I’m struggling. I need to say that.
I love seasons, I love day and night, I love the contrasts. But lately, the constant rain and heavy clouds, the thick black sky, and the overall tension in the air has just felt heavy. I want darkness filled with starlight, and quiet animal noises, and gentle snores. Not the scary “who has a flashlight?!” kind of darkness.
I am spending countless hours on the phone and text helping family, friends, clients, and first responders as best as I can. I am keeping my household going and doing things like laundry and baking and watching tv. I am eating too little, and then too much. I am not sleeping, and then napping three times in a single day.
I have resisted making masks. It feels insignificant. It feels like the wrong solution. It feels like an admission of failure of systems, ideas, and hope. I have resisted until this week.
Thursday, April 2, a medical friend called me. As we talked through what was going on and the conversation was wrapping up, I asked him, “How else can I support you?” And he answered that he wanted me to make the best masks I could. I asked how many he needed . He said, “Make 10. Give them to your dad, step mom, and mom. Give them to your husband and child. Give them to your elderly neighbor. Don’t let them use bandanas. Don’t let me be the guy who has to call you and ask what final words you have for them. When you are done with those 10, make another 10 and give them to any local helpers that need them.”
So I made masks. Ridiculous masks with silly printed quilt fabric, and my reusable Girl Scout bags cut into bits to line them. And I fought a battle with myself all day….
My husband helped me sort it out. I am making masks because yes, they are better than nothing. I am making masks because wearing them is so uncomfortable it forces a mindfulness on someone who is not use to wearing them about how serious this is. I am making masks because what I make is significantly better than a painter’s mask or reusing an old medical mask. Because everything I do is done with an intention and infusion of love. Maybe the bugs and spider print is over the top, but so is the whole situation. Yet, some color, some laughter, and a huge sensation of love is the best medicine I can provide from the confines of my house, to the confines of someone else’s house.
And now I know I can do it. I can make masks that are not-enough-and-yet-everything for my friends on the front lines. And they will accept them lovingly, knowing that I know they are not enough. But the love is. And that is what makes the darkness a bit less heavy and instead a place to be still and open, where paths exist that I didn’t see before.
I have talked to a number of people this week. This is what it looked like every time:
I am sad. I am lonely. I am bored. I am so lucky and shouldn’t complain. My neighbor/friend/co-worker has it so much worse.
I have a job. I like my family. I feel like I am losing my mind. I can’t sleep. I eat everything or nothing. What about people who don’t have money to have a full pantry? I shouldn’t complain.
I got in a fight with my pet about space. Why am I a mess? I am so lucky. I’m sorry I’m wasting your time with this right now, I know you have clients with more important issues.
I’ll be ok, I’m going to go for a walk. I’m so lucky to live in a neighborhood where I can do that, I need to remember that. I just wish this wasn’t happening.
We look for words to express what we feel. But then the words get in the way, and we start thinking instead of feeling. As we look externally and see other people’s experience, it is easy to minimize our own.
I have decades of experience working with various forms of trauma. Here is what I know: It’s all trauma. My trauma is real. Your trauma is real. They are not the same, but that doesn’t matter. It is not a competition.
If I minimize my trauma, it does not undo yours, it only makes me less capable of connecting in a space of empathy and vulnerability.
I have worked with survivors of severe childhood abuse, I have worked with people who have head injuries, and I have worked with trauma that the client didn’t even recognize was trauma. The tools and skills I use are the same, although the trauma comes from very different places. I hold space for myself, and my clients, with the understanding that all trauma is real.
I was talking to a psychologist recently who said, “You can’t think your way out of trauma. You really need someone to come to the edge of the hole you are in, and give you a hand up. You need that over and over and over again, because your emotional landscape is pocked with craters that you will never see coming. And once you are in the hole, you need a ladder, a hand, a light….that is what we must be in the world.”
We are in a time of turmoil. We are all in different spaces along that path. We are all looking for action to make it all ok. That is the normal right now. It is not stable, and it is not comfortable, but we are all doing it. We can be the ladder, the hand, and the light for each other. Some craters are small, and some will be surprisingly deep. It’s still trauma. And the way out is still to acknowledge it, and be open to help in whatever form shows up.
The world right now is hard. We have lost “normal.” We can debate the pros and cons, we can look for silver linings and appreciate the slower pace. But we also need to acknowledge. We need to acknowledge the major shift we are experiencing.
Most of us are living this in a familiar, comfortable spaces, with people we feel mostly safe with. We don’t immediately see the loss, but it is there.
…the quiet minutes on the commute when we are away from our family….the hug or smile from a co-worker or classmate…the ease of knowing where our tools are to do our jobs…the routines established by our culture, our lifestyle, ourselves…
We may be very comfortable in our pajamas with our pets nearby, but that is not how and where we are used to showing up in the world. We are being forced to bring our outside lives into our most private space. There is a loss that most of us haven’t even been aware of, yet is very real.
There is a loss of freedom, a loss of income, a loss of social interaction, loss, loss, loss, loss, loss….
Loss is grief. And grief is loss. There is research that outlines stages and steps of grief. But the reality is that grief is a swirl of emotions all at once, to varying degrees, for a long time.
Doesn’t that also explain life? Don’t we “laugh until we cry”? Or break into laughter when we are scared (some day I will tell the story of this picture of me on the log-ride) ? It’s all jumbled. It always is. And on an every day basis, we seem ok with that. But when it is loss and grief, the swirl of emotion is more tears, and anger, and less laughter and compassion.
While it is worthwhile to see the good that is coming out of this and our creative ways of connecting and functioning, we must look at what we have lost to truly appreciate the gains.
We must grieve the dying light of summer to enjoy the hibernation of winter. Life and death, gain and loss, creation and destruction – all exist on the continuum that lays the groundwork for the next to exist. We must take time to honor that process, in gratitude and with love for what we are losing and what we are gaining. It’s ok to be ok. It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to laugh until we cry, and to cry until we can laugh.
Thank you to my people who have reached out to me and asked how I am doing. I am ok. I am here. I am present with the darkness, the trauma, the loss. It is where I need to be. And I am so grateful for your sparks of light now, so I can do this work.