At the risk of spreading yet another Covid-19 myth, I am using velcro as a metaphor for why some people seem to be covered in Covid-19 fear, and others, not so much.
I'm not talking about someone with the very real risk of a compromised immune system, respiratory illness, or financial hardship. I'm not talking about the very real precautions that we need to take.
But rather about those of us checking Facebook obsessively, and breaking up fights between kids, and realizing we don't have to rush, but also dealing with the discomfort of slowing down and finding all of this super difficult even though our rational brain is telling us we'll probably be fine.
Or at the extreme I'm talking about those in self-isolation who are feeling completely paralyzed in their houses and who would drink hand sanitizer if they could. Or those actually drinking hand-sanitizer, or a drink with the equivalent amount of alcohol.
How do you balance what's actually going on in this current crazy reality, with the bigness of the fear that's going on in your body?
These are the two things you must balance.
"This is cray cray for real" AND "I'm not dying."
"Holy shit this is ONE BIG GLOBAL SHIFT" AND "I have choices available to me."
This requires an extremely large amount of emotional intelligence. Those of you who were super supported as a young person can do this. At the age of 5 or 6, you learn the art of holding 2 emotions or possibilities at the same time.
I can be very angry at someone and still love and respect them.
I can be happy and sad about a school closure that might last till the end of the year.
I will eat my peas because I want candy after dinner.
Sometimes, especially if we were unsafe emotionally or physically as children, we don't ever learn this. We might not learn to hold both "I feel angry about your decision," and "I recognize that I love you and can't act however I please."
"I am scared" AND "I'm supported and I'll be ok."
"I am alone physically right now" AND "I feel deeply there are people that have my back."
"This is big" AND "I can handle it."
If we didn't learn this, Covid-19 can be incredibly unsettling.
The only message that we can hear and hold is:
*******DANGER DANGER DANGER DANGER DANGER DANGER DANGER*******
Our brainstem has kicked in to make sure we survive, even as we're sitting in our living room and flipping through Netflix possibilities.
For example, folks have come into sessions these past couple weeks with all their internal plates rattling, their survival energy at full throttle, and when we talk through it, with our "fact brain," we recognize that they are not in a high risk demographic, and neither are their kids. They are taking all the precautions they can and that they will, most likely, survive. However, their bodies are holding a different story. Their bodies are telling them they are dying and kicking up their hypervigilance to the next level.
So, what's happening?
Based on your previous life experiences, you may hold in your body a lot of experience of alarm, fear and hypervigilance, a lot of unprocessed survival energy. This history is the velcro.
Many of you are full of velcro. Covid-19 loves velcro.
And this can be subtle, for example, having a dad that was always "stressed out" is not going to inspire a feeling of safety or confidence in us. The survival energy needed to live in the company of our dad will store in our body and act like velcro for Covid-19.
Living in a house where we had to be on eggshells as a result of a volatile mother acts as velcro.
Growing up in a country with war and uncertainty. This is velcro.
So, there are REAL FACTUAL reasons right now to be vigilant and feel some discomfort and uncertainty. There are also reasons to be concerned for our neighbours. This is true.
There are also ways that our body may be somatically lying to us. This is also true.
When our body is lying to us, or as one client told me, is carrying around a somatic fossil, it's often time-travelling back to being a child. As children in challenging circumstances we were:
-completely dependent on those around us
-truly unable to deal
-often alone (emotionally or physically)
As a result we learned SURVIVAL mechanisms such as shutting down emotionally, being a little asshole, pushing through with brute force at all costs, extreme care-giving, and possibly thinking out every possible detail of every possible situation trying to "fix" it and make our small child reality more survivable.
You might be noticing these old survival skills flaring up in light of Covid-19.
Covid-19 may be causing some major time-travel, especially if you're full of velcro.
So how do we learn some new survival skills such as emotional regulation and the capacity to hold ourselves (and others) with kindness.
(Along with keeping ourselves and neighbours actually safe through rigid social distancing.)
Here are some thoughts on how to survive as adults (metaphorically carrying around little frightened kids inside of you). We have to combine the fear with new information and awareness:
1. Stay with sensation rather than story. Stick with your physical sensations, if you can, as a way of staying present. What is actually happening in my body right now? What are the physical sensations? Can I feel this and be curious?
2. Watch your breath. Don't try to control it. Don't take a "deep breath" as this activates sympathetic arousal. If needed, if sensation feels too big, watch or focus on your OUT breath.
3. Don't fear the fear. Again, get curious, where is it living in your body, how can you soothe it? Again, move from story to sensation. Even moving away from the word "fear" and looking at just the somatic presence of it.
4. Recognize time-travel. Recognize that some of this is old, charged and not present time. Say to yourself, "I'm time-travelling right now."
5. Imagine supportive people sitting in the room with you (in the midst of social isolation). Your body doesn't know the difference between real and imagined.
6. Practice using fact brain. Pulling out the facts from the big emotions and grounding yourself in those is a good skill to develop.
7. Invite all your selves to the party. Honesty, rather than pushing through with positivity, might be a special kind of social glue in this time. I'm not trying to face this experience with peace and acceptance. Right now I am a tantruming 3 year old, a whiny teenager, a steady as she goes jaw clenched mama, a nihilistic apocalyptic survivalist, a person with OCD, a demanding scared girlfriend, a terrified hungry war survivor, and a superficial pregnant woman who just wants to wear a pretty dress to a summertime party. From my selves to yours, welcome to the party.
This might sound trite on paper, as we are dealing with a BRAINSTEM that is afraid. The brainstem is probably not able to comprehend a lot of what I'm writing. The brainstem needs physical contact, kind words, the gentle safe presence of people around us, soothing music, low lights. It needs to be soothed in the same way as a baby, or very young child, not so much a logical argument.
So find moments to care for yourself as you would a very small person. This may be a time you can give yourself some of what you needed back when you got all the velcro in the first place. Be sad if you need to be. Be kind to the sadness. Be afraid if you need to be. Be kind to the fear. And if you feel angry, direct it not at yourself, but at the place from where you got all the velcro.
Love in the time of Covid-19. You're not alone.
I've recorded a fear meditation you may want to try.
As well, I'm doing Skype sessions if any of you would like, or are in need of, a little bonus support.