I have been trying hard not to disappear. To find a purpose in life during these times when I could just fade away, quietly step back, and few would notice or miss me for quite a long while.
I have always been a helper, a communicator, an organizer, a leader. But I am also tired, physically and spiritually; sad, about the state of the world, the country, my life at the moment; and lonely for the physical presence of friends and activities that get me outside myself.
When I was growing up, my dad would often ask us a seemingly harsh question. It came at the end of the day, usually at the dinner table.
“So, what have you done to justify your existence?”
He wasn’t harsh, though the question always made me think, which was his real purpose. I would panic just a little and scan frantically through memories of my day, trying indeed to justify my presence.
Oh no! What HAVE I done to justify my place here? Have I helped anyone? Helped Mom, especially? Done something well? What can I tell him?
And that’s how I lived my life. As a teacher, a mother, a leader in the corporate world of student assessment. Helping. Holding myself to ridiculous standards. Setting the bar high. One would think that after three years of not being able to work, I would be used to not clocking 12-hour work days, but I am still not.
I feel like so much flotsam and jetsam.
And then an article in The New Yorker about what we can do to maintain our perspective and place during times of “isolation and confinement” caught my eye. Developed by Tom Williams, clinical psychologist at NASA’s Human Factors and Behavioral Performance unit, it’s a simple acronym that I thought might keep me and others from disappearing.
CONNECT (The parenthetical comments are my interpretations and observations.)
Community – We are not alone in this. We’re in this together. (And we can do it!)
Openness – We must be open to the experience and the challenge. (This one struck me since I am not one to jump at challenges I do not choose.)
Network – Friends and family become more important. (I challenge this one a bit. Have they really become more important or do we just realize how important they have always been? As I told a friend, it is times like these that we are again reminded how much our circles mean to us.)
Needs – Physical, emotional, psychological needs exist, but isolation limits our resources to fill them. So we need to be be creative to feel like we have some control over things. (I haven’t felt creative lately, but I will keep trying!)
Expeditionary Mind-set – Appreciate the new experience. (This is a lot like “Openness,” which may be why its explanation in the article is about five words long.)
Countermeasures – These include what we do to calm ourselves down. We need to be aware of the stressors and how they are affecting us, and be proactive in dealing with them. (In a positive way. Or with wine.)
Training and Preparation – We can draw from prior adversities, draw strength from those around us, share with others to help them. (These are all powerful ways to help ourselves and others.)
Will these steps cure us all from the fear, ennui, apathy, anxiety, and panic we feel? (At least I feel these emotions at various times of the day, especially right before I go to bed.) No, they won’t.
But I am hoping they help me feel connected again. Not adrift.
Needed. Not discarded.
Missed. Not invisible.
Russell, Anna. “What Submarine Crews and Astronauts Can Teach Us about Isolation.” The New Yorker. 9 Apr 2020.