For over a year we've collectively moved through physical and emotional responses, large and small, to COVID-19; with unique fears and physical limitations impacting the chronic illness community in especially big ways. The intense fear, physical quarantining for weeks and months on end, worrying for myself and my family, exhaustive reading and learning, waiting for good news (and not getting it), adjusting to work and school from home, sadness and missing family and friends, anger, and boredom that I have moved through has left me feeling incredibly drained. I know that i'm not alone. The New York Times released an article recently describing this and what might be the "emotion of 2021," which hits really close to home for me: Languish.
This isn't my first experience with a "sense of stagnation and emptiness." In fact, I think that having a chronic illness like
Crohn's disease, which can be so life-limiting when flaring, has driven this feeling in me over the years. I'm no stranger to needing to pick myself up again (and again... and again). But i'm not flaring right now, and yet I find that these feelings of stagnation are ever-present. In a weird way, for the first time, it seems that I'm moving through feelings of languish alongside the masses, rather than alone in my room. I'll admit that it's a comforting change after feeling so isolated in the past. But i'm also feeling for everyone who is experiencing this level of life-fog setting in for the first time. The good news is that we can move through this - together.
I think that languish is often the place between being stuck in "response" or "reaction mode" to a difficult or challenging situation, and moving back to a preferred pace and activities that are part of your charted life course. A big element of this issue for me has always been taking back the control that had to be given up. Languish may be the clue that it's time to tip-toe to something closer to "normal" again. Although COVID-19 is not over (and may never be), for many of us, there may be ways to regain some level of control and build normalcy in safe ways. For many of us, it is time to take those slow and safe steps.
Ground yourself in any possible positive realities of your current situation.
Are there signs that you can move away from reaction mode a bit? Could there be small wins that you're over-looking that should be celebrated? Maybe it's not perfect yet, but are there signs of hope to hold onto? Find those opportunities as soon as you can.
In the past, I've used labs, symptom charts, and scopes/scans to help understand my current state of health, now I apply this process to understanding the current state of COVID-19 in my area. It's the best first step to build some control through understanding.
As a country, we aren't entirely out of the woods yet, but we are seeing serious improvements from this Winter. In my state of New Hampshire, I'm lucky to be able to celebrate a successful vaccination program, numbers that are fairly stable and again falling, and kids that are returning to school. In my household and among my family and friends, we're all starting to reach "fully vaccinated" status (if we haven't already). My kids are finding joy again being around more friends and being outdoors.
Those of us that are fully vaccinated need to be able to lean into the benefits that this affords to us. We need to be able to find others who are close to us and also fully vaccinated that we can spend time with. As Spring and soon Summer weather is arriving for us, this brings even more possibilities. Safe steps.
Check in with yourself: What do you need?
And why don't you have it? If you paused and asked yourself what you really need, what do you come up with? Is it physical, emotion - both?
If you're like me, this may be a hard ask. What do I want? I want a world without COVID-19 (and without Crohn's disease). What do I need? Well, right now, I need some time with friends so I can laugh again. I need to get my diet back to a healthier place. I need to get my joint pain under-control again.
Why have I been avoiding these things? It wasn't entirely safe to be comfortable with friends safely. I had to focus all my time on work and my kids. I haven't had time. I've had to reprioritize these things to respond to the biggest issues during the crisis. But if I revisit the realities of the current situation, I'm in a safer place now. I can (and should) get back to things that I need. And then I should even push closer to getting what I want, too!
Find a small, productive step to take NOW.
If there are some glimmers of hope to hold onto, have you given yourself permission to dip your toes into the water of what's next for you? Are you avoiding "productive" while you wait for "perfection?"
Safety, of course, is the goal. But there are reasons to believe that most of us can take some (safe) steps now to take care of ourselves. Sometimes (OK - a lot of the time for me), we let the vision of what "perfect" looks like cloud or vision of what could be now. I'm picturing a world where my friends and I can all sit around my living room mask-less, laughing, and sharing a meal. That can't happen just yet. But what can happen? Can we go for walks together outside? Can we sit together outside a have our own snacks together... and laugh? Laughter can happen again. But I have to take a small step to get there. Today. Right now. If you're missing laughter with friends, too, can you reach out right now and set up a walk with someone that you've missed? Agree to talk about superfluous things that make you feel a little lighter?
Celebrate every step that you identified, planned, and decided to take.
Make a plan to continue taking steps forward.
Don't get overwhelmed. Take a breathe. But fight to take the first step, and then the second. Let go of perfect and ask, what small steps can I take on to be productive in reaching what normal-ish looks like today?
After finding success a bit ago with my first walk with a friend, I made a plan: I'm going to see a friend each week. I've mostly stuck to this plan and find it enjoyable. I also took a week off from work this week to avoid the "I don't have time" issue. I've actually stepped away from COVID-19 news and conversations, too, to give my brain a break durning this process.
Give yourself grace and keep it personal until you feel that you're there... then keep going!
It's imperfect, messy, and it takes time. And that's OK. It's your journey. If you do it right, it may never end, too, as we can always keep moving forward.
I've been less successful in making my diet as healthy as I'd like it to be, but it's a process and a series of steps, not a static declaration of a return to normalcy all at once. I'm not going to sweat it, but i'm going to keep at it. I may even pull in a friend to start making some better dietary choices together. I'll get there. And today I'm going to start the process of getting in front of a rheumatologist again, after COVID-19 seriously mess that plan up a year ago. Or I may have a "down day" and that's totally OK, too, because I know that tomorrow - or whenever I'm ready - i have created a good habit to find my next productive step.
While I do this, I have my lens focused on myself. Each person's safe and best next steps look different. I can't compare, there is nothing good that comes from that. I also can't force others if they're not yet in a place to move from "response mode" to co-existing and there new normal. We all have to go at our own pace
But I can always lend a hand, which is the best way to know that I'm as close to a better place as I may get today, and that's an exciting place to be.