Life During a Pandemic: Embracing Self-Compassion

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A snack entrepreneur embracing the ambiguity of a pandemic drinking coffee on her couch

I fully acknowledge that I am a workaholic. While sometimes a productive trait, it is certainly not my favorite about myself. Though it sometimes has gotten me further faster, this inability to stop working has also caused undue stress and anxiety. It’s something I am working on.

So it will come as a surprise to no one that when things started getting cancelled and closed due to COVID-19 my first thought was: “maybe now I will finally be able to get to a zero inbox”.

The first week, locked away, I sat down at the kitchen table to finally respond to all the messages I hadn’t gotten to, to finally cross off all the things I had to get done and for about ten minutes, I worked diligently. Then a friend Facetimed me. I answered. We talked. We hung up. I thought to myself, “I should probably check in on…” and it was back to the phone, grabbing a charger to ensure my old device made it through the call.

That first weekend I spent time talking to friends I hadn’t spoken to in forever. I binge watched an entire season of Shrill (only six ½ hour episodes, mind you) and I walked myself endlessly. I got through perhaps ten emails and then essentially gave up. I told myself “there is always tomorrow”.

Tomorrow came. And went. And tomorrow’s tomorrow and the tomorrow after that. Rather than watching the number of unread emails fall, I actually watched it climb higher and higher as did my anxiety.

I will be honest, I do have a unique family situation that makes sheltering in place a little more complicated and a little less idle. We also have a family member battling a life-threatening disease at home which is difficult regardless of the circumstances, but especially in a pandemic.

Nonetheless, I expected myself to be productive. Not only would now be the time for me to get all of my work done for the foreseeable future but I would also suddenly become a flawlessly healthy eater, a multiple a day worker-outer, a reading savant, a pop culture maven, and naturally, an impeccable home baker.

Now a month into quarantine, I can definitively tell you that I have accomplished none of those things. I still count it as a good day if I eat one meal sitting down (the irony of becoming a food entrepreneur). Though I did make a loaf of bread, I quickly followed the production by eating said loaf of bread in almost one sitting and there are days when I don’t brush my teeth until 11am (I know. Don’t judge me).

But then I stumbled across something that resonated with me. I have since been seeing different versions of it across the internet. The gist was this: just because you can’t leave your house or see your friends doesn’t mean you have to become a better version of yourself. You don’t even have to be the best version of yourself…because we are all. just. getting. through. it.

And it hit me then.

YES! I am lucky to have a roof over my head.
YES! I am lucky to live in a safe home!
YES! I am so incredibly lucky to be healthy, safe and not significantly more financially vulnerable than yesterday.

Those things are all true! But it is also true that these days are hard. We’re human: we crave real connection, physical contact and some amount of certainty within the day. And many of us are going without that for the first time ever. It is okay to feel anxious. It is okay to sit in your pajamas far past an appropriate hour. It is okay to be really productive. It is okay to be incredibly unproductive. But it’s not okay to be harsh or unloving with yourself. And what I am learning in my own journey, is that it is really never okay to be harsh or unloving with yourself–but especially not now.

That being said, I still struggle to show myself grace and compassion. I think we all do, to some extent, always. But I am also pledging to myself that I will keep trying. To find beauty and privilege in the moments of unproductivity. To sit with myself and just myself. To not worry so much if a dish goes unwashed or there are too many things to get to on my to do list.

These times are unprecedented. Our anxiety is both mundane and existential and no one can predict what the next few days, months or perhaps even years will bring. So if you can’t give yourself permission to flounder in the face of such ambiguity. I give you that permission. I am giving myself that permission.

If I owe you an email, know I am trying. If you owe me an email, I acknowledge and recognize that though the hours seem innumerable, productivity in the face of a pandemic is truly exceptional. And I forgive you. And I forgive myself.

So cut yourself a little slack too. Stay home, say safe and wash your hands.

With love and wanderlust,
Sarah

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