and we need to give ourselves permission to just be human and not try to hold onto our levels of productivity and functioning that we maintained when our lives felt far more certain and connected.
I believe we need to become our own leaders and give ourselves permission to put our own and our family’s mental health first. I find that I’m exhausted most of the time since we started self quarantining. Just like when I’m mourning the loss of a loved one, the grief over what we’re losing during this time, the anxiety, the uncertainty and the fear of even more unknown losses ahead leaves me feeling intensely exhausted. I’m giving myself permission to do what I need to take care of myself because I know if I stick to our cultural standards of productivity and the expectation of strength disguised as toughness, I’ll suffer mentally. I’m giving myself permission to sleep when I need to, to get up and take walks when I feel I can’t work anymore, and to cry and grieve when I need to. I’m trying to sit with the intense emotions I’m feeling and allow myself to feel them and to recognize that all of my feelings are justified regardless if they seem logical to me or not.
I’m trying not to play the game of comparative suffering; we are all suffering. My suffering is justified just as everyone else’s is. I can feel my own pain and allow myself to feel the pain of our collective suffering and be aware that it's changing me and opening my heart, but I don’t need to create a hierarchy of pain and suffering. That’s a losing battle and it will only lead to me having less compassion for myself, and as a result, for others. If I can’t make space in my life for self compassion at this time, it's going to be very difficult for me to remain physically and mentally healthy. I’ll never be able to feel compassion for others and this time calls for immense amounts of compassion if we are to survive and eventually heal from this collective trauma.
I hope we can give ourselves permission to ride the wave of emotions during this time and to grant ourselves compassion for all of the emotions we are feeling. Sticking to a schedule and adhering to the culturally prescribed displays of mental toughness and productivity are counter to what we need to maintain our mental health during this time. We need to be gentle with ourselves and the people we love. Our mental health is precious and we must treat it with care, just as we are our physical bodies at this time. We need people to be mentally healthy during this time, far more than we need them to be productive.