It seems like every time I’m on Twitter these days, or catching up with a friend, the same concept comes up. The idea of “hitting the wall,” reaching a point where really, truly, the reality of the pandemic has become too much for us to handle. As far as I can tell, most of my friends and I have been hitting a new wall every week for months.
Obviously, you wouldn’t expect people’s overall mental state to be perfect during an unprecedented pandemic, and that’s definitely part of this phenomenon. But that’s not the full picture. I think that the wall hits especially hard because all around us the world is acting like it can’t see it. The social, recreational and many of the “fun” parts of life came to a screeching halt almost a year ago— some of it has come limping back in the form of Zoom happy hours and outdoor walks and Netflix with friends, but it’s not hard to see that many of our usual outlets for release, entertainment, balance and support have almost ceased to exist around us.
Meanwhile, all the most “hard” parts of our normal life, like work (for some of us), job search (for the rest of us), chores, paying bills, childcare logistics, and, tragically, death and mourning, have carried on into this new era with us. These parts of our life demand that we keep functioning as we once did, working and paying bills and trying to take care of each other with donations and GoFundMes and petitions and support, only we no longer have the friend dinners, family visits or other little vacations from daily life that we used to have to provide balance and relief. These hard parts of our life go on, seeming to deny that there is anything unprecedented or insurmountable about our current reality. What’s more, working from home means, more often than not, that the only consistent part of our life bleeds over into the rest of it; for some of us it would be more accurate to say we’re living at work.
When the systems of our world insist we carry on while our bodies and minds simply can’t— that’s what I think the pandemic wall is. I think it’s important to recognize that hitting this wall isn’t a personal failure for any one of us. It’s a failure of our systems to recognize and make space for the absolute truth of an event we were never prepared for: the inability to focus, the constant stress and worry, the mourning. Simply recognizing this fact doesn’t solve everything, especially for those of us who have to keep going to keep our bills paid and food on the table no matter what. But I think that taking just a moment to shed light on where this feeling, this never-ending series of walls, comes from is worth it.
I don’t have a perfect solution for what to do when you hit one of these walls. That would be like saying I had a cure-all fix for recovering from a death in the family. What we’re experiencing in the pandemic is a form of grief; we’ve had to say goodbye to huge beloved swaths of our life and we feel like the world expects us to just go on like nothing happened. Just like with any form of grief, the best treatments usually involve patience and a lot of grace, both for others and for ourselves. That being said, here are a few lessons I’ve learned that have helped make the process of hitting these walls more bearable.
It’s Ok To Not Be Ok.
I think one of the things that makes the pandemic so challenging is just how long it’s been happening to us. We’ve been in these conditions for so long now that part of us might expect ourselves to be used to it by now, to have gotten over it and learned how to adapt. Usually difficult things are finite and we get a chance to move past them but this pandemic is still actively influencing everyday for us. It’s not fair to expect yourself to function perfectly all the time; this wouldn’t be fair even in a normal year and it certainly isn’t in 2021. When you hit a wall, try to remember all the circumstances that are surrounding you and don’t judge yourself for needing a minute (or a day!) to cope. Many of us are in uncharted territory which means it’s crucial to pay attention to your needs as they arise without judging yourself for having them.
Focus On The Smaller Picture
The pandemic has given me a… complicated relationship with the internet. On one hand, I’m so thankful that it provides me with the ability to stay in touch with my friends and family while we’re all separated. On the other hand, I hate how it constantly urges me to learn about every horrible thing that is happening anywhere in the world at any given moment. Our worlds are so small right now: mine is comprised of my apartment, my local CVS, and the neighborhood walks in between. But in another way our worlds are still globalized, giving us access to endless information and news, and it’s not always great for our brains.
One thing that I’ve found to be helpful is going outside without my phone or any distractions and really looking at the things around me. I really love to watch birds fly from branch to branch and listen to their calls. And squirrels— when was the last time you really, actually looked at a squirrel? They are almost constantly doing wildly entertaining things up there in the trees if you take the time to watch them. Make note of your favorite plants and flowers and how they smell, find a new corner of your neighborhood you didn’t know was there, really absorb the little microcosm of life that’s moving around you right now. Finding a few grounding details, especially in nature, really helps me feel present, alive and thankful.
Find The Light
It’s not very original of me to suggest looking for good news as a solution to dark times, but I don’t care because of how important it is. I keep a running list of things that give me hope about the world, whether it’s the Arctic Refuge being saved or baseball season starting soon. We get hit with so much information every hour of every day and our negativity bias means we’re more likely to hold onto the bad news, so making an effort to hold space for good news can be really powerful.
I’ve found it’s also helpful to collect the light at the end of the tunnel as it comes to you. It might not feel like it, but this pandemic is temporary and there are good signs that we are getting closer to the end of it every day. I’ve started keeping a list of friends and family members who have received the vaccine and are now safe— every time I get to write a name down the perennial weight on my chest feels a bit lighter. I also make a note anytime I see good pandemic news- rising vaccination percentages in my neighborhood, falling COVID cases, anything that shows that, even if it’s hard to see, change is happening and there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful.
Be Gentle With Yourself
While our work schedules have stayed the same, it can be tempting to hold tight to our personal goals as well. While structure and direction can be great solutions to feelings of aimlessness in the pandemic, they can also quickly become a way to feel disappointed in ourselves when we can’t do everything we promised we would. You might be upset about not finishing a personal project or doing as much creative work on the side or gaining weight in quarantine. There’s a quote from my mom that always bubbles up when I start to feel disappointed in myself for snacking too much or not reading enough during the pandemic: “A person only has a finite amount of self control.” What it means is that you really can’t devote unlimited energy to everything, and so much of our energy right now is going towards staying alive. If this means that sometimes you need a night (or week!) off from your reading list, or you think Postmating a treat for yourself will make your day a little better, I think you’ve more than earned it. If one of your friends called you, ashamed at themselves for failing to be perfect right now, you’d urge them to have compassion for themselves. Make sure you’re doing the same for yourself.
Hitting a wall in the pandemic can be draining, frustrating, exhausting and difficult. There are no easy solutions in an unprecedented situation, and all of us are feeling the weight of a year in quarantine. A change in perspective might not fix everything, but it might be enough to help you see a path forward, to better, easier and happier times. If you’ve hit your wall, know that you’re not alone; so many of us are feeling this way right now. But a little thing like remembering to have grace for yourself or spending a moment reflecting on even a small piece of good news can make a big difference when you need it the most.