I am utterly tired of the word, unprecedented.
I am. I’ve never heard it so often as the last months. And I’m done with it
I’m also done with, pivot.
We’ve had to use these word waaaaay to often since COVID-19 started.
Can we just pivot our way out of these unprecedented times right now? Please?
When I was a little girl, during recess we would sometimes play a game of “Cooties”. I don’t know who would call or why, but it would be announced that a certain person had cooties.
It was essentially a game of keep away. The person designated to have cooties had to be avoided at all costs. It often continued after recess into the school. As that person approached, we shrank away, pulled back, or outright ran.
If we saw the one with cooties touch something, like a pencil or the pencil sharpener, that object would be declared as infected with cooties--meaning we all now avoided that object.
It was a form of bullying, I think, to radically and publicly isolate a peer.
I remember someone deciding one day that it was me that had cooties.
Being designated as having cooties–and thus avoided physically–was a most painful form of rejection for me as a child.
I ache when I think how awful it felt to have people continually actively avoid me during this silly You Got Cooties game.
The feeling of frustration, loneliness and rejection ripped at my little elementary school heart. What had I done? How could I stop it? And…would it happen again?
I feel like I treat:
- the stranger on the sidewalk, and
- the neighbour down the street like they have cooties.
I do this avoiding thing, not terribly unlike we did back in Grade 2.
I mask up. I ask them to wash their hands. As I pass in the aisle or the sidewalk, I go off to the side several more feet than necessary.
And others do the same to me.
(I recognize this is a kindness. I wear a mask as a kindness–but that doesn’t change the way my body feels with all this avoiding.)
It’s exhausting–this feeling of treating others like they have cooties.
My brain says that this is what science tells us to do, but my body says that I am being mean.
Pulling away from others has me feel like I violate my values of connection, community, and belonging.
I am worn down from the avoiding which feels, as a visceral level, like I am rejecting others.
It feels mean and hostile and unfriendly–just under the surface, at a pre-verbal level. It violates my values. I want to embrace friends. I want to welcome clients.
I want to fling open the doors of my life to people instead of peeking at them above a mask.
And I can’t.
The very same thing that helps people thrive also helps the virus thrive. In order to halt the virus, we are being asked to halt the very thing that makes life worth living: Meaningful, easy, frequent connection.
These days, I:
- spray a client’s hands with cleaner before I give them the iPad at the beginning and end of a session
- ask a client to back away while I enter the data into the Point of Sale machine…and then I back away as they move towards the machine to insert their credit card with careful disdancing choreography
- put on my mask before I enter a store
- avoid hugging good friends
- ask people to wash their hands and pass a series of questions before I allow them in my office
- don’t sit in a restaurant so I don’t have to be unmasked in a room where I don’t know everybody
- invite acquaintances over–but only into the backyard, not inside.
- and on, and on, and on…
It’s hard on us to be avoided. None of us like rejection.
Once you know how much being rejected hurts, then avoiding others hurts just as much.
I’m invite you to be present with and calm your nervous system. Honour that your body gets wound up both avoiding and being avoided–which this pandemic requires.
Please, give yourself the permission to feel the distress of confusion. Right now, doing the best thing given COVID-19 is to avoid people in a way that feels just wrong.
The wrong thing to do is the right thing to do.
And yes, this messes with our heads, our hearts and our bodies. Of course it does!
This is one more layer of stress of COVID-19--one that actually creates distress in our bodies.
In any other season, this level of avoiding would be cruel and malicious. And now, during the pandemic–it’s what required.