As we had into another week of social distancing measures, I wonder if any of this sounds familiar to you?
“I am so tired of hearing how this COVID-19 situation is a blessing. I am spiritual but I swear I will kill the next person who tells me that I should be thankful that we are all healthy and that it gives me more time with my husband and kids! I feel constantly anxious and overwhelmed, trying to juggle work and the kids. My work hours and my pay has been cut, but I am supposed to be grateful that I still have a job. I might get fired any day! I can’t sleep at night and during the day I walk around in a mental fog. I have lost it several times with my kids and husband. I am a horrible mother and wife! And the house constantly looks like a bomb exploded. I’ve put on 15 pounds because I don’t get to exercise much, and eating is my only excuse to stop and take a break. All I wanted for Mother’s Day was a break and to forget about this nightmare. My husband did not even manage to get some flowers or make a card with the kids. I know he is tired and overwhelmed, too, but I just wanted one day of being appreciated. I got in my car and just left them. I drove to the lake to just sit there by myself. I feel horrible for not having my shit together!”
This client of mine echoes what so many are experiencing. During the first three weeks of social distancing and isolation in our homes, we might have still coped quite well, but now we’ve started to realize that this is not a sprint, but rather a marathon to get through. We can certainly say that the entire world has been affected and changed forever, and in some ways, it helps that we are all supposedly in the same boat. Whether we still have a job or not is not due to individual failure, but often luck. There are—at least in Canada—emergency rescue benefits by the government that provide some relief. Yet, despite supposedly being it the same boat, we have to be aware of comparisons and giving advice to others, because the effects of the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic are quite different for each individual person.
For some of us, it has locked us in with family members that we never had to spend so much time with before. Having young children is especially challenging right now. We have limited privacy and outside activities, and it naturally brings out the issues and magnifies the triggers in all our relationships. As a relationship coach, I would be the first one to tell you that this is an opportunity to work through issues, but that is not always easy or possible. I have seen positive stories of couples taking this time to work through their issues and teenagers opening up and interacting with their parents, but there are as many people who are stuck with a partner not wanting to do the work or a teenager not ready to connect. Being locked in together also does not allow us to escape the anxiety or depression our partner or family member might be experiencing. That can be quite draining. It leaves us helpless and discouraged.
For others, this situation has brought the experience of too much space because they live alone and are going through intense loneliness and grief for their situation as a single person or widow(er). For others yet, it has brought a tragic loss, for example by not being able to be present when a loved one passed away.
Our experiences range from simple inconveniences to financial loss to relationship challenges to personal tragedies. The situation has allowed some of us to experience a much-needed reprieve from a life that was too busy before, for others it has become a desperate attempt to keep everything normal and to adapt to never expected circumstances.
Accordingly, our feelings range from finding relief or inspiration in this unusual situation to feeling depressed and anxious. Even though we are all in a storm on the sea, we are not really in the same boat. Some of us are in little canoes, others in little motorboats with only so much fuel on board and others, in big solid yachts. We must not make the mistake of comparing our experience with the experience of someone in a different boat.
One of the most common denominators seem to be that these tough times bring out the Inner Critic voice in many of us. This is that nagging voice inside, which is trying to protect us by letting us know in which ways we are “faulty” or not doing enough. No matter how well we are doing, the Inner Critic will find something that apparently needs to be improved. And the Inner Critic loves situations of adversity, for example when we get a bad grade, fail to reach a goal, gain some weight, lose a relationship, when others seem to be doing better, or simply when we are tired, exhausted or feeling vulnerable. And, oh boy, does it love the present situation with all the unpredictability and changes!
In a phone conversation with a good friend and fellow practitioner a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned that he has been noticing that the Inner Critic seems to be coming up in all his sessions right now. That is exactly what I have observed for my client sessions and—as I just fully realized—for myself as well.
Over the last two months, I have been going through a whole variety of emotions myself. I have felt worry and fear for my own situation as well as for my children; I have felt annoyed and angry at family members who seem to be better off due to having a stable job and paid-off mortgage and who—meaning well—kept sending photos of joyfully working in their garden; I have felt exhausted and resigned just getting through another day; and I have, of course, also found amazing gifts and opportunities in this situation and had many days where I felt positive and inspired. But in order to see those gifts and appreciate them, I had to be my own coach and talk myself through releasing stuck emotions and shifting my perspective. Some days I was doing my best to go with the flow while breathing through and meditating on the more vulnerable emotions which the unknown always triggers for us. Other days I did not do so well and would not have gotten out of bed if I didn’t have to, thanks to my side job forcing me to get up at 5:00 a.m. most mornings.
Over the last two months, I have shifted all my coaching sessions to Zoom and I have had lovely sessions with individuals and couples, but many of my clients have lost their jobs and have been postponing sessions. Instead of coaching, I found myself getting busy with German lessons. At the beginning, I was looking to fill my time by accepting many more lessons than I usually do at the online school I work for on the side, but after a few weeks, I also had private students reaching out wanting more classes now that they’re stuck at home. Suddenly, I was totally booked up with teaching German classes and coming up with new grammar exercises for my German website in any free moment.
Now, you would think that my Inner Critic would be happy with this. Yet even though that inner voice was acknowledging that I was productive and earning money, it was also finding fault with all of this. I found myself thinking, “I am not putting enough time and energy towards my coaching business”, “I should write another blog, record another meditation etc. to support my clients better”, “I should reach out more to individual clients to see how they are doing at this time”, “I should network more with my colleagues” and even “I should have time to clean the house and declutter, what is wrong with me that I don’t?”
From some of my friends and clients, I have heard over the last few weeks that they are using this time to organize the cupboards, declutter, paint or renovate the house or work in the garden. And, as we know, the Inner Critic loves comparisons with others, never in our favour of course.
Over a week ago, I was on a break from teaching online classes and enjoying the sun outside. At one point, as I glanced over at our neighbour’s backyard, I couldn’t help commenting on how impressed I was by all the work they were putting into their garden and saying I should do the same. Our neighbour made a simple but wise comment. “We all do what we can at this time”. I realized how the Inner Critic voice has not just been plaguing my clients but also apparently myself, nagging about using this “break” to get things done.
So here is my new mantra for this week, or how about this entire month, whenever the Inner Critic voice pipes up: “I do my best” (on the inhale) “and my best is always good enough” (on the exhale).
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