A friend of mine who lives in Chicago just sent me this text: “If we’ve all been feeling the “blah of languishing” then why aren’t we all feeling much better since things are going relatively better?”
His text was timely because I was in the middle of writing this blog and contemplating this stage of the pandemic and our current emergence from lock down.
The only restaurant that I had been to during last year’s quarantine was an outdoor Mexican restaurant here in LA. This particular restaurant was not open for much of the lock down, but when they opened up last fall I immediately made a reservation. Because they were trying to survive, like the rest of us, the menu was much smaller, the prices had increased, deserts were no longer available, and the wait staff was obviously in full Covid protection gear which gave me a strange sense of dining on another planet. The bulk of the tables were removed to accommodate guests in their social distancing. I was grateful that my favorite restaurant did not close and I was excited to be able to actually get out and order a margarita. I so longed for an experience of “normal” that any one of those changes to the familiar restaurant that I love would have felt irritating to me.
Two weeks ago I had dinner with a friend in Santa Monica. In Los Angeles, most people have been vaccinated. So, when I went out to dinner this time, nearly 8 months later, it felt slightly more “normal” but only in as much as a David Lynch film feels normal. On the surface of things, people were dressed up (not wearing sweatpants), and they were unmasked. I looked at couples and wondered if they were on a first date. I eavesdropped on conversations curious as to what people might be taking about. Were they talking about the last year, vaccinations, the best weed to smoke while watching any of David Attenborough’s nature programs on Netflix, depression, UFOs, anxiety, or baby showers? I have only been privy to what people are taking about in my consulting room in the past year. I was dying to hear a casual conversation. What words were coming out of these newly unmasked mouths?
I received one vaccine, Moderna, back in January and had a terrifying and very unusual inflammatory response to the vaccine. For 4 weeks I was sick, felt a sense of depersonalization, had utterly bizarre nightmares and because the vaccine had affected my nervous system and midbrain, there were even a few days that I could not walk. Because I was one of the first people to be vaccinated, my doctor was honest with me when she told me that there simply isn’t enough data explaining the inflammatory response. I was absolutely horrified that everyone would have a reaction like mine. They didn’t. I am grateful that millions of people are being vaccinated without incident.
But the issue that I became acutely aware of was yet another collective split in our psyches: vaccination or no vaccination. I am not an anti-vaccination person and have no opinion on whether someone should take or not take the vaccine. Likewise, I am certainly not an authority of Covid nor of the vaccine. My personal experience with the vaccine, though, made me very aware of issues around the unfortunate politics of “vaccine.” Our collective polarization has been dumbed down to how “good/smart” people are vaccinated and “bad/dumb” people aren’t, or visa versa if you are on the other side of this issue. The bedfellow of betrayal is naivete. Nobody wants to feel or imagine that they could be betrayed by science. We also do not want to be naive. Just as Covid has not been a simple experience, neither has been the vaccine issue. In fact, nothing around Covid is simple. It is downright mercurial.
So, when my friend asked me about why he isn’t feeling better after being fully vaccinated and Covid numbers are going down, I said this to him: It takes time to realize the trauma of the past year. We want things to be “normal” but they aren’t. We so long for things to be “normal” that we might be missing the point of the last year. We, as humanity, have lost an entire year to Covid. There is grief in that fact. We long for saviors and to be “saved.” Has the vaccine become our projected savior? What about those who can’t or won’t be vaccinated? Does this mean that they don’t deserve a savior or a vaccine visa? I think that I am basically a good person, but I didn’t feel that I got a “jab of savior”, in fact, I felt as if I been given quite the opposite.
As a collective we are moving out of the survival instincts of flight, fight or freeze. We must understand that our emerging road ahead is filled with collective exhaustion as well as collective renewal. Please understand that we are all healing from collective shock, trauma and grief. While fight, flight and freeze is beginning to turn, if you are sensitive, you might be aware of a kind of “fractured energy” that pervades throughout our collective field. Some of this “fractured energy” is manifesting in extreme polarization in many, many issues as well a a general sense of unease even if, on the surface, things appear to be getting better.
Many mothers that I work with tell me that they are secretly longing for lockdown again as their once simpler lives have gotten back on the freeway without an on ramp.
What I also said to my friend is this: There is no normal. We are in a whole new world. My best advice is to take the best of your insights from the past year and apply it to your life today. Write down any profound insights that you had during quarantine- think about how you wanted your life to be different and then apply it now as you emerge.
Friendships, marriages, parenting, work has all changed because everyone has changed. Write about what you are willing to let go of to gain your own sense of power back after this past year. Think of small ways that you can regain a sense of agency or personal power in your own life. Know that this is a fragile time. Things are groundless and old reference points are shifting and dissolving right before our very eyes.
Did you try meditating over quarantine? Baking? Exercising with more frequency? Less social media? More boundaries with work? The ability to say no to things that you aren’t interested in nor have time for? Did you have spiritual experiences? Revelations? Did you face your own shadow? Did you grow weary of politics? Did you become more curious about what creates health and a strong immune system? Did you promise to love to take better care of yourself? Did you grow your own garden? Stop drinking? Become curious as to why you are compulsively looking at porn when you are bored and not feeling alive? Did you decide to no longer push your children? Make room for these changes. Take them with you out into the new world that we are creating together one day at at time. Most importantly, be prepared for many disappointments as things are not normal- meaning things will never be the way that they once were. Allow for the possibility that experiencing disappointment is a way that we are being reminded that we are no longer in acceptance of what is. Disappointment might just be the strange experience of looking backward. Are we willing to face forward in order to experience a new creation of things? That new world is here right now and whether we like it or not we are its architects. Can enough of us be brought up to speed to find brand new solutions to the failures that we experienced in the past year before the clock runs out?
Yesterday I bought tickets to a concert for May 27. I was so excited to go to the Hollywood Bowl since it was closed last year. While putting the date of the show in my calendar, I wondered why the ticket said Friday when May 27 is clearly on a Thursday this year. It is a good thing that I rechecked the date, because if I had shown up on May 27 I would have been the only one there. The show is postponed until May 27, 2022.
Copyright © 2021 Katharine Bainbridge MFT, All rights reserved.