If you’re feeling disconnected, if you are having a hard time engaging in the world and it feels like no one sees you, if you are having a hard time finding joy or finding the will to strive towards goals you have wanted, here’s a little refocusing pep talk.
First of all, it is no great mystery right now why you are having a hard time connecting. I don’t know who you are and I don’t know your life, but I know if you have a soul and are aware of what’s going on in the world as a compassionate person, you are probably stressed, worried and afraid, even if you are leading a sheltered and/or privileged existence.
And if you aren’t leading a sheltered existence, if you’re struggling with pain, illness, financial stress, housing stress or discrimination, the past year has made all those things a lot worse.
It is this way for pretty much every compassionate soul I know.
There are things you love to do, things you are very good at, things that usually provide you joy, and if you were NOT under a huge amount of stress, they’d probably still be working right now.
Because I’m a giant nerd, I’m going to put this in computer terms.
When your system is new, and hasn’t gotten bogged down, you may have plenty of emotional resources on top of what you need to get out of bed in the morning. That 8 gigs of RAM is great when you haven’t loaded all your worries.bin and intrusivethoughts.dll and Politics.exe.
When shit gets real, your entire processor, RAM and disk drive get completely sidetracked by dealing with the cognitive and emotional demands of dealingwithcrap.html.
EVERYTHING slows down. Nonessential processes get ignored. Essential processes don’t work very well.
I’m not going to tell you there’s a magic solution, but I can tell you where the problem ISN’T and give you some strategies for freeing up resources in the short term.
- The problem is not you. This shit is genuinely, objectively hard. Literally everyone is struggling with it. Rich celebrities are struggling with it, and they can literally buy all the stress relief that money can buy… but they can’t just fix the problem.
- Just because it’s hard for everyone doesn’t mean that your struggle is small or irrelevant. Survivor’s guilt or “Privilege guilt” from not having to struggle with EVERY issue will not help the people who are dealing with worse, and it will not help you. It is understandable to have thoughts about “But other people have it worse!” But please do not use that as a reason not to give yourself a break for struggling with what is, objectively, hard, even if it isn’t objectively the “hardest”. (Literally everyone thinks there’s someone worse off than them. And they’re right. It doesn’t MATTER in the triage of “Do you get to feel bad.” Yes. You can feel bad.
- “Other people are coping better! If someone who is disabled can cope so well, why can’t I?” First of all, that idea can fuck off. I can tell you that for me, a disabled person, one of the reasons I can do some of the things I do is that my inability to do all the things that people normally do means that that stuff has been picked up by a support system I am lucky to have,
If you see someone on a prosthetic leg running marathons, it’s because they had the support system to get that prosthetic leg, the physical training to learn how to use it, medical care, etc… they did not just magically wake up in the morning as an amputee with no resources and run a marathon. I’m not out running marathons because my disability precludes that kind of exercise and it’s not a reasonable goal for me to have.
There are a fair number of accomplishments which can bend to sheer force of will, but even force of will (read: sustained focused effort) is a RESOURCE that not everyone is good at, and some people who sometimes have a strong force of will, do not ALWAYS have a strong force of will in every situation.
So, how to free up resources?
- Forgive yourself up front. It’s hard enough dealing with all the shit without having to deal with your own self-flagellation. It’s a hard habit to get out of. Use self talk. “This is legitimately hard. Anyone would have a hard time with this. I’m not a bad person for having difficulty with a difficult thing.”
- Break things into manageable chunks.
- If your phone has a calendar function, put everything into it. Operate under the assumption that you’re having a hard time and let yourself lean on the tools available to keep track, even when your brain is not registering everything. You do not need to store your entire calendar in your brain. Set up reminders.
- Look for ways to streamline. I fill a pill-minder with my meds every two weeks, and the ones that don’t go in the pill-minder are literally the first thing I see when I sit up in bed in the morning. This saves a lot. If you have an elaborate hair and makeup routine, if it is too much, look for ways to simplify. When purchasing clothes, look for ways to minimize your decision-making. Don’t waste cognitive function on trivial shit that can be managed structurally.
- Block out specific time to check on current events and pay attention to the national shitshow… and ONLY that time. Don’t wallow for 8 hours at a stretch on the national news, it is NOT good for your mental health. It is possible to take in the full horror in under an hour per day. You can’t fix it all, but you can pick which issues you devote time to and what kind of time you spend. Aggregators like WTF and even Late Night hosts can help streamline the process of checking in with less stress than watching national news.
- Allow yourself down time. It’s hard to be social when everyone is so stressed.
- If you need connection, sometimes structured activities, volunteering, church if you go (there are very progressive churches available) are easier than casual social events.
- Reach out online. You are not alone.
Now, there are going to be times when you really just have to get shit done. When you need your brain to shut the fuck up for a bit and let you DO.
Here are the SHORT TERM tricks to get your brain in gear.
- Compartmentalize. Need to go have a job interview? Need to take a test? Time for some visualization. Picture all the shit that is weighing you down, every intrusive thought, as things that you can pack into an envelope or a picnic basket or hell, a U-haul if they’re big enough. Put ‘em all in. Every one of them. Close up the basket and set it down inside your front door. When you walk out that door, all that stuff stays at home. It will be there when you get back, we’re not throwing it out. Just don’t take it with you to school, to your job interview. DO pick it back up when you get home. We’re not burying it, we’re just giving it a time and place.
- Some of the intrusive worries may be livelier than others. If they try to follow you out the door, or show up when you don’t want them, give them the name and voice of someone you don’t like or trust and would dismiss out of hand. “You’re terrible at this.”
“Shut up, Kellyanne, no one trusts you.”
“Just hit the snoozebutton, it doesn’t matter.”
“Fuck off Chad, I’m getting up.”
It just needs to be someone you would roll your eyes at.
(h/t to the Check please fandom for this one, IDK who posted it first, but it stuck with me as one of the most useful things I’ve ever learned online.)
- Be nice to your future self by taking care of literally everything you possibly can the night before. Pick out clothes. Decide what you will eat. Have a checklist if you need to. Find everything that needs finding while you’re awake. I know this sounds overly organized but it’s something I’ve had to do because if I didn’t, mornings were hell and involved me driving people places when I wanted to be asleep because we missed a bus. It is ten times easier to find clothes when you’re not supposed to be out the door in ten minutes. This is all done cognitively. Some people do these things instinctively? I guess? I don’t. I have to think about every single step every time. But it’s worth it to not have a panic attack when I’m trying to get someplace important and am ending up late. When I was still responsible for getting my kids to school, I could get my middle child from sound asleep to the bus in about 7 minutes because everything was completely set up ahead of time.
Anyway. I hope some of this helps. If nothing else, remembering that this is a reasonable response to unreasonably stimulus has helped me immeasurably.