This afternoon I listened to an interview between Gabby Bernstein and Glennon Doyle, the latter of whom has just written a book. She discussed her disappointment and sadness at having to cancel her book tour as a result of the COVID19 situation, and how unhelpful it is when we write off our emotions as ‘first world problems’. Doing so just creates a layer of shame over the top of the emotions, and rather than dealing with them, we bottle them inside. And we all know how that ends (*kaboom*).
It got me thinking – many people must be experiencing a similar species of frustration at COVID 19 upsetting their best-laid plans, or even their incredibly loosely-laid, yet still highly attractive plans. I sure as heck am.
So, let’s walk through how to acknowledge and handle our emotions in response to the disruption to our plans.
- What were your plans? Picture yourself on 1 March: how had you envisaged these next few months playing out?
On 1 March, hiking in the Blue Mountains, I pictured the following:
- I nail my US visa interview at the consulate on 3 March
- My fiancé Chris and I meet up on the Gold Coast for the first World Surf League event of the calendar, and I also join him at Bells Beach and Margaret River as a kind of ‘farewell Australia’ highlight tour for my fans (clarification: I have none).
- I return to South Australia for the month of May, to tie up loose ends and spend quality time with family.
- I also (heck, why not) finish the first three chapters and a proposal for my book and am getting that to publishers in May.
- 1 June sees me on a flight to the US, where I am reunited with Chris (and his family! And my Mustang, Ruby!) and we start planning our amazing summer wedding. IT’S A GODDAMN FAIRYTALE, PEOPLE. Soundtrack by a Tame Impala/The Killers collab.
- How have these plans been impacted?
I nailed the visa interview and started feeling very smug in anticipation of my farewell tour. When the WSL cancelled the Aussie leg of the tour, I felt things starting to unravel. That was the week that the virus really ramped up. On Wednesday, sitting at an empty café in Keith (Keith is a town not a person), I bought a ticket to the US – the same day the Australian government announced its strongest-possible anti-international travel advisory. I decided to roll the dice and go anyway, on the basis that I wasn’t going on holiday – I was, in what is only a slight stretch of the truth, going ‘home’.
Four days later, on Sunday 22 March, I flew to LAX, having spent almost no time with my closest family and none with friends. 36 hours after my arrival, the Australian government all but shut down international travel. Chris brought me to the mountains to isolate before I see his family. We are trying to find a place to live (me online, sending endless annoyingly unrealistic links, and him doing the actual work). A wedding date is hard to pick when you can currently not even get a marriage license in California. Also, I have not touched the book manuscript in weeks.
- How do you feel about the changes to your plans?
I feel anxious and out of control. I feel frustrated and sad not to have the opportunity to enjoy the chaotic yet comfortably familiar fun of the WSL events, and catch up with the WSL family while watching awesome surfers rip. Having had only half an hour to say goodbye to my Mum, I’m so scared that I’ll never see her again. I’m annoyed that Chris and I didn’t get to languidly plan our wedding over a few Coopers Pales while the sun sets at Gnarabup, and that we’re having to suddenly rush it all after waiting for so long to get to this point. And in case there was any doubt, I feel really anxious and out of control.
- Are your feelings understandable?
Yep – anxiety and a lack of control are totally logical consequences to the unexpected changes to my plans, heightened obviously by the sense of global dis-ease at the disease currently spreading across our globe.
- How can I look after myself when I’m feeling that way?
Firstly, reassure myself that these feelings – whatever they are – are totally acceptable and ok. I am allowed to feel anxious and out of control, and terrified as a result.
Secondly, take time to sit with those feelings, unpack them a bit, either through writing or by talking to someone.
Thirdly, I don’t expect or need them to evaporate immediately. I trust they’ll stay as short or long as they need to.
The most important thing, really, is making time and space to be aware, and be honest.
I suspect I will be feeling waves of anxiety and a lack of control for quite some time to come. And while there are plenty of awesome lessons, upsides and interesting insights coming to light as a result of what we are going through, I’m going to resist the temptation to immediately lunge at the positive take if I’m only doing so to mask negative feelings.
I’m going to sit quietly and acknowledge what’s really going on, and try to take care of myself and others, instead.