As of today, it has been thirty-nine (39) days since my family started to voluntarily stay-at-home/quarantine. Over a month of social distancing, over a month that some have been unemployed, over two months of pretty serious messages about handwashing. Over a month of no contact delivery, masks, gloves, toilet paper, panic, calm, boredom and more.
And while there are some out there protesting that this social distancing isn’t necessary, there are others who view this as an opportunity to change something about the beliefs and systems that brought us here. At the heart of the conflict lies the fantastical hope that “after all of this is over things will return to normal” vying for media space with the growing number of economic, psychological and health care experts who believe that we need to start getting ourselves ready for a new normal.
In crisis we reach for the familiar to regain a sense of control
It isn’t that I don’t understand the deep, psychological needs for us to have a sense of normalcy in our lives. So many of us have worked hard to develop daily or weekly routines that maximize our efforts toward our most precious or mundane goals. Likewise, those in mental health or substance abuse recovery often rely on routines to aid in managing their symptoms, if even just for the built-in reminders for self-care such as eating and hygiene.
Especially difficult is the timing of this pandemic for those who were preparing for or undergoing major life changes – starting a new job, welcoming a new child, recovering from substance abuse, spiritual awakenings, graduations, taking that vacation you actually deserve, starting a new health regimen, moving on from toxic relationships, etc. Even positive events in our life can be stressful and the support of our various social networks (family, friends, even strangers) can get us through these transitions, reinforcing our confidence and self-esteem.
In particular, for me, I was just emerging from the self-imposed emotional isolation I’ve been battling as a result of vicarious trauma. I was coming back into who I am without all the stress and heartache. I have worked so hard toward a revival of my most authentic self, that the disappointment of continuing to miss in that more public celebration was making question whether or not this was really meant to be. The week we were to start self-isolating, I was supposed to meet three different friends for lunch, drinks or coffee. I was finally starting to show back up in the world and then the quarantine hit. I hid back in my old patterns, shutting down and burrowing into my isolation again.
But as much as I would love to declare, “yes, things will go back to the way they were before”, I join many other observers and experts who believe we will not be going back to normal anytime soon. Many pointing out that we are in the situation we are in because we refused to see that what qualified as “normal” wasn’t actually working for us. Specifically, that the inequality persistent within our systems of health care, labor, and coordinated crisis response were not just insufficient, but unsustainable.
It’s hard not to feel like everything is coming apart, because it is. Not just with our governments, but with ourselves. And even with the best social distancing, handwashing and cheerful masks, many of us feel powerless to do anything to control our own destinies. It’s natural to respond to a crisis by reaching for what’s familiar, what’s comforting and “normal”. We want safety, security and we need to know we will be okay. So it’s natural to want to hold onto the idea that we need to “get back to normal”.
Yet, was normal really serving us in our personal lives? How many people have been suffering from toxic relationship patterns, overwork, under appreciation, oppressive internal beliefs? This crisis has exposed not just our official vulnerabilities but our personal ones as well. A lot of us are facing a dark night of the soul whether we ready or not. The universe is reminding us that while we can love and respect others, we cannot hide from the call to love and respect ourselves.
Even in the midst of uncertainty, there is always room for opportunity
We sit at a critical crossroads, faced with a powerful opportunity to decide how we want to rebuild. If we choose to rebuild exactly as it was before, we risk exposing ourselves to the same wounds we’re suffering now. But we could take this opportunity to let go of those traditions, those beliefs, those systems that no longer serve us.
OR….We could take this opportunity to let go of the traditions, beliefs, and systems that perhaps have worn out their usefulness. Designed for a society without nearly the kind of global reach and interconnectedness we have now, it is up to us to re-imagine the world we actually want instead of the world we are stuck with
Can we dare to dream of a world with more inclusive systems, more equitable values, more empathetic societies, more balanced goals, more healing connections? Is it too much to form the strategies around how we emerge with universal health care or basic income guarantees? Is it too bold to decide to let go of what no longer serves us?
And while many of us are rightfully directing our energy toward ensuring our leaders don’t leave anyone behind with our next steps, we also need to see this opportunity for ourselves. What are we holding onto that is no longer serving us? What toxic patterns have been interrupted because of this pandemic? What baggage are you holding onto that you don’t want to be part of your post-pandemic life?
This is a beautiful and powerful moment for us to take leadership over our own lives so we emerge from this crisis the strong, resilient and radiant people we not only want to be but deserve to be.
(originally posted 10-7-18)
I wanted to be a lot of things when I grew up: a nurse, a teacher, a judge, a senator, a singer. But the one that stuck with me most, that lit up my imagination the most was the ambition of being an astronaut. I grew up during the age of the space shuttle, Star Trek, and Star Wars. I was mesmerized by 2001: A Space Odyssey and consumed everything I could in those very early years about space travel. I even went to Space Camp. Twice.
This was it for me. My only destiny. I was destined to travel among the stars. My early childhood memories include watching the space shuttle, Columbia, roar into the sky. Innocence and imagination propelled me to research and learn, which caused me to grow and dream bigger.
My trips to Space Camp also got me started with public speaking rather early. Traveling to schools and scouting troops who wanted to hear about my experience. It also led to designing a space station with my equally geeky friend in middle school that won us some awards and Air Force mentorships. My life became a series of events, speeches, presentations, leadership councils, playfully personal arguments that illustrate a higher ideal than the everyday, ordinary obedience.
I since decided to stay on earth for the duration of my lifetime, I still am inspired and awed by the inspiration of space.
Whenever I’d sit and watch the stars, I saw the endless possibilities for discovery, for growth, for the experience of majestic beauty. I saw the potential for greater technologies to take us past our solar system. I saw the bright, twinkling possibilities for future destinations, greater understanding of our origins and even the capacity for humanity’s redemption in the vast, glittering expanse of space.
But space is also scary. It’s dark and mysterious. The boundlessness of such apparent emptiness often exceeds normal comprehension. And in those rare moments we allow ourselves to explore the vastness of that concept, we begin to see how it’s possible to let go of our smaller selves and connect to the vastness of the cosmos. It’s humbling and remarkable, sparking a flicker of wisdom within, as fleeting as a shooting star.
Sitting on the porch of my family’s cabin in the mountains. I needed this retreat for the past few months, but something else always seemed more important. In my efforts to cope with the stress of day to day life I had allowed myself to get drawn back into old patterns: reacting instead of responding, self-deprivation instead of self-nurturing, beating myself down instead of lifting myself back up.
The gravity of the world had weighed down my spirit more often than the beauty of it had lifted my soul; yet, I feel untethered, the ground never truly solid beneath my feet. Sometimes I feel like I have just been floating out there for quite some time. Drifting from one ambition to another – today I’m a writer, yesterday I was a lawyer, tomorrow I’ll be a goddess. While all of those roles are me, lately there has been very little of me left to inhabit those roles. There’s been very little of me to offer to the people I care most about in this world. Very little of me to become the sparkling mountain goddess I want to be. So consumed by the fear and anxiety, the doubt, and the anger, I have lost touch with the love and the wonder that set me on this path, to begin with.
So as I sit here on this porch, staring at a magnificently sparkling painting of stars overhead, I recall the girl who dreamed of being an astronaut – of seeking out a future for humanity. In this quiet of midnight, I finally feel free to reconcile my own destiny.
I had lost touch with the wisdom that is found when I slow down and consider the true vastness of the universe compared to the small and tiny problems of my life. Who cares whether my boss likes me if there isn’t a humanity left to bear witness to the grandiose majesty of our universe? Who cares whether I said the right thing or wore the right outfit or if I weighed 210 lbs or 135 – my weight and nervousness is not my legacy. Likewise, why should I care about which celebrity is dating who, when I am one tiny person in the vastly diverse array of human beings on this planet, inhabiting one of just a billion different rocks?
Life is so much more than our competitions and jealousies. Life is so much more rewarding than a lifetime of bitterness. Staring at the stars, we begin to question the uselessness of our structures and oppressions. Staring at the stars we know that life is much more than what we’ve contained ourselves to become. Break loose of the mold and find your light in the vastness of complexity and beauty within. Cut loose from the ties that have bound you to the ground and allow yourself to find your place in the universe around us.
It has been a little over a year since I started this job. A job that makes me feel like a for-realsies attorney without the icky task of being a cold, walled off shark. I get to help people, real people with real problems every single day. People who are disabled, homeless, alone in the world. And I choose to do this job in the most connected ways possible. The dial on my empathy is turned all way up all throughout the week. By the time I get to Friday, my soul is weary, my body is weak, and my heart is wistful.
Law school doesn’t teach you how to deal with clients, how to deal with compassion fatigue (if it even acknowledges that there is such a thing as compassion in the practice of law) or how to balance empathy with the cold, hard logic of The Law. One of my goals in life is to create a model for attorneys, who much like myself, went into law to help people, change the world and approach the practice of law with empathy and compassion. I’m learning as I go–and I’d love to share one of things that has helped me along the way.
As my family will affirm, I spend many a long night at the office. The work I do is so detailed and there is a tremendous burden on my shoulders each day. It only took a few months of this work for me to realize that I needed to build myself an escape hatch–not just because I needed it but also because no one else would do it for me.
So here are some things that have worked for me:
- Having a flexible schedule. 9-5/ M-F doesn’t work for everyone and it certainly never has for me. I purposely look for opportunities where I can be trusted as a professional to get the job done in the time that is most appropriate for me and my family. So I work 9-6 M-Th and 8-12 on Fridays. I can also change around my schedule as I need to based on appointments, family needs and such.
- I seize opportunities for self-care. I still need to get better at setting aside time and space for it, but when an opportunity for downtime presents itself I jump on it. Whether it’s lunch with a friend or time for meditation, I allow myself to seize that chance before it withers away.
- I find courage to say NO when I need to. I remember one of my first law jobs was as a clerk was for a large law firm. One of the associates in litigation gave birth and she was back to work in 2 weeks. She became my touchstone for what I might become if I couldn’t find a way to say no to impossible demands. I never, ever wanted to be her.
- I meditate. I’m only now returning to this practice, but it’s important for me to be able to let go at some point during the week and this is the easiest, most effective way.
- I designate some time that is just for me. I take Friday afternoons off for a reason. It is the one time during the week that is mine and only mine. Wanna see a movie? Friday afternoon. Wanna sit on the porch with a smoke and a whisky? Friday afternoon. Wanna spend quality time with my kid or a friend? Friday afternoon it is. My family and colleagues have learned that Friday afternoons are untouchable. Friday’s are MY days.
- I create rituals to get me through the week. One of them is to take an hour lunch, go to a diner and read. It’s something I started at my last corporate job and something that I know energizes me and allows me to turn off my critical, stressed out brain for a bit. I always have at least one fiction and one non-fiction book to choose from depending on my mood that day.
- I wash my hands after a difficult case or client encounter. It seems so simple. But it’s another ritual I engage in to wash away the bad energy that just came through my door. It gives me permission to let go of that fight or that obstacle and to start fresh again.
- I go to therapy. There’s no replacing the value of talking things out in a confidential environment with someone looking out for your best interests. I only go once a month right now, but it gives me a safe space to put all of my frustrations and doubts and gain some perspective.
These are just some of the ways I choose to handle being a heart-centric attorney in a world that denies the impact of trauma and human hardship on the people who work the front lines–and a world that fails to recognize that attorneys, despite our logic and reason, are still, you know, mostly human.