A Virus Woke Us Up: Now What?
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I must admit I was asleep at the wheel. Let me be clear, the things that matter to me have had my full attention. For those of you who have spent five minutes with me, you know that I’m an awareness pusher. It’s my thing. But as the global pandemic crept toward California, it stayed in my peripheral vision, and I mostly blew it off. In fact, I was annoyed that it had begun to capture so much airtime on the news and in casual conversation. I was doing what many privileged Americans do, just focusing on my own lane. A virus in a far-away land seemed to be just that–far away and not about me and my life. It simply didn’t matter. Until it mattered.
Life on the ranch allows me to dive deep into its timelessness. I can put myself in the middle of the horse herd and follow their grazing pace for hours. I might spend an hour watching hawks survey the fields for their next meal or lie in the grass with my dogs noticing them notice things, just an interspecies pack of noticers. I do this in between necessary life things like working and parenting. But I have to say, I do quite a bit of nature observation and poetic daydreaming.
The hustle and bustle beyond the fence line can feel perfectly distant and irrelevant. So when I stepped foot into Trader Joes and found aisle after aisle of empty shelves, a primitive alarm went off. The ranch reverie was over. What took its place was a caged animal experience, my mind racing with words like: rationing, looting, apocalypse, recession, death rate, and bunkers. I was out in the world, unprepared and unprotected. For me, it all happened within one hour: schools cancelled, shelter in place order announced, physical safety precautions everywhere, and the reality of the food hoarding, all of it, in my face.
The next few days happened in slow motion and at breakneck speed, some hybrid of time passing and not passing. I was swept into the food hoarding wave, filling our pantry shelves full of nuts and dried fruit like a panicked squirrel. I packed our freezer with meat and began calling friends with dairy cows and beef cows and chickens, sourcing for the future. I filled our barn with hay. I gathered cleaning supplies. I took the board games out of the closets and covered the coffee table with books. We spent a whole day exploring the hills to the north of the ranch and following a natural spring to its source. It was like we couldn’t figure out whether to rush into crisis or relax into trauma, to stop everything or start nothing. The world, it seemed, had closed for business, and it felt like we were listening to a vinyl record playing backwards.
A virus had woken us up. It had sharpened all of our senses and snapped us back into a deeper layer of our animal awareness. The virus brought us back to our mammal bodies, to a deep connection to movement, proximity, the delicate nature of our health. I felt an instinct-driven need to cover every square inch of our hills, to carry a walking stick, to search for bones. I got primitive pretty damn fast.
And then, this amazing thing started to happen.
Amidst the mad rush to become an off-the-grid, homesteading, homeschooling, bunker-living, doomsday prepping survivalist (yes, I did buy 16 chickens, plant a vegetable garden, and begin a love-hate relationship with sourdough starter), some wisdom or higher calling found its way through.
The reasonable whisper said things like:
Stay in the middle of the herd.
Look for the helpers.
Circle Up the wagons.
We need each other.
So I did things like use my rudimentary tech skills to mobilize our local recovery groups and get us set up on Zoom. I texted and called the people in that fellowship and said honest things like:
I need support.
Let’s stick together.
On day three of Shelter in Place, I realized that I was on a crash course with what is my worst parenting nightmare: no school, no structure, no outside support, and no way to escape. It felt very much like the first few months as a new mom. It was a really hard time for me. Though I had an incredible support system, my access to it had changed and my routines for self-care became mostly impossible to maintain once I was caring for a newborn. Life, as I had known it, had disappeared. It’s no wonder that so many millions of women suffer (often in silence) with postpartum depression and/or anxiety. We lose our old lives. We lose ourselves. And, it’s entirely unsafe and socially unacceptable to talk about it.
Feeling the traumatic waves of this returning, that wise whisper told me to reach out to other moms. So I scheduled a Zoom call and I invited people to it. I had no particular goal. But I felt the need, my own need, and asked other women if they had that need too. On the first call, 25 women showed up. They didn’t know why they did. But they showed up. And, we talked about being scared. We resisted the urge to dive into homeschooling resources or moment-to-moment daily schedules. Instead of trying to control it all, we spoke the truth and stayed suspended in just how out of control the whole thing was and is. Fear. Powerlessness. Loss. Trauma. Mental health. Isolation. We talked about the truth instead of trying to one-up each other as Mom of the Year. The virus brought us back to each other.
That one call began a process for me. A daily practice of radical self care. When I say radical, I mean it. The only way for me to make it out of this quarantine situation with any semblance of sanity is to stay connected to a daily and sometimes hourly practice of needs’ awareness. I created a tool, a Self Care Inventory, and it has really helped me to see what I need in the different areas of my life so that I can feel balanced-ish. I know. It’s not a word. Balance is a joke, so fleeting and dynamic. But the act of seeking balance, the commitment to attending to our needs, that is the sweet spot. It’s a gift I’ve been giving myself. Every day. The virus has brought me back to myself.
The close quarters of household life have become a relational laboratory. Jeez, what else are we going to do! We might as well get really good at sharing space, negotiating needs, communicating, and practicing some boundaries. For me to be up to the task, slowing down my individual process has been the key. Even with the slow pace of ranch life pre-COVID, I had no idea how much I had been skipping over or fast-tracking the evaluation of my daily needs. Our family has been in a daily checking-in process for quite some time, but I can see now, I was only scratching the surface. It’s no wonder that I would fall on my face, overwhelmed or annoyed that my needs were being met. I didn’t even know what they were.
The virus woke up our household. As we shelter in place, our home has become a crucible, a container we cannot leave, and so we must allow it to transform us. It is teaching my daughter about self-sufficiency and personal grit, about loss and disappointment, about the real dangers of being a human animal who can get sick. She’s also learned that parents have needs, mothers need support from their kids, and the day simply cannot revolve around her. It’s teaching my husband about his self-care and how crucial it is that he is stable enough to be needed. It’s woken up an interdependence in our marriage that has perhaps never been there. I’m not sure my husband has ever really known how much I need him. I’m not sure I ever let him know.
The Busy Disease was the precursor to COVID-19. It numbed us with to-do lists, errands, the activity shuffle, the more more more, and the better better better. We had been limping along and we didn’t even know it. We needed a rock bottom. We didn’t know how painful our pace had become. We didn’t know how much more we have to offer each other, our children, ourselves. We didn’t know we were half asleep. We are only beginning to see. We are still waking up.
What has been your wake up call? What have you noticed about yourself as you’ve had a front row seat to your own needs? Will you take the awareness with you once the pace of life picks up?
Will you let this change you?
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