It’s a few weeks into a new semester, and I can tell it’s going to be a tough one. Students were forced into online classes due to COVID, and I can tell it’s causing them stress. Through the emails I’m receiving. The questions. The interesting ways they are interpreting instructions. All leading me to see that they are feeling the pressure. Of the new way they have to learn. Of losing their jobs. Of having to possibly live in unsafe environments. Of having to navigate the unsafe world we handed them the moment they became adults. And I realized they are possibly losing themselves in the process. Something I do everything within my limited power to save them from. And I find that if I’m not careful, I’ll lose myself as well.
My husband and I had been at odds and I’d had my period — two things that could make me feel heavier on their own — so I was already struggling to take care of myself. Of our household. Of our marriage. Then when life added about 80 new online students and all of their stresses and concerns into my life, I couldn’t take the added weight, and my ship sank.
The first sign I was sinking was that I didn’t want to practice self-care. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t feel like eating. Like getting dressed. Doing my job. Moving. Participating in the world — I didn’t understand my purpose for living. Everything I did felt like I had a heavy weight strapped to me. Every move made me feel like more of a burden.
Household tasks felt more like chores than the joyful maintaining of the things I love. I felt overwhelmed at every turn. Unable to keep up. I didn’t want to interact with others. I felt fake when I did. Like I’m unwell, but I’m not saying so. Perpetuating the cycle of illusion. Allowing me to sink further into the darkness.
Before I knew it, I had completely drown. I’d stopped writing. My most assured sign I am unwell. Because writing helps me see myself, when I’m not writing, I get lost in the darkness more quickly.
Then while listening to a podcast, I heard the speaker say that if you’re overwhelmed, start unloading. Start letting people help you so you feel lighter. And I heard what she said.
I sent a story I’ve been working on to a colleague to proofread, helping me with something I’ve been overwhelmed by. My husband enlisted one of his colleagues to consult with me about my website, helping me with another. And I went about my days trying to focus on helping others. Thinking that if I was struggling to help myself, that maybe I could ground myself in helping them.
Knowing I still had to practice some self-care every day, to avoid slipping completely into the darkness, I conducted my morning spiritual routine: chanting, praying, doing yoga, meditating, journaling. And I set out to help my students. To shut off the millions of things running through my mind and to focus on how I can be of use to them.
And then my joy reappeared. Like a long-lost friend, she came back. I was reminded to surrender. To let go. To love. To connect to myself and to others. For there is nothing more joyful than getting back together after you’ve been away for too long. After the darkness has stolen you for decades. After you’ve already drown.
Understanding the struggles of others — seeing them and letting them see us — is the connection we all need. The vagus nerve connection that serves our nervous system so well. Cradling it like a baby. Providing loving support. Letting joy flow through.
The day after I felt joyful, all of the pain came back again. All of the anger. Like the joy had been a trick. A mirage. Another illusion. But I stuck with my morning spiritual routine. Even though it took me longer than usual to get through. Even though I felt like I couldn’t connect. Even though I felt too angry to try. Noticing I was slipping, I focused my thoughts on helping others again. I sat with my anger and my pain. Letting it cry out as needed. Pushing through the discomfort. And I waited, hoping that joy would find me once again.
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