The last few weeks have been unprecedented worldwide. The pandemic has caused so much global strife and anxiety. People have lost lives or are helplessly watching loved ones fight for theirs. Economic uncertainties and chaos abound. There is a general sense of vulnerability all around. Healthcare workers are thrust into the frontlines of this crisis without much support.
This large-scale social isolation we are experiencing now is an equally large-scale social experiment, one that I feel, will be the fodder for mental health case studies for decades to come. As a species, we crave for a sense of community. We love to belong. A great way to belong is by being useful. It helps our morale and pride when we are of value to others. You constantly hear inspirational stories of people going above and beyond during this time. I have first-hand experience of amazing friends that have stepped up at this time, sewing masks for the healthcare community and stocking up food banks.
I, on the other hand, find myself in a strange but serious conundrum. I feel completely ill-fitted for the needs of the moment. I’m not a qualified healthcare worker, or for that matter, a qualified anything. I’m not crafty enough to make masks. Financial contributions alone don’t seem enough. But the hardest part of all of this is that I have a sense of time pressure that is quite unparalleled. I feel that I’ve been given this small window of opportunity to find more meaningful things to do. And I’m afraid I’ll blow it.
Serendipitously, a dear friend shared this snippet about Isaac Newton from an article she found online. “The closure of Cambridge University in 1665 because of the plague—which went on to kill around 100,000 Londoners—forced Isaac Newton to stay at home, where he discovered that white light contained all colors in the spectrum, developed the fundamentals of calculus, and formulated the basics of the law of universal gravitation. He then turned twenty-four. Newton published his masterwork, the Principia Mathematica—a cornerstone of the Scientific Revolution—in 1687”1.
At the risk of stating the obvious, no, I’m not trying to find something that would alter human course. I’m simply dealing with my lifelong ‘Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)’ that has taken center stage.
I’m grateful to still have a telework friendly full-time job that keeps me quite busy. In many ways, at least in my industry, telecommuting is indeed efficient. I’m not spending (wasting?) time on dressing up to get to work, commute, idle chatter, random cubicle interruptions etc. I realize that work that consumed my time from 8am to 6 pm can now be achieved in under 7 hours, freeing up a good 3 hours a day. That’s dynamite.
However, instead of rejoicing for this extra time, I am here, in deep anguish. Diagnosed with severe FOMO. A part of my brain is playing a continuous ‘You only live once (YOLO)’ loop asking me to DO SOMETHING. I’m now an actor in the play directed by FOMO and produced by YOLO. Not fun!
Missing out on what, you ask? I’m worried about what I’ll have to show for when all of this is said and done and life goes back to “normal” again.
I started by focusing all my energies on my reluctant teen and even more reluctant husband, knowing such opportunity to have family at close quarters all day, every day, is not going to happen again. Amazingly (coincidentally?) and very quickly, they came to absolutely love their noise-canceling headphones. Dense, as I am, I eventually got the hint and decided to direct my attention towards completing little projects on my own.
At the outset, let me state that I’m a homebody. I love pottering about the house and I’m perfectly happy being housebound. So, this forced social isolation, is a little like winning the lottery. I’m never short of home improvement or self-improvement projects although I never have much to show in the way of completed work in either areas.
But a few weeks into this cycle, an epiphany stuck me. Just like that. A feeling of overwhelming gratitude surfaced. I had a deep desire to articulate all that I can appreciate in my life as it stands now. Here’s just a sample of what I’m thankful for:
- For good health and the fact that we’ve managed to survive this crisis so far without truly being impacted
- For financial security, knowing there may be a blip but not ruin
- For emotional security, being huddled in with people that actually love each other (with noise-cancelling headphones. Still!)
- For life’s luxuries, a house large enough to give us all the physical space we need
- For technology to still be able to work a paying job remotely
- For the parks and trails that help me get fresh air and exercise
The list goes on and on. And this gratitude brought a welcome friend with it. A healthy dose of clarity. Who would have thought?!
Does absence make the heart grow fonder or does it let the mind wander?
With this newfound clarity, I did what I always do in good or bad moments. Make lists. So, I made lists of what I miss and what I don’t.
What I miss:
- Meaningful socializations with friends
- Farmers market
- Social activities for my only child
What I don’t miss:
- Needless shopping trips
- Office politics
Underlying all this is a bigger question – ‘Do we really need to go back to our old ways after this crisis and pretend nothing happened?’. I hope not. When this crisis ends, I hope to use the lessons learnt and enjoy the things I miss and hopefully find a way to avoid the things that I don’t care for.
Those who know me, know that this is isn’t the first time I’ve been given a chance to get a perspective on life. Yet, here is the kicker (and my quote for the day). Unfortunately, perspective is what you have until the next minor irritant comes along.
I know now that I don’t ‘need’ more than half the items that I order on Amazon. However, how likely is that, post-crisis, I’ll head back to the life as it was, have a tough day and relieve stress by shopping on Amazon. What happens to the “perspective” I gleaned in that case? Simply vanishes. How do I make it stay? The answer is increasingly obvious to me now. By being grateful. Which means saying “enough” enough times (poor intendend pun). Paying attention, to the abundance that’s already in my life is the only way to keep this hard-earned perspective.
Warning! Soapbox time…
The pandemic is nature’s way of showing us who’s in charge. We are but mere puppets pulled in different directions by our puppeteer – nature. There’s only so much free will and control we have over our circumstances. So at least let’s try to make the most of what we actually can exercise some control over simply by finding ways to do more fulfilling tasks and limiting or eliminating others.
End of Soapbox!
My #1 habit gained during this pandemic is to maintain a gratitude journal of at least 10 things that I’m thankful for each day.
Entire research papers and books have been published about how brain chemistry changes when you are grateful. I believe that, but can’t be bothered getting FMRI scans to prove it. I just know I feel better. I have managed to change my FOMO into JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) by being grateful for what I have. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how I define success.
Thus, I say this to Isaac Newton. Mr. Newton – the entire human race is grateful to you for your discovery of the laws of gravity during a pandemic. In contrast, my discovery during this pandemic is simply a tiny sliver of inner peace. But you know what the best part of this discovery is. I say that’s good enough for me.