Six months of staying home with my two young children to keep all of us safe has traveled the full spectrum of emotions. There are moments of overwhelming joy and gratitude when I watch my children play together and grow their sibling relationship while tears drip out of my eyes. There are moments of intense frustration when I have so much angst built up in my body with nowhere to go but to spill out. If I had watched back a video of myself, you would see reactions I would have corrected in my children and moments where I was not proud of my behavior. I have been short, perpetually annoyed, and on my worst days, could barely stand being around myself. Those are the days when you just simply make it to the finish line one way or another. Best is no longer attainable, better is a far cry away, and survival is all that’s left.
My most effective solutions during difficult days has been to implement the exact sentiment that I desperately needed in the moment. If I didn’t have a source of the emotion I needed, I realized that I had to create the space for it.
During difficult days, implement the exact sentiment that you need.
When I felt alone, drifting, I did reach out calls to clients and friends to ask if they needed anchoring. When I felt like no one cared or the world was against me, I wrote and spoke gratitude. I have a giant Grattitude Jar (yes, that’s spelled correctly for “gratitude attitude”) made out of an oatmeal cylinder and decorated in rainbow colors. It is filled with small things I was grateful for and written when I felt low. It is filled with appreciation for eating dinner as a family, for waffles, and for previously unused craft supplies that had a new lease on life in the pandemic. That is the loveliest thing about gratitude practices. When you observe your gratitude every day, it gets old really quickly to be thankful for the same giant buckets in your life. Your family. Your job. Your health. Soon you begin getting much more micro-specific about what you are grateful for. Things like the look on my children’s faces when they are interested in the day’s learning topic. When my husband asks me if I am doing okay, often, and means it. When I notice that no one has had a runny nose in my house for over six weeks. This is where the magic happens.
When I wished someone would check in on me, I sent hand-written thank you notes to friends and clients. I sent quotes and articles so they knew I was thinking of them. Once in a while, someone was thinking of me too. We all just want to be seen, be heard, and to matter. When you are closed up in your house or working towards a goal that seems to move farther and farther away, it can be easy to wonder if you or your work matter. If you are doing anything of consequence. I still search for that answer some days. And on those days, I tell someone they matter. They probably are questioning it themselves.
When I couldn’t be anything but a seething grump, I found extra fun activities for the kids. One of our favorite new family traditions was born from this. On one particularly challenging Friday, I decided midday that I simply did not know how I was going to make it through the day because I was so miserable. To make it to the finish line, we decided starting at 5:00 p.m. sharp we would have movie night with an indoor picnic dinner! The kids could eat their plate of relatively mess-free foods while staring at a Disney cartoon movie, which took us directly to bedtime. Effectively I would be done parenting at 5:00 p.m. It was the only path forward. And now it is a cherished weekly tradition.
My strategy here is to give what you need. While I often expect those around me to read my mind and know what I need (!), I understand this is completely realistic. If I didn’t have it, I thought, then I would create it. And it often worked. I felt more whole.
We are making our way through this simultaneous pandemic and epidemic of racial injustice when everyone is struggling with their own flavor of shit. Grief, fear, loss. I have tried to extend as much grace as possible to others for not reaching out or not responding, and I assumed that people were just doing their best. This is a unique moment in our lives when it is easy to see how someone could be fighting an inner battle or hidden struggles that you know nothing about. They may have lost their job or are worried about losing it. They may be worried about keeping their families or aging parents safe from a virus. They may be breathing the air of racial injustice that has always burned, but now burns like a Californian wildfire (or, you may just actually be trying to breathe through actual wildfires in California… these are strange times).
That level of grace, more than anything, needed to be extended to myself.
I realized that level of grace, more than anything, needed to be extended to myself. I too am struggling with my own trials. I too must be doing the best I could. Therefore, I could also lighten up on the expectations and shoulds I was using to batter myself.
What I remembered is that I am much more at the cause of my world than I am at the effect of it. This is honestly a tough pill to swallow when you feel like your world is caving in, because that also means you personally have the power to positively change the outcome. Taking responsibility for your own life can be exhausting, but there is no other sustainable way forward. When you need a break, you can always implement “movie night!” and take a moment to eat Lucky Charms for dinner, by yourself, in some goddamn peace until you get your strength back.
About the author:
Katie Rasoul is a keynote speaker, author, coach and Chief Awesome Officer for Team Awesome, a leadership coaching and culture consulting firm. She is a TEDx speaker alumna, author of the best-selling book, Hidden Brilliance: A High-Achieving Introvert’s Guide to Self-Discovery, Leadership and Playing Big, and co-host of The Life and Leadership Podcast.
To learn more about Katie’s signature keynote talk, “Beyond Diversity & Inclusion to Belonging,” visit www.katierasoul.com.