Where do you stand on the matter of shelter in place orders? Here in Austin, Texas, we were told to remain at home in mid March. Here and now, like everyone else, there are some who are determined to go out and take full advantage of the relaxed standards surrounding the mandate to stay at home; others, in turn, are determined to wait things out in the safety of their domicile. What to do and how to manage your reactions to those who are in the opposite camp from yours presents a conflict, to say the least. In addition to my own pondering, I’ve also spoken to patients and engaged with friends, colleagues, and others on social media about this topic. As always, there comes a point when a blog post brews. It seems to me that now is a good time to share some ideas and to ask you some thought-provoking questions about this timely and indeed pressing issue.
So what do you think about staying at home until COVID19 is–relatively speaking–under control?
Hold that thought for a moment. Let’s first take a look at notions surrounding fairness, death, and–ultimately–what we might as well just call the new (ab)normal. These are huge topics, but I’ll try to keep it brief. The questions for thought I’ll share with you may inspire new and interesting perspectives. Best case scenario? Something here will help you to process the challenges brought about by sheltering (or not) in place.
~~~ Transactional compliance and its discontent ~~~
It is hard to stay at home. It’s hard to be compelled to go out to an “essential service” job that maybe pays terribly and potentially causes a person to be exposed to the virus. It’s rotten to spend years building a business and have it fail because your market dropped out from under you. It is heart wrenching to be a medical care provider and feel like nobody hears you when you say that this is a real crisis, it’s serious, and no, it’s not a hoax. It’s exhausting to go to your frontline job and be screamed at by people who refuse to wear a mask. Don’t get me started on what COVID survivors have to say about lingering illness, stigma, and the horrible chasm of unknown gaping in front of their weary feet. How unfair it seems, and how cruel, that one person is spared and the next is not. And yet, when will our efforts to mitigate this pandemic be rewarded? When can we all freely go outside once again?
Human beings want to expect that life is fair or, at least, that there is some justice in the world. When we grow up, we probably eventually realize that this is not the case. But there is an ingrained notion in people world over that life should be fair. This mentality is part of an evolutionary tactic designed to support cooperation and survival. Animals also have a sense of fairness and notice when they are treated badly in comparison with their fellows. It’s not just something that small children say. The charge that “it’s not fair” really hits a nerve with all sentient beings, young and old; human and other.
When we stay home, I think that there is a transactional element involved. Some stay home and make that sacrifice; others go out and potentially take a different hit for the team; ultimately–fair is fair, right?–the virus is thwarted and we are rewarded with a “new normal.” It may not be as good as the old one (mythically) was, but it doesn’t involve sitting at home and slowly getting pudgier and lonelier and crazier and impoverished and then finally being let loose to go outside just in time for a second wave of illness and a repeat measure of seemingly unrelenting havoc. Instead, one would expect, we should be granted a pause, maybe a vaccine, some concrete news, and a reasonable and clear explanation of the path ahead. Right? After six or eight weeks of quarantine, where is our reward in this transaction?
Questions for you: Are you able to do some inner cultivation right now? If so, you might want to say “It’s not fair!” out loud. Pause, breathe, listen to your body. Say it again. Are your fists clenched? Does your heart ache? Say it one more time. What, now, do you feel? Do you feel angry? Are you about to cry? Are your shoulders tight? Where do you carry your sense of injustice at this time? Can you sit with your feelings for a short while, breathing calmly, and can you sooth yourself? Do you have resources, like a therapist, or a good friend, or your acupuncturist to support you now? “It’s not fair!” is a potent incantation for all of us right now.
I love this article that was written by public schoolteacher, Sheila Sims. If you can picture your inside landscape and see the child within, maybe what she has to say as a teacher of young children can help you to learn something about your current state as an adult.
However you do it, it can be useful to practice self-care and self-awareness surrounding the matter of stay at home orders. Finding where you hold the it’s-not-fair injury and tending to yourself and to it is a good skill to acquire right now.
~~~ In between the nothing burger and the apocalypse ~~~
It may be easiest for a person in New York to understand the need to stay home if possible. People in Northern Italy, Spain, and Wuhan, China understand staying home and, when outside, wearing a mask. But if you haven’t been touched by the virus and you don’t know anyone who has, it really seems like this is a big old bunch of nothing. A hoax. A conspiracy. A nothing burger. Staying home may seem like an unfair burden and a worthless sacrifice.
On the other hand, if you work in a hospital in a hard-hit region, or you are Native American, or you are one of the many who know firsthand the ravages of this virus because it took a loved one or robbed you, yourself, of your health? Life as you knew it before is gone and it won’t come back. More than likely, you are grieving right now. If staying home would fix even the slightest thing, you’d do it, and you wouldn’t complain.
Where we walk today, whatever might be our subject position, affects how we feel about staying at home. And what about those in the middle? The people who are tired of sacrificing but who are still willing to do it, and those who recognize that this is going to be a long haul and who are angered and frightened by the people who obdurately refuse to do their part and just stay home whenever possible?
Compassion and empathy are learned skills and now, more than ever, is the time to cultivate these prosocial gifts and talents.
I don’t leave Texas without my favorite boots & I always wear them when I travel (They were removed only to take this commemorative photograph at the airport near the Omega Institute in New York)
Questions for you: Where do you see yourself on this spectrum? After tending to scars and tender spots surrounding the question of fairness, how–then–is it possible to take things a step farther? Are you able to find compassion for those who have experienced the illness? Stigma, as this article argues, is a cruel punishment for those who have been infected. In my estimation, now more than ever is the time foster awareness of the need for compassion and empathy. Whether this illness has ravaged your life, or if you think the response to it is overblown, or–like many in the middle range–you’re upset about the upheaval, ready to do your share, and–thankfully–not yet personally touched by the virus, it is a fact that we need to be kind to one another. We are an injured world right now. This hurts.
Once you find your compassion for others, do you have some left over for yourself? How can you take care of yourself right now? Are you doing ok?
~~~ Mourning a mythical stability ~~~
Tropes and clichés ring bells at first because they make sense. After the nth time hearing about “these unprecedented times” and “the new normal” though, anyone with a brain or a love of reading is ready to explode. (No, I’m not talking about myself, why do you ask?) No matter how you characterize it, though, the prevailing narrative of upheaval makes great use of a mythical lost nirvana that can potentially be regained if we all go outside and buy things. And yet, let’s get real here. As many of us do in fact recognize, there is a lot of work to be done to create a more equitable future. Looking back at the 1950s as some sort of American golden age (it wasn’t one) is unproductive and most of us know this already. Similarly, we can all agree that there is no sense in looking at 2019 like it held some sort of paradise that can be recaptured by not being required to wear a mask when we go to the mall. And yet, the very human need to compare before against an as-yet unknowable after makes sense. It means a lot to know why, doesn’t it?
It may be more fruitful to consider, instead, the before-after dichotomy of feeling invincible (before) against being compelled to look at thoughts of your own death (after). None of us are invincible against this virus. Even if you’re not in a high-risk category, it can touch you in ways you never would have expected. And we all are vulnerable to death, no matter the cause. Yet before, it was easy to ignore the idea of death and now, after, it is not.
What do you think?
As an acupuncturist, I’ve held space for people with serious chronic illnesses. I’ve been present and steady for grief. I, too, know what it is to mourn deeply. People who follow my social media or who know me already know that I studied national trauma and how it filtered through literature and art before switching careers to start my second career as an acupuncturist, herbalist, and wellness educator. In fact, I spent twenty-plus years researching depressing topics and I got used to answering the question “How can you study that?” (short answer: someone has to) when I’d mention my scholarly specialty. I’m also of Mediterranean ancestry. Long story short? Death, per se, does not freak me out.
Are you afraid of death? Modern life has distanced many Americans from the end of life and all that this process entails. If you know someone who is angry about staying home and who refuses to wear a mask, could it be–do you think–that part of it is that the person is in denial as a mechanism to push away fears of dying? What do you think about dying? There are some interesting articles about how distanced we have become from death (one you can read here). If you are interested in talking with others and becoming easier with the subject, there ways to do so. Have you ever heard of the organization Death Café?
I really enjoyed an article I found on how various cultures worldwide celebrate death (here). Another outstanding article, which includes links to podcasts, can be found here. (Especially beautiful, I think, is the description of how New Zealand indigenous Māori people engage with death and dying that you will find therein).
Questions for you: What might be the deeper reasons for being truly outraged by the thought of staying home? If you are fortunate enough to have a stable place to reside, why is it hard to stay there for a while? Can you look at issues like death and the fear of dying? Are you able to sit with the notion that we really don’t have a lot of control over things and that, as a culture–local and worldwide–we need each other in order to heal? If that thought scares you, where is a small place where you do feel control? What can you do to help and to heal both self and other? Even if it’s just a small thing, it will count, don’t you think?
~~~ In conclusion: The slow road back to…where? ~~~
As I tell my patients and clients (that would be the health coaching people; patients are those who come to me for acupuncture and herbal medicine), you can’t do everything. But that doesn’t mean you get to do nothing. Pacing yourself is key.
Consequently, everyone who comes to my office or engages with me on the phone gets reminded of a very important point. To wit: if they waste all their energy now, then they will be exhausted only to find out that they needed their energy for something that really mattered later. You may call it compassion fatigue, you may be in a different space and call it outrage fatigue. However you phrase it, it’s a matter of being worn out and ground down to dust. We don’t know how long this is going to drag on, which adds to the burden. Not knowing how long you have to wait is crazy making (a lovely article on the psychology of waiting in line at Disneyland is really salient to this conversation; to read it, take a look here). To trot out a useful cliché? This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Questions for you: Knowing that this is a marathon, what, then, will you do? Can you focus on areas where you feel strong and competent? Or can you start by simply identifying such areas? If you could find just a couple things to do, no matter how small, to help yourself by helping another, what would that look like? If you’ve tended to the it’s-not-fair pain, and you’ve fostered compassion for other and for self, and then you’ve confronted your attitudes towards death, can you, just for a moment, maybe rest in a place of acceptance? This cultural moment asks so very much of each and every one of us.
By staying home and wearing a mask when you do go out, by tending our internal gardens, and by helping one another, though, we will get better. It might not be as quickly as we would wish, or as linear, but we will survive and even thrive. That’s what I think, at least.
And you, dear reader? What do you think?
What do you think about staying at home until COVID19 is–relatively speaking–under control?
Paula Bruno, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, an AOBTA-CP traditional Chinese bodywork therapist, and a wellness educator. She maintains an active and growing practice at her Austin, TX offices. Dr. Bruno is also available for distance appointments for wellness consultation or coaching.
In her first career, she was a Spanish professor.
Dr. Bruno’s specialties as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner include: • Musculoskeletal health (acute or chronic pain relief; Ehlers Danlos syndrome & hypermobility support) • Digestive support, gut health, and weight loss • Aesthetic treatment, including scar revision • Men’s health • General preventative care and immune support for all persons.
When you are ready to discover what traditional medicine plus a vibrant and engaged approach to holistic health can do for you, either contact Dr. Bruno or book an appointment online.
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Note: Material on this web site site is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease, illness, or ailment. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Material on this web site does not purport to identify syndrome patterns.