I was talking with two friends the other day about roller coasters. One of them is like me. We’ve been going on thrill rides ever since the first time a ride operator pretended to not see us on our tippy toes, proving we were tall enough to ride. The other friend never rode a roller coaster until he was an adult.
The coaster lover and I were comparing our greatest ride experiences when the other friend chimed in about how the few coasters he’s ridden were unenjoyable because they jarred his back.
“That’s because,” I said, “You lock up in the seat. You stiffen your back trying to remain in control. You can’t fight the effects of gravity and physics during the ride. Instead, you have to relax all of your muscles and let your body move with the machine.”
The thrill of the ride is in letting go, placing your trust in the machine and allowing yourself to be completely free – free to fall, free to flip, free to wave your arms and scream as loud as you can. Be the living proof that the life inside you is strong enough to withstand it all. Then at the end – when the ride has come to a complete stop – be brave enough to say, “Let’s do it again!”
In that moment, I finally realized why I’ve been struggling mentally through the pandemic, why I’ve been absent all these months from my blog. I’ve tried so many times since October (when I published my last post) to dig down deep and find a story to share that I thought might help bring clarity to someone else, but I kept coming up empty. I didn’t feel comfortable trying to be uplifting to others when, as my mom would have said, I felt so “down in the dumps” myself.
What happened to my Zen?
To be honest, for these past months, I’ve felt hollow. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to others, “The pandemic has broken me. I’ve lost my Zen.”
OK, I didn’t actually lose it – it was just misplaced. I was still carrying out my daily checklist:
- Counting my blessings every day.
- Keeping my heart open – accepting and being kind to all people.
- Using my natural skills to help and support others.
But I had lost sight of one of life’s basic principles and the basis for the famous Serenity Prayer: Change the things you can. Accept the things you can’t. Understand the difference.
The part I had lost sight of was staying flexible, not trying to fight the forces of the pandemic roller coaster, but to accept the changes brought on by it that I had no control over. And to make the best of the things in life I could control.
Here’s the wrong stuff I had been focusing on:
- I absolutely HATED working from home. I didn’t care about working in my pajamas or not having to drive. I desperately missed the energy of the office and the nearness of my coworkers. Of the spontaneity that came with both joyful moments, and the times when you could see someone struggling or they could see it in you, and the unselfish support that would erupt.
- Both my husband and I got COVID at the same time, and not in a small way. We weren’t hospitalized, but not because of lack of severity. We just were stubborn enough to stick it out at home. Then we faced the awareness of long-hauler symptoms. We continue to wonder whether things like fatigue, headaches, weakness, and depression are post-illness symptoms or just our bodies’ responses to the wide range of changes to our former lives and routines.
- I got vaccinated, but only out of a sense of obligation, not need. I tend to have sensitivities to medicine, so I was afraid of what I’d experience. Turns out I didn’t have one adverse reaction – I had three. I suspect I’m experiencing long-terms affects from that as well.
All the while, I’ve desperately wanted to return to the mental health I had before the pandemic, and I’ve been waiting around for someone or something to make that happen. But guess what? I’m finally remembering something I had learned long ago – I have control over my own attitude, but not only that, the responsibility to make it a good one lies with no one else but me.
Climbing out of my hole
Maybe I am starting to get my Zen back. Now I’m looking again at that list of things I’ve been burdening myself with for the past year and a half, but with a better outlook:
- Working from home was a temporary inconvenience, and it’s already over for me. The company I work for was compassionate enough to know there were certain employees like me who were struggling and that allowing us back under appropriate safety guidelines was the right decision for us. I’m grateful to still be working for this company.
- I contracted COVID, but thankfully my body had the strength to come out of it in better shape than a lot of people. And I went through that experience with my husband. It’s one more story we’ll get to tell our grandkids one day – about the time grandma had the COVID panic attack and grandpa struggled through his own coughing fits to reassure me I wasn’t going to die that night (and he was right, LOL). I’m fortunate to have him as my life partner.
- I didn’t get the vaccine out of concern for my own health. I did it out of gratitude for the ability to return to work ahead of the bulk of employees. It was my show of appreciation to those who had given me the opportunity. I felt their selflessness being extended toward me, and I wanted to be respectful in return. I’m proud to have put others’ health and safety ahead of my own.
It seems I am regaining my clarity when it comes to seeing the big picture. I’ve been reminded of a life lesson that was reinforced for me through Pierre Pradervand’s The Gentle Art of Blessing: “When something goes completely askew, life is teaching you a lesson: trials are blessings in disguise.”
What I learned here is that my former thinking was shortsighted – once I achieved my optimal state of mindfulness, there was no guarantee I’d stay there indefinitely. I’ve been known to say, “Happiness is a decision, not a destination,” but during the pandemic, I wasn’t able to hold onto that. And that’s ok.
“In the amusement park of life…” each of us tolerates the rides differently. As I’ve said, I’m great with roller coasters – hills, drops, flips, and whirls – bring ‘em on! But don’t dare put me on a spinny ride like the teacups! I will be running for the trashcan the moment I get off.
The pandemic has been like a teacups ride for me. Cheesy metaphors aside, we don’t get to pick the challenges that we face in life. All we can control are our attitudes and actions in response to them. Without our worlds being turned upside down once in a while, we won’t be forced to adapt. We won’t learn anything new about ourselves. We won’t grow.
In time, I suppose I will be grateful for my ungraceful journey through the pandemic, because if my theory is correct, it will give me new insight to share.
How fast will these seeds grow?
I don’t know at what pace I’ll resume posting new blogs, but I do know “spreading seeds” is still a very important part of who I want to be in the world. Thank you to everyone who has continued to provide positive feedback despite my absence. I hope I will be able to return the favor of providing small inspirational moments like those you’ve given to me.
Finally, my heart goes out to everyone who’s experienced hard times during the pandemic — which is every single human on the planet. (I believe I have just enough love to share a small bit with each one of you!) We’ve all been through a lot, and unfortunately we all still have a ways to go with it. My hope is that we all feel increasing strength to embrace the gift of life we have today, to not take tomorrow for granted, and that we always remember togetherness and selflessness create more meaningful, less lonely days than solitude. Reach out right now and tell someone you love them!
Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…