Strawberries & Solitary Self-Care
Participants in the chat on “solitary self-care” expressed their vulnerabilities and engaged with fellow strangers with exemplary compassion. Varying characteristics of personal lives dictated responses to coping with the change of being confined to home and though situations differ, we are all faced with overwhelming uncertainties.
A few years ago, I made chocolate covered strawberries for my family for Valentine's Day. When it came time to indulge, my then-five-year-old appeared to be eating only the chocolate off the fruit and then returning the strawberries to her plate with a relatively small indent into the actual fruit itself. She eventually asked for more and we declined while citing the lack of progress on the ones already on her plate. With puppy dog eyes, curled lip, and a face smeared with chocolate, she uttered a phrase that has become a running joke in our house for over two years now--- “but I tried my best.”
Since then, the phrase has become synonymous in our house for having put forth the minimum effort. You see, at the time it was humorous because it had appeared to be an assertion on her part that a minimal proof of progress should be sufficient for reward. Now, years later, I realize that from her perspective at the time she may have actually thought that her strawberry consumption was adequate.
Faced with a unique moment in history, I suddenly find myself identifying more and more with that event and phrase. Even the smallest of bites mean forward movement and though to those on the outside it may not seem like a lot, it's the attempt that matters.
Can I be real for a second? It took me 3 days longer than usual to get around to writing this debrief blog. I'm tired. I feel guilty that I'm tired. And it took me a whole weekend to gather my thoughts on this one despite it quite possibly being the one with the fewest wrong answers. I recognize I possess a great deal of privilege which includes an income, shelter, food, family, health, and puppies. So why am I so tired when I feel like I have no right to be? I have a few hypotheses, though I caution these are my midnight musings not scientific research.
Grief. Though certainly not the same as the loss of a loved one, we have entered into a state of grieving our loss of routine and normalcy. It's as if the world has simultaneously paused while pressing forward and life has both slowed and accelerated. Even the most spontaneous of us thrive on knowing the time and place for spontaneity among our routines that set the foundation for our pace of life and sense of purpose. We cannot make future plans, travel, or participate in something as simple as running errands. We cannot engage in many of the things that would normally bring us joy and this in itself is a loss.
Uncertainty. Scientific psychological studies reveal that we would be more comfortable with knowledge of an impending grim outcome than with an uncertainty of whether an outcome will be negative or positive. The unknown is shown to produce greater stress when unable to plan. In our current situation, we have no reliable analysis of when the possibility of returning to normal life will come, particularly because it leans so heavily on the behaviors of others within our communities. Within the context of the studies I mentioned, this suggests we would rather know that we will not leave our homes for 18 months than continue to sit in this uncertainty of whether we are in this for a month or years. Any definitive information about upcoming outcomes would allow our brains to begin processing that impact and brace itself for the journey ahead even if the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel is distant.
Trauma. An online post circling social media recently suggested that a key reason for loss of energy is a physiological response to ongoing trauma. Fight and flight are both unrealistic options in this scenario leaving the body to embrace the third alternative to freeze. It's a natural defense mechanism and your body working to protect you. Personally, I'd prefer hyperenergetic to be better able to use this time to accomplish all the at-home projects that have been lingering, but apparently I don't get a say in how my body chooses to respond.
Regardless of whether there's truth to my hypotheses, everyone's methods of moving through this time must be catered to them. If anyone knows what you need right now, it's you, but even that might not be the case.
Participants in the chat on “solitary self-care” expressed their vulnerabilities and engaged with fellow strangers with exemplary compassion. Varying characteristics of personal lives dictated responses to coping with the change of being confined to home. Finding ways to separate work and home though in a shared space was a common theme as was the quest to find calming, destress mechanisms regardless of trigger.
To the participant who lives alone and finds themselves more easily agitated during isolation, that's ok. Give yourself some grace and trust that you won't always have to harbor those feelings.
To the participant who does not have enough energy to give their normal 100% simultaneously to work, children, and spouse, its ok. Give what you can but reserve some love for yourself, too.
To the participant who'd promised themselves they'd never bring work home to avoid introducing a toxic balance, its ok. Your methods of trying to create mental and physical spaces for them to coexist shows your priorities haven't changed.
To the childless couple searching for routine and purpose when time all runs together, its ok. Your time spent together leaning on one another instead of other methods of coping will only bring you closer.
To the parents trying to hold it all together for your children who haven't seen their friends or left the house in a month, its ok to let them know you have the same anxieties. You don't have to be a Pinterest parent when authenticity in crisis is what they crave.
To those reading this post, you're “trying your best” at your own pace. If you can only take a little nibble of the strawberry at a time right now, its ok.
NOTE: Due to low participation, there will be no summary article posted for the session titled “Group accountability in a time of isolation,” which took place on Monday, April 6, 2020. I look forward to a vibrant Tuesday discussion on academic integrity.
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Have additional thoughts or recommendations on any of the questions/topics discussed during today's chats? Feel free to share in the comments.
Any opinions, stated or implied, are those of the author and do not reflect the official view, position, or endorsement of the Association for Student Conduct Administration.
Photo property of Ethan Calabrese, retrieved from Delish