Like for many of you, I’m sure, it’s been difficult for me to sit down and focus, particularly on writing my column. Our minds are all over the place, worrying about the daily practical issues of doing our best to stay safe, trying to keep our homes stocked with the necessary items required in order to function as normally as possible, concerns and fears related to the economy and the world as we know it … should I go on?
However, I have been encouraged to write a few words about the obvious elephant in the room. If you’re like most people, your phone is constantly dinging with new WhatsApp messages, texts, emails, and comments on Facebook. For many of you, Fox News has become your new background music. Suddenly people you haven’t heard from in years are calling with insights from their neighbor’s cousin’s brother-in-law, who is a top doctor at a top hospital and really knows the truth about this virus. So I ask myself, what could I possibly add to the overwhelming influx of information, advice, spiritual encouragement, and humor that is inundating our lives?
The answer is quite simple — or rather the question is quite simple, which is: How are you feeling? Are your feelings typical or over the top? Are you coping relatively well under the circumstances or do you feel yourself unraveling?
As I try to understand my own feelings, which may or may not be typical, I will share where I’m at. Obviously, I am an over-analyzer. My way of coping with life is by trying to understand what I’m feeling and then by going deeper to unlock what is beneath those surface feelings. Understanding what is happening inside of me has somewhat of a calming effect, because, as I often say, knowledge is power. The more I “get” what is going on inside of me, the more I can challenge those feelings, which stem from my thoughts, and try to confront them in a logical, systematic, loving, and compassionate way.
Again, these are just my feelings. If you relate, great. I’ve decided that for me, there are two things that are most disturbing at the moment. One is the realization that we have no control. No control over this frightening situation surrounding us, no control over the people we care about who may not be taking this as seriously as we would like, no control over thoughtless people who behave in ways that put everyone at further risk, no control over how the government and medical industries are handling things… NO CONTROL. So what’s really new here? Did we ever really have any control over life events or over others? Most likely, no. The only control we have is over ourselves. Even that is limited, since we can’t predict or control what Hashem has in store for us. So as we keep narrowing down our realities, all that we really have is the opportunity to do our best, live our kindest lives, and react with intelligence, integrity, and faith.
Second on the list is my curiosity regarding when life will return to normal. I am a curious person by nature, and I constantly have the urge to quantify, codify, and organize time. Suddenly my lists seem useless, and my long-term as well as short-term goals don’t seem realistic. Life has been turned upside-down and no one knows when it will right itself. So I have to change my relationship with time. When I say “live in the moment,” I truly must live in the “very” moment and make the most of it. Relish each and every second we have here on earth. Treat it gently, use it wisely, limit regret.
Though we are living through historic, unprecedented times, the question is what lessons we will take with us moving forward. Will we finally embrace the fact that life is random from our limited human perspective, and that all we really have is the choice to live boldly with joy and hope, or do we want to succumb to our fears and miss out on the best of life, which is the love we have to offer, share, and embrace? When you feel yourself caving under the weight of your fears, ask yourself the following questions.
- Is there any point in being nervous or fearful over something that is not in our power to change? Of course, the answer is no. All the nerves and anxiety in the world won’t change a thing, so it’s pointless. It’s a waste of time and energy, so why bother?
- Have there been any events in your life thus far that felt impossible to survive? Very likely, and yet here you are. You got through them. Generally, we do persevere.
- Is there someone you know who is in worse circumstances than you are? Reach out to that person with caring, compassionate words and reassurance. By reaching out to others and giving them confidence and hope, something magical will happen. You will begin to influence your own thoughts and feelings as well.
- When was the last time you laughed so hard, you started shedding tears? Or danced so wildly, you felt like a teenager again? When was the last time you sang out loud to your favorite music? In other words, we need to lighten up. It’s OK to feel happy now. It’s OK to laugh and be silly and joke around. Yes, there are serious moments of reflection and tefillah, but make sure there are moments of lightheartedness and fun!
In conclusion, it’s OK to be feeling some fear and discomfort right now. But we need to fight against allowing the fear to define who we are, what our essence is. It will come, but allow it to go. It does not have to own us. We are so much more than our fear and our present circumstances. We are a sensitive, gracious, just people. Wonderful acts of chesed and achdus are happening all around us. Delight in them and join in.
If any of my thoughts makes sense to you and are comforting, I’ve done my job for today!
Stay safe and healthy,
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.