Living each day much muchier
On Monday afternoon, I experienced a wave of overwhelming anxiety. Oh hell no. Oh f* no. It’s happening again.
The lockdown announcement came later in the week, but all signs pointed to yes. While the anxiety was founded, it was still unwelcome, a reminder of upheaval and wintering dark months confined at home. It came from pretending to be okay enough to work, because I was lucky to HAVE work. It came from the fear that basic needs like safety, connection and human touch were about to be taken away, again.
I want to think anxiety is cleverness at reading the signs. But honestly, it’s not. Feeling suddenly like the coyote over an empty canyon updraft doesn’t help me or anyone. It’s an ancient physical response, irrelevant to the modern world.
Lately I’ve been looking up trauma recovery, hoping to explain the weird things I find myself saying and feeling, and ways to put colour into the world. There are a lot of good books around, but they’re all about rejoining the normal world. What IS normal? We are in this broth together.
Something bothers me about the COVID-19 mental health narrative. It presumes that we are, by the most part, healthy and happy people who can bounce back the moment our freedoms return. Not to undercut the importance of mental health support for a second – I just want to say that I, like a lot of people, aren’t in clinical distress but also not experiencing anything like a healthy bounce. We’re in a limbo of prevailing meh.
Masks came off. Venues opened. Dancing returned. Yet, the bounce never came. There was no spring-loaded, happy baby goat giddy freedom. Reprieve is not the same as the pandemic being over.
We were already exhausted. There was already so much making us sick, pushing on us to manage processed foods, hyperproductive hustle culture, social media ‘highlight reels’, loneliness, consumerism, normalised daily alcohol intake, conflicting progressive and conservative narratives, unrealistic body standards, screen time, unnatural light before bed, long commutes, overly sterile environments …the list is long and damning.
There honestly isn’t enough time in a day to do all the things we need to do to counterbalance the stress of life in the 2020s.
Already, there was a pattern where health problems were the rule, and healthy people, the exception. That’s if (and a BIG if) they were healthy for real and not just projecting that on social media while secretly struggling with body dysmorphia and high performing anxiety on the down low.
Nutrient-poor food, toxic productivity, and unnatural environments are just plain bad for us. We know it and feel it, but haven’t the language to express it, or find a reasonable way out. Our only options seem to be between plug in and stress out or go weird and hermit out. Neither is right, because we’re also wired to be social, to seek community and to serve the system that holds us all together.
Throughout human history, we served our tribe, ancestors and land spirits. We served our village. We served God and church. We served tradition and now? Now we serve the economy. It’s our higher power to be appeased and protected, because in return, it provides for and protects us (however unequally).
It’s not ‘the man’ or ‘culture’ or ‘capitalism’ that urge us to work, scroll, purchase, and post. Or at least, not mainly those things. We have deep instincts that tell us it’s noble to serve the system, because community is central to our survival. So, productivity and purchasing become noble pursuits of service, even if we can’t fully articulate why.
The engines of our bodies are overwhelmed. We were already caught in a too-complex web of our own making and fighting for health on too many fronts. Then add to that, months-long isolation from physical contact with loved ones. Humans need holding and belonging.
Yet, I want to rage against work newsletters and articles that tell me to try yoga, or make sure I eat right. I resist them, because these tools of stress management don’t fix the root of the problem. It feels like it’s turning us and our ‘resilience’ into an optimisation problem.
Yet, dismissing advice to try box breathing, to stretch, eat real food and go to bed on time because it’s been packaged up for profit, keeps us from really understanding the power held in the ancient, natural engine of our bodies. We belong to the slow unfurling of green things and the wind and the rain. We’re made of elements and flesh and pheremones. We are animals of the planet and it determines our behaviour far more than we’d like to admit.
Instead of waiting to feel better on the other side of distress, maybe we just unplug. We don’t have to #burnitalldown, but we can cut the power. What happens if we focus on meeting our fundamental, ancient biological needs first? Maybe we’ll have a greater presence of mind to meet our personal and communal needs, instead of chasing the shiny things we mistake for them. Maybe we will put people first, before and above the systems that push so many of us down.
What if we stop first? Be an animal of the planet first. Light a small flame. Breathe and stretch into all the deep places. Breath into the tightly held grief places. Unfurl as the planet meant for us to do.