It’s almost 1 a.m. and I can’t for the life of me convince my brain to go to sleep, even though I’m tired and have been feeling rather exhausted for most of the day (from a lack of quality sleep from the nights before, duh). What does Brian have to do with that, you ask? I’m actually not telling you just yet, but you will find out at the end of the post (lowkey clickbait alert?).
The last two nights I dreamt that I was back in high school in some form or another – the specifics have slipped my mind. In the more recent of those dreams, I had been fired from my job (which wasn’t my real-life job but some other office job). I remember feeling very emotional about it and crying in front of my boss, who had just fired me. I tried very hard to keep my last shred of dignity but failed miserably, my voice quivering as I was trying to retaliate against the unfairness that had just been brought upon me. I then left feeling very confused and hopeless. The next thing that happened is that I went back to my high school, which I had a hard time entering at first (physically, I mean, because of the speed gates that required the use of a student badge), but then I just used the other entrance (it makes perfect sense… NOT) and joined my class mates. I then talked to a friend (first day of school and I already had a friend, how amazing is that?!) about how I didn’t know whether I should keep coming back to school since I already graduated high school and I wasn’t sure whether it made sense to graduate high school again. Ha ha.
I woke up feeling relieved that I hadn’t actually been fired but I could still easily access the feelings of hopelessness and being stuck that I felt while I was dreaming, which are feelings that often find me (in general and more easily the past couple of weeks, with Covid-19 and all) and somehow seem to be looming under the surface of all the things I try to keep myself distracted with.
I’m not sure what exactly my dreams are trying to tell me, especially the recurrence of high school, but there’s one thing I’m pretty sure of: I’ve been running.
Not literally (although I did go for a run the other day), but I have to admit that I’ve subconsciously mobilised all my coping strategies to help me deal with (or should I say run from) the current lockdown. I’ve been keeping myself more than busy, be it in the kitchen, the living room or any other room of my castle. Just kidding, I don’t actually live in a castle, which means that pretty soon there won’t be any room left to clean or organise and I’m not quite sure what that’s gonna leave me with, given that tidying up my queendom (again, just kidding) is my number one coping strategy. Coping strategy number 2 is baking and cooking and I’m happy to report that a number of kitchen projects are under way: I’m currently trying to make my own sourdough starter and the ingredients for glutenfree vegan cinnamon rolls (it may be an impossible task) are sitting on the counter, waiting for their turn.
Whenever I hit my cleaning and cooking target for the day, I move on to coping strategy number 3: eating! Unfortunately for my poor stomach, I often use food as a way to feel better or to numb whatever emotion may cause me discomfort, often without feeling hungry.
What’s interesting about the current situation (= me being stuck at home by myself) is that it’s not causing me discomfort per se. I like being alone and spending time by myself and a lot of my lockdown days don’t differ much from what I would have referred to as a “perfect Saturday / Sunday” a mere few weeks ago. What’s different however is that even though I often chose solitude instead of socialising, I’ve now been deprived of the choice, so it’s no longer about choosing to stay in and the consequential JOMO*, but it’s about being forced to stay in and be alone. It’s almost funny how much of a difference this makes on a psychological level, despite the outcome being the exact same as if I had chosen my beloved alone time.
Now back to the running. I can’t shake the feeling that whatever I’m doing, I’m running. I’m running from the situation, my thoughts about the pandemic, my anxiety and probably myself. Whatever happens, don’t stop! I clean out my closet and while I’m doing that, my mind’s already planning the next activity. I’m making breakfast and before I know it, I’ve mapped out the entire day and my breakfast’s gone without me having enjoyed it despite the fact that breakfast is my favourite meal these days – so much for mindful eating, am I right? In addition to that, worrying is my brain’s current default setting, as if excessive worrying could ever prepare me for worst case scenarios.
All of this is my brain’s desperate attempt to get in control of a situation that inherently can’t be controlled. So whenever I sit down on the couch (which often only happens once my body’s reached complete exhaustion), my brain keeps on running. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the “pleasure” of trying to relax while your brain’s acting as if a couple of espresso shots had been injected directly into your bloodstream, but let me tell you one thing: it’s freakin’ hard (not to say impossible). If I force myself to stay on the couch regardless of the antsiness that expands within me, I start feeling physically unwell: my heart starts hammering, an elephant seems to sit down on top of me, causing my chest to tighten and making it hard to breathe. Depending on how long I stay like this, I get stomach aches of varying intensity and I can feel the hammering of my heart all the way up to my head, all of which are symptoms of stress.
One thing that periodically helps to prevent my brain from going on autopilot / into worry mode is focusing on something that challenges my mind in some way. Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while know that I’m a sucker for all kinds of (relatable) psychological topics, so I’ve recently resorted to podcasts to capture my attention. One that particularly spoke to me is Brené Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us. In a recent episode about anxiety, calm and over / under-functioning, the following two questions, that one should ask oneself in situations that are likely to cause distress, resonated with me:
1. Do I have enough data to freak out?
2. Will freaking out help even if I do have enough data?
In general, I agree that a freak-out is rarely justified by the standards of these two questions (which is the conclusion Brené Brown came to as well). However, in the context of the pandemic, I’m not entirely sure if asking myself the questions would work in my favour since I’ve read a number of articles about the pandemic and its consequences that may cause me to lean towards freaking out rather than staying calm**.
This leads me to another episode of Unlocking Us, in which grief expert David Kessler explains that due to Covid-19, we’re currently in a state of collectively grieving the loss of the world as we know it. This hit me hard because I realised that I am in fact feeling grief because all the plans I had looked forward to were cancelled. At the same time, I often feel guilty about feeling this way; I feel guilt for being sad despite the fact that I should be nothing but grateful for my privilege. David Kessler (again!) hits the nail on the head (albeit in a different context) by saying that comparing grief or trying to determine who has it worse doesn’t make sense:
The worst grief is your own.
So, in addition to me feeling grateful for everything that I have right now, it’s okay to feel sad. It’s legitimate to feel both grateful AND sad, to feel empathy for others that are in a different position and also for ourselves.
David Kessler also left the listeners with the following gem:
Judgment demands punishment.
As soon as you judge, you either punish yourself or someone else, so there is no winning in judgment. Again, this wasn’t used in the context of the pandemic, but I think it can be applied to it as well.
Don’t judge yourself for doing nothing.
Don’t judge yourself for doing too much.
Don’t judge yourself for skipping another workout.
Don’t judge yourself for sleeping in.
Don’t judge yourself for not being as productive as you think you should be.
Don’t judge yourself and don’t judge others.
After all, it’s a difficult time and it’s all new – we haven’t had much time to adjust to the new “normal”, so just do whatever works best for you (this always applies, by the way).
Anyway, I hope this post hasn’t been too much of a ramble (which wouldn’t be too surprising given that it’s now 2.42 a.m. 😴). I finally seem to have tired out my brain (which was lovingly named Brian after I once misspelled the word brain) and will therefore go to bed before it/he gets a chance to change its/his mind.
Go to bed [home] Brian, you’re tired [drunk]!
* Joy of missing out, as opposed to FOMO (= fear of missing out)
** I have since limited the amount of Covid-19 media coverage I allow myself to consume in a day.