Mental Health, StaceyFH, Wellness

April 21, 2021

Survival: Our responses to the pandemic

I'm WillowjakMama!

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

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I wasn’t well, so I started this blog. I called it the Journey to Wellness. Part of the journey has been the discovery that wellness doesn’t have to simply mean physical and mental health. It can include the wellness of your emotional or spiritual self and the wellness of your community. It can endeavour to support the wellness of the people entrusted to our care, or to those who need their voices amplified. In the most simple of terms, the journey to wellness is the journey to a better, more inclusive, world.

If this past year has taught me anything, it has taught me that what keeps me looking up, is my ability to self-assess and that self-analysis strengthens my resiliency. I am a constant work in progress and when I get stagnant, is when I feel stuck and hopeless. Needless to say, this pandemic and all of its lockdowns have forced us to not only slow down, but to come to a standstill in more ways than we could have imagined.

This morning my friend Jenny told me about an article she read that defined this period in our lives with a single word. What I found ironic in our conversation, was that as Jenny was leading up to tell me the word, my mind flashed to a word that sits quite decisively on the opposite side of the descriptor spectrum.

It’s the art of the pandemic pivot vs. languishing.

Disclaimer: there is no scientific basis to this article. It is completely based on my own assessment and observations. I’m interested to hear if any of the following resonates with you.

In my opinion, one isn’t better than the other and neither state of being is permanent. I have found myself fluctuating between these two points several times over in the past thirteen months. Given my natural inclination to look inward and break down all things to figure out how I feel about everything, I have put a lot of thought into how this pandemic has affected me. And in realizing that my reaction to the pandemic has me swinging on the pendulum between pivoting and languishing, I have realized that it is how I have dealt or reacted to most traumatic events in my life that initially put me in a helpless position with little control: my parents’ separation when I was a kid, Owen and Will’s autism diagnosis, Will’s periods of extreme behaviour, when my ex left our family, Jake’s assault and consequential mental illness and addiction… and now the COVID-19 pandemic. And I suppose, that what always determines my ability to keep on keepin’ on, is how quickly I can swing from languishing to pivoting.

In every one of those circumstances that I found myself in listed above, I initially sat in my feelings but it never took long before I felt like I had to make a plan of some kind. I’m not sure where that comes from, but I suspect it comes from feeling like I needed a sense of control. Even as a young kid, I felt like I had to make big decisions. I remember hearing my parents fighting (I was probably only in the first grade, with my sister Steph around 4 or 5 years old), Steph and I hid downstairs behind a couch and I remember telling her, “Mom and Dad are going to break up. You will go live with Mom and I’m going to live with Dad”. Of course I never ended up having any say in the matter when my Dad inevitably moved out shortly after, but I remember my wheels always turning, always trying to come up with a plan to have a say in what was happening to me. The devastation of the autism diagnoses for both Owen and Will really never was allowed to ruminate into debilitating sadness, as it was only weeks before we were in reaction mode and hiring therapists, spreading awareness and learning everything we could about the disorder. Less than a year later and we had purchased a home across the country and we had a solid plan for their treatment and support.

It’s not like I didn’t process my feelings or bury them as I jumped into the action stage. But neither is it fair to say that I had it all figured out. I think it’s an automatic response for me.

‘Trauma’ –> Feel –> Process –> Strategize –> Put plan to action

I believe that living this way might even be healthy, if it weren’t for the fact that these traumas have happened to me over and over again. And as the cycle has repeated over and over again, my resiliency has only strengthened. I’m not capable of having a mental breakdown, whether I want the break or not (and I’m not saying this flippantly – I mean it). It doesn’t make me a superhero because there is a consequence. While my mental resiliency is obvious and reliable, it has taken its toll on my physical health. When there is no opportunity to relax and you are always in reaction-mode, there is a chronic physical tension and stress occurring to and inside the body. For me, that stress seems to show itself in hypertension, inflammation and auto-immune issues.

Note: As a follow-up to a previous post about waiting for medical results, I’m still in flux. Covid has delayed my referral to a specialist and test results are inconclusive in determining if my source of pain and trouble is being caused by a tumour that we don’t yet know if it’s benign. But I’m okay with sitting in the wait so don’t worry because I’m not!

And while I don’t want to make this post about my ex, I can’t help but pull him into the analysis. Because he experienced most of the same traumas with me, I can compare our responses and I think his example highlights two more responses to trauma that might accurately describe some pandemic responses as well and that’s the: bury and fake it and the carry on. And while his example helps me to come up with this assessment, I’ll spare everyone with explaining the how and why. I’ll just say that we did not respond the same.

Bury and Fake It: No time to cry. Just go with the flow and bury any difficult feelings you have about what you’re going through. Let someone else chart the course and follow along with it. At least you’re putting one foot in front of the other. Fake it ’til you make it.

Depression: It goes without saying. Sometimes the outlook is so bleak that you find yourself in that dark place, that place of ill-being.

Languishing: As described in an excellent article in the New York Times a couple of days ago, “Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing – the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work.” (Adam Grant, The New York Times).

Pivot: Creatively and innovatively finding ways to sharply change your course of direction when encountering new obstacles. I believe this comes after the radical acceptance of your situation and realizing that if you don’t make the change, you’re going to get left behind.

Carry On to Anger: This external trauma rolls off of you like water off a duck’s back. Just carry on as if nothing’s wrong. The problem is, that as time goes on and you realize life is never going to be same – ‘normal’ is but a memory and your reaction is a delayed anger at your circumstances.

In defining these possible stages or states of being during this pandemic, I now have a baseline to work with if I’m feeling stuck. The goal for me, is to pivot when needed so I can get to a place of improvement. I am not sure how healthy that is because it always seems to keep me in a constant state of action and I suppose the ultimate goal is to get to a state of peace. Not quite languishing, but being present and content with the state that I’m in. At the moment, I’d be happy to be in any of these stages as long as fear wasn’t dictating it and hugs and my community were alongside. The truth of the matter is, I think I’m doing okay. Because I ultimately believe we are coming out of this period, better. It’s all a journey and in the last thirteen months, I’ve made some pretty incredible discoveries and some pretty awesome connections, that I likely never would have if this pandemic hadn’t happened.

Where are you at? Would love to hear from you.

Stacey aka WillowjakMama

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Hi, I'm Stacey.
Welcome to the
Willowjak Blog 

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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