Lately, there have been several articles written about how many of us are hitting the pandemic “wall”. As you probably know, the wall concept comes from marathons. While I’m not crazy enough to run marathons, my husband is, so I have learned about them from him. Marathons are 26.2 miles long, and the “wall” comes for most runners around the 18-mile mark. This is the point at which our bodies have used up most of their resources and cry for us to stop running; however, we are still capable of pushing on, if we ignore the pain and keep a positive mindset, cheering ourselves on. We are still able to cross the finish line if we battle the fatigue, suffering, and doubt. We can do this, in part, because we know where the finish line is, and we know it is not that far away, compared to the distance we have already run.
We have now been in this damn pandemic for a looooooooooong time. While a marathon has a definite end, this pandemic does not have a clear finish line. We know/hope we will get vaccines soon. Or this decade. And we know/hope life will return to some semblance of “normal”. We long for hugs, concerts, traveling, leaving the house regularly, etc.
What we are experiencing is like a crazy phantom marathon out of a sci-fi movie, where you don’t know how long you will be running for or what you need to do to cross the finish line. It is like one of my nightmares, where I am trying to get somewhere, and I am trying to get somewhere, and I am trying to get somewhere, and I never seem to get there. Do you have these dreams too?
Well, I think I’ve hit my pandemic wall- again. For me, it feels like it has been a cycle. I feel like I do well for a while. I use my coping skills. I exercise and meditate. I connect with my supports. I hug my husband and take pleasure in the small things. I keep my gratitude journal nightly.
And then, once again, I am cranky and irritable. I am so sick of wearing masks!! I am so sick of my constricted small life!! I am so sick of my home!! And I don’t feel great, emotionally.
There is no easy answer or solution to this wall-hitting-cycle. I am not going to tell you to just go take a bath or a walk, and it will all be better. This pandemic is taxing and testing all of us, regardless of our coping skills and self-care.
What I would suggest is to have some acceptance and compassion for yourself, to recognize that you are in a rough space. That this pandemic sucks. That we have all lost and missed so much this past year-and that we do not know when or how things will improve. Allow yourself to cry or scream or have a glass of wine. Be gentle with yourself. And then, in a day or two, or more if you need, step back and figure out what will help you at this point in the phantom marathon.
I recently read a book I really enjoyed and found useful called Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by sisters Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA. They write about how our emotions are like tunnels, and we have to go through them to complete the emotion we are experiencing. Some of the best ways to complete the stress cycle and release feelings are things I recommend to my clients all the time: breathing, exercise, connecting with your support, creating or being around creativity, writing, cooking, etc.. They also name laughing, crying, and getting/receiving affection as helpful ways to release your feelings and exit the tunnel.
So, once you have exhaled and accepted that you are in a rough place- again!- step back and determine what will help you regain your footing and move forward again. What is it that you think you need right now to make it to the phantom finish line? Or at least until your next wall.