The No Do List
I have been wanting to write for a while. I had some topics and ideas in mind but as many other things they were wiped out with this pandemic situation (you might have heard about it). Recently I was planning to write about working in a team and share my experiences and lessons from our last team training. However, that topic in the light of most of us being isolated under quarantine now seems a little.. presumptuous? (incidentally I never found a good way to use this word without sounding too presumptuous). But you know what, turns out a team of one (meaning me, myself and I) is also not an easy task to manage. So I figured I could share the successes (not that many), failures (now we're talking) and thoughts that have been having a party at my house. I don't think my realisations are anyhow mind blowing but honestly, at this moment writing might be one of the few things that's helping me to keep my sanity, so here we go.
You might have heard this idea that right now we're collectively going through stages of grief for the things that we've lost and had to let go. We've been accustomed to having a tight grip on our future, our plans, our freedoms. I'm guessing our 2020 planner was full of exciting things, trips and events that we had to scratch out and thereby wonder why the hell we even bought the planner in the first place.
My moods have been on a carousel lately, I feel I'm experiencing all 5 stages each day and I suspect I'm not the only one. There was a wave of "this is not too serious.. right?" and then "this sucks", then a wave of "let's use this quarantine to become the best version of myself" and "I will read/learn/clean everything that comes my way", followed by "why the hell would I need to learn a new language if I might not be able to touch a living human being ever again" and finally I most often caught my self riding "this is just unfair!" wave.
I tried different negotiation techniques: keeping a routine, making lists of new projects, walking 10 thousand steps, trying to convince myself I like cooking/running/sewing (nope). Throughout all of that my brain was still on a goal setting, to-do listing mode. To the point where "resting" and "laying on my bed" almost became part of that list. For some days I was bouncing between ideas and projects but it all seemed a bit too desperate like "I need to start gardening RIGHT NOW. How do I buy basil online??".
On top of that suddenly it seemed that everyone wanted to share their ways of surviving and keeping themselves busy. Keep a routine, wake up at 7am, take a cold shower, put make up (wait.. what?), get out of your pyjamas.. It's so confusing, should we use this time to keep the status quo we had before (and nail it even better as we don't have to waste our time commuting to work) or use this time to eat popcorns in bed all day watching the Office? Hey, don't tell me you haven't done that at least once in the last few weeks.
Anyhow, I was always surprised by the lightness some people give and seek advice, especially from people they don't even really know, is it because lives on instagram seem more perfect? The current situation is a magnifying glass for many things, but one of them is how insecure we feel in this world and with ourselves, how hard it is to listen to our own needs and not seek a model of how everyone else is doing. And by we, I mean me. I am catching myself running from all the opportunities to stay still. So, for my own sanity, I had to mute a lot of social media that offered too many things but nothing that would actually make me feel better (apart from ridiculously cute dancing dogs).
Throughout the last few weeks there were many little instances where I felt anger bottling up and then popping out in unexpected moments. I felt angry when a person in a grocery store was standing too close to me, I felt angry when a friend was too worried about the quarantine, I felt angry when another friend dismissed it, I felt angry when someone said "oh yeah, this is just the beginning".. I think other people are angry too, we're all trying to hold it together and be kind but I feel that everyone is on the edge of a mental breakdown any minute of the day. I'm also partly judging it by a random guy who wanted to kick my car when I parked too close to his (in return I got angry and kept going on about it in my head for the next half an hour of the ride).
Anger is fear's bodyguard writes Celeste Ng in her book "Little fires everywhere". And it hit me - I'm just.. afraid/annoyed/irritated and when I am, my fear calls this big guy Anger to cover it up. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I catch myself in this moment where I'm about to get irritated or annoyed and I can quickly slip in a reminder "hey, you're just a little scared, that's all" it makes it so much better. Slowly I notice the times in the day I want to shout "this wasn't the plan" have shrunken significantly. Also, having some damn perspective - this wasn't anyone's plan.
It was probably too confusing for the mind to keep switching from anger to acceptance five times a day and not having control of pretty much anything that it just went quiet. However that silence wasn't pretty, it wasn't zen-meditative-calm kind of silence. It was more of a confused silence. Letting feelings come in and go as they may and being left tired of that change.
I also realised that there's no formula how to go through this and anything I do will be essentially running away from a troubled reality. You do you they say and this couldn't be more accurate today. Maybe one thing I can do now is doing less: less distraction, less planning, less lists. Maybe this is not the time to be productive, maybe it's the time to stand still, reevaluate and then get going. It feels like we're on this huge mindfulness experiment, letting go of the future, of our plans, of controlling things and trying to learn how to sit on our couches (I know, it sounds like an easy task) without getting too distracted.
I don't think I'm there, I don't even know what acceptance would mean at this point. I really have no clue. I know we're all hurting, I know there are real hero's, people who are fighting this at the front line and the rest of us just have to wait at home. I know we're all trying to adapt. To let go of our plans for the future. To be less angry and less scared.
We will find ways how to go through this (Bill Gates said this and he seems to know what he's talking about), but more importantly is how are we going to come out of this. As if nothing happened so we can run back to our fast spinning hamster wheels or will we be forever changed? Appreciating more what we have or trying to grasp for more? Calmer and kinder or even more scared? Embracing each other or keeping our distance?
I know, it's a lot of questions. But maybe acceptance is letting go of our need for answers and being ok with questions instead?
Finally, could there be a better timing for these F. Kafka's words?
You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
* Illustration by my sister Luka, to think of the times before social distancing.