The memes of Instagram want to know!
There was a time, before the global pandemic, when spending tons of time at home was a luxury that most of us did not have. We had long work days, after-work events, and business trips that usually kept us busy. Not to mention social events! Concerts! I could go on. If you asked me in 2019 if I would have been mad about staying home for a few months though, I would have said “No, that sounds amazing. Sign me up!” As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.
While it was never clear that the pandemic would rage on for over a year, the first few months were a novelty. Along with all of the fear and uncertainty of quarantine, at best, it was a way to spend more time with family, pick up old hobbies, and focus on things that we simply did not have the time to before we were forced to stay home. Many of us turned this into an opportunity to hone a skill or learn something new.
This is great — learning to see opportunity in a vastly-less-than-ideal situation is the stuff of resilience. Lemonade out of lemons, etc. These types of experiences help us become more empathetic and adaptable. These experiences show us that we can do hard things and make it to the other side. As an endurance athlete, that is something very close to my heart. But that attitude only goes so far in a worldwide pandemic full of literal waves of uncertainty. It is great to keep your head up, but it is also OK to feel overwhelmed and sad about the state of things.
So, let’s talk about toxic positivity for a sec
One thing that the last year has highlighted, along with everything mentioned so far, is that trying too hard to be happy or content can sometimes flirt with toxic positivity. For those who are unfamiliar, toxic positivity basically means that no matter how dire a situation, all you need to do is maintain a positive mindset.
Is the world collapsing around you? If you have a good attitude, you’ll be grand! If you’re sad, brush it off and it will all be ok. Crushing anxiety? Slipping into depression? Just smile, it will all be fine! The people that push this narrative generally have a “live, laugh, love” sign somewhere in their home. It is basically a way of suppressing how you feel so that you never really deal with it. Which, as you can imagine, is not a healthy coping mechanism. You can read more about it here and here.
This past year, we’ve seen our social media feeds fill with the idea that, despite being in a global pandemic, devoid of our usual interactions — and indeed, general life coping mechanisms — we should not only be happy and content (read: suppressing any and all negative emotions), but also accomplishing things! Big things! Pay no attention to the scary things on the news, just find something to do!
It’s time to redefine success – for ourselves
Now, don’t get me wrong. For those who have mastered baking sourdough bread, become devout plant parents, or learned to speak a new language… that is amazing! To be able to channel your energy into new things this past year is no small feat. And for many of us, it helps in dealing with the ambiguity of existing right now. But social media will have us out here believing that if we did not finish writing the next great American novel, we wasted all of the time we spent at home.
So let’s back up. Most of us who were lucky enough to not have our jobs impacted by the pandemic spent a good amount of time adjusting to doing everything remotely. Sometimes with kids! I personally struggled to have a meeting where my cat did not lay on my keyboard. For the past year, success on some days meant having actual meals as opposed to a steady stream of snacks.
Surviving is enough
More than just dealing with the stress of *gestures wildly* the state of the world right now, most of us have our own personal and mental struggles going on in the background, whether related to the pandemic or not. And that’s all ok! And admitting that it’s tough, rather than falling into a culture of preaching “you should x or y”, might be the first step towards feeling better. We should be supporting each other in whatever works for us to get through this *very* weird time we are in.
It’s important to remember that everyone is dealing with in in their own way. Some people can channel their anxiety and frustrations into all sorts of things that are seen as productive. And that is great! But that’s ok if that is not you. It’s perfectly alright to not be perfect right now. The last year has meant adjusting to a multitude of things, so the least we can do is not feel bad about ourselves for not being our absolute best selves. Surviving is enough, darlings!
A native New Yorker via Boston, Laura Debenedetto works in tech policy and is currently based in Dublin. When not writing for the CPQ blog, she can be found in the mountains, on a bike, or trying to perfect her pie lattice technique in her tiny European kitchen. She’s on IG as @ldeben and her dabbles in travel writing can be found here.