We’re officially half way through this year like no other. Somewhere around day seventy, I gave up keeping an official count, but I believe today finds us at or around 115 days since life as we knew it abruptly changed. If you’re anything like me, you are still finding yourself experiencing a wide range of emotions on any given day. The degrees to which we’ve returned to any kind of normal activity may be different, and our views on circumstances could also vary somewhat (or maybe even a lot), but I would guess we would agree on the fact that we are feeling OVER IT! On that point, there seems to be consensus.
My plan back in February was to commit to writing and posting weekly. Then when the pandemic hit, I adjusted and aimed for monthly. Now all bets, restrictions, and timelines are off. I’m giving myself permission to post only when I feel like I have something worthwhile to say. Trust me, there are many days when my silence is far more valuable.
I read a brief article this morning that got me thinking about one of the most useful tools that has been helping me cope during this crazy time. (Side note: I just CANNOT with the words uncertain, unprecedented, challenging, etc. I have landed on crazy which is more palatable to me. So I will typically use it any time I need an adjective for 2020 without seeking out a more interesting synonym.) Back to the article, which I will share at the end of my post here so you can read it. The author suggests three questions to ask each day to help reframe your thoughts. It was written back in April (which in 2020 feels like years, not months, ago), but I still think her questions are worthwhile to ask at this stage of the pandemic. I’ll keep you wondering what her questions were or you can scroll to the bottom and read her article first. I’m simply going to focus on the idea of reframing right now. The whole ability to reframe one’s thinking, MY thinking, is an extraordinarily powerful way to navigate difficult situations. I know this, because once upon a time not so long ago I had absolutely no idea how to do this, and now that I do, it has transformed my life. Seriously, no exaggeration here whatsoever.
As I started thinking more about reframing thoughts, I also began thinking about metaphors. Let’s consider a couple right now.
2020 is a dumpster fire!
Will any of us disagree on this one? When I saw this posted and then shared it on social media, there were many laughing reactions. I think I would actually buy this if it was marketed. It’s too true! And I still think memes have been one of the best parts of this whole mess.
In a more pessimistic mind-frame while reading back through my posts from March, April, and May [I skipped June entirely being that for me and many others, it was a month to listen, process, and learn], I found myself dismissively chuckling at naive little me talking about the highlights of quarantine and things I would miss if life resumed as “normal” immediately. It’s been all too easy to bemoan everything that is going wrong. Early on I was feeling especially thankful that my kids are teenagers and were dealing with sheltering in place fairly well. I didn’t have little ones to keep busy indoors, and I had tremendous sympathy for moms and dads of young ones during that time. Four months in, there are days that I would trade endless diaper changes and/or toddler tantrums in a heartbeat. I respect my kids’ privacy and will save my stories for a much later date (and only with their approval), but in a parallel universe I could unleash some doozies right now. We’re about to add wisdom teeth removal into the mix over here, too, so that should be fun. Parenting teens in 2020 under our current circumstances is no joke. Parenting teens without a concurrent global pandemic and ensuing crises is crazy terrain on its own. But now? I mean, just being a human is tough to manage many days. Right?!
It’s pretty remarkable to be living in a time where so much is completely up in the air, for literally all of us. The collective anxiety we’re all feeling is tangible. Being a person of faith, I’ve always read biblical stories of people living in great uncertainty, losing everything, needing to rebuild their lives, etc. I grew up with sentiments like “it’s all in God’s hands,” and “God is in control.” And make no mistake, I very much believe those statements to this day. But speaking as a privileged American, how many times have I really had to face unknowns that are entirely out of my control? Not too many. Those statements, while true according to my belief system, can come off as mere platitudes. Never has there been this magnitude of unknowns that I must face myself along with everyone around me. This is, ugh — I hate to say it, unprecedented.
One thought I have almost every single day is that I am so grateful that the events of 2020 came after my midlife breakthrough (for any new readers, I prefer Brené Brown’s term for this phenomenon to the more commonly used “breakdown”). Five years ago my tool box with which to navigate high-anxiety times such a these was mostly empty. I credit a very wise, skilled, and caring therapist for helping to equip me; piles upon piles of books by Brown and other researchers that further educated me; and I acknowledge a tremendous amount of ongoing personal work that I have made a priority to help get me to a much better place. But honestly, one of the best tools is really quite simple: reframing my thoughts. Another way to phrase this is choosing one thought over another.
Calling 2020 a dumpster fire is funny and can give me a needed laugh. Allowing myself to ruminate on the mess that is our current reality quickly loses its humor. I need a new metaphor, one that can bring me back to a place of hope and purpose.
May I suggest 2020 is a stationary bicycle?
Being a teacher, I have never worked harder while literally going nowhere. Ever since March, I feel like I have been peddling away at breakneck speed while sitting in the exact same spot. I feel like it because I have been largely in the exact same spot. My little desk where I used to sit for a couple hours a week at most to pay bills, etc. became my work desk and my virtual classroom space. While remote teaching and trying to get the hang of distance learning was a challenge for all of us in education, I found that the necessity gave me a purpose and a focus for my nervous energy. I was grateful for an avenue in which to channel it. So I signed up for distance learning summer school. I haven’t worked during a summer in twenty-two years, but this seemed like the year to do it, so I pedal away.
The realities of 2020 outside of teaching also seem to fit the stationary bike metaphor. Just to mention one, our nation’s ongoing battle with racial injustice to me feels like we are a society stuck on a stationary bicycle. Shouldn’t we have made more progress by now? Why are we still having to demand accountability and the service of justice for those who murder Black Americans? We are a nation with some pedaling feverishly in this regard. I pray and commit myself to personal action so the stationary bike of racial injustice will be set loose and forward movement will continue and be accelerated.
On a more personal level, I believe we are all pedaling to simply keep our households afloat, whether that be financially, emotionally, or both. We have kids wondering when/if they will return to their schools, and if so what will it be like? We have parents wondering how they will juggle work and uncertainties with school situations. We have entire industries of employees wondering if they will be working from week to week based on state and county health orders. We all continue to pedal.
When I consider the purpose of a stationary bike, though, I go back to the benefits of pedaling on this type of equipment. Why do people use them? They can help boost cardio fitness, aid in weight loss, burn unwanted body fat, provide a low-impact workout, and allow for a safer cycling experience than you’d get on the open road. That whole indoor aspect of it kind of fits with our 2020 existence to an extent as well. The bottom line is, even if the bike is staying in one spot, active peddling is getting you in better shape. Making this a habit will result in increased health and personal growth.
I think the same can be true for our personal growth when we consider the “2020 is a stationary bike” metaphor. For me, diving into summer distance learning has been keeping me motivated and focused. Should I find myself in a position to ever teach remotely again during the regular school year (which is a distinct possibility), I will be more prepared and better able to meet the needs of my students. I’m on the bike, and I’m growing.
I’m looking at my family and friendship relationships through this lens as well. How can I best grow through the interpersonal challenges presented by way too many hours exclusively interacting with only my family? I’ll be honest, this isn’t easy. Quality family time is a treasure to be sure, but somewhere around day seventy the charm wore off for all of us. Current reality requires me to learn and practice a lot more grace. It’s not easy, but I find my relationships enriched by the effort. So here, too, I pedal. And I’m growing.
I think there is power in picking our metaphors. Happiness, joy, basic sanity… these all can be found even in 2020. To do so, monitoring our thinking, taking our thoughts captive, and reframing how we view our current realities has to happen.
Maybe the first half of 2020 has been a dumpster fire in your perspective. Perhaps it’s time to hop on that stationary bike?
Here’s the link for the article that prompted all these thoughts this morning. https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/3-questions-to-ask-yourself-every-morning-when-youre-stuck-in-lockdown.html?cid=sf01002&fbclid=IwAR0EqzN_bKiEuM8qiHojFY3fVjnsBJAkriYufmtIdLu59vW_fzBnBWQOSmM