In the picture above we see the birdcage door open to the world. Some birds have flown quickly away, free, with no hesitation. Another can’t move and stays right where she is. Which are you?
I was doing some binge TV series watching and started to view Shameless. Joan Cusack plays a character who has agoraphobia and wants desperately to leave her house. Each day she tries to leave by taking her meds. She has been working with her therapist, practicing on virtual goggles to sense what it will mean to join and navigate the world again. She dresses up, puts on her coat, purse in hand, and stands quivering touching the doorknob intending to set herself free. She can’t open the door. She stands at the threshold of change. She is overwhelmed by the prospect of it. She has a panic attack, and her sweet daughter tells her, “It’s okay Mom, another day.”
I know many of us might think that we can’t wait to get back to life as we knew it and fly the coop. Some of us are in some denial and think that returning to normal will be a piece of cake, easy, no worries. I beg to differ. Journalists banter about the phrase “new normal.” What exactly is that? I wonder if we are really prepared and ready to “Open Up” to this enigmatic new normal. What can that possibly look like anyway?
My son has friends in China who have not left their apartments since December. As some have begun to venture out, were they afraid? Was light too bright? Did they, too, stand shaking at the doorknob wondering how to cross the threshold. The curve of the disease progression has flattened there but not been annihilated. How are they acclimating?
Transitions take time, adaptations and adjustments. We had the transition into the Shelter In which some of us are finally settling into. Perhaps there are those of us still kicking and screaming, rebelling against the bars of the cage. Others of us are surprised at how this quieter life allows us to learn more about ourselves without as many distractions. Some of us still feel claustrophobic. Some flooded by blending childcare with work. We have been breathing in the shapeless Time experience, creating new rituals, bedtimes and perhaps different expectations of ourselves and others. The Shelter In transition demanded transformation even as we may have initially resisted it, or are still pushing against it.
Except for the frontline workers and essential service professionals who had no choice or courageously stepped up to their duty, the rest of us made our daily decisions based on our values or necessity.
And now, it appears another transition, that of Opening Up, is in front of us and imminent, whether premature or not. Our local governments are controlling this timing in the name of what they say is for our greater good. I hope they are right. I hope they won’t come to regret their timing and apparent lack of planning.
I guess only we, as individuals, can determine what is for the greater good. And I hope we consider the greater good for all, and not only for our immediate needs. I hope our personal decisions are based on a sense of responsibility and accountability. We live in a society that bends toward narcissism far too much.
What are we opening up to? Is it safe to open up? How much or how little do we open up? What exactly do we open up to? This is such a metaphor for how we each live our lives. How we choose to open up tells a story of who we are.
I don’t know Joan Cusack’s character’s back story. I don’t know what triggered in her this terror of being part of the world. There must have been some trauma associated with the onset of her symptoms. If I continue to watch the show maybe I will find out. I know I have a few clients with various degrees of agoraphobia and I know that all the intention in the world still may not allow them to break out and break free. What will make the world safe for them again? What will make it safe enough for us? This is a question we must ask ourselves each day, each moment.
Before the pandemic we would hear stories of murders, gang shootings, fires, hurricanes and floods on the news. Has our world ever been truly “safe?” Of course not. And yet we try to live our lives with an acceptance of the dangers, and maneuver around them as sensibly as we can. But we had never been “locked down” before. This invisible threat has challenged our norms in so many ways. Moving from isolation to reactive and possibly irresponsible freedom is a pendulum the human must now navigate consciously and mindfully. The illusion of freedom is calling to us like a Siren’s song.
Not much has been said on the news about the mental health and addiction consequences of Covid-19. Death statistics are announced almost hourly, yet we have little awareness of emotional-health related deaths. Suicides have definitely increased. Addiction has escalated. As the Beatles knew- “All the lonely people. Where did they all come from?” People are trying to find ways to soothe themselves, to hold the emptiness. And some set themselves free through the extreme reaction of suicide. This is so very sad, as our world does not acknowledge these costs very often, or have much interest in resourcing us with these kinds of challenges.
Our country as a whole hasn’t given us a plan for this emotional kind of Opening Up, one in which we feel some sense of safety, know how to assess physical and emotional risk reasonably, and have skills and tools to find new ways to orient.
We know life is not truly predictable. We must find ways to resource ourselves in spite of that fact.
Because so much of the pandemic is framed in a politicized way, we find ourselves trying to discern what is true and what are the best ways to feel resourced and live our lives during these unstable times. We can easily fall into confirmation bias and escalate our emotions based on our belief tendencies, muddying our choice-making.
Trauma occurs when we feel the situation that we are facing is too big for us to handle, when we are overwhelmed and not adequately prepared and resourced.
How do you create a sense of safety for yourself?
What is unfolding in our world is no accident. It is a consequence of our evolution and our blindspots colliding. Our way of life is being challenged and invited to ascend into something kinder, and hopefully more consciously interconnected than ever before.
So, what are we opening up to? Let’s look at the good news. We could be opening up to a greater connection to our inner knowing and intuition. To a deepened sense of responsibility to our self and to our fellow earth inhabitants. To discernment and the assessment of risk and its cost to others as well as to ourselves. Mandatory mindfulness? And finally, I hope that as we stand at this threshold of change, perhaps shaking at our own doorways, perhaps readying ourself to fly, we make a fierce promise to drop into our best selves and become the expanded New Human that is inclusive, openhearted, discerning and brave in ways not yet known to us.
Let our Sunday evening free virtual support group be one way to resource yourself.