Hey. How are you doing? No, like how are you really doing?
How is your head? How is your heart? Are you taking the time to breathe? Are you allowing yourself room to feel it all? The good and the bad?
Things are bad, I know. You don’t need me to tell you that. No wonder we need reminding to be kind.
COVID-19 is affecting every corner of the globe, toppling industries, and communities in a matter of weeks. No one is safe from its clutches. For the travel community, this new reality has changed our lives immediately and drastically for the foreseeable future. Are you one of those wishing to travel right now? Listen up.
Perhaps you were a traveler whose trip ended early. Maybe you’re at home, counting down the days until that trip you were supposed to take. Maybe you’re an ex-pat living abroad halfway around the world from your family with no feasible way to get home if things take a turn for the worse. Pretty much all of us are wishing to travel but can’t.
COVID-19 is isolating us in a way we have never experienced in our lifetimes, and it’s hard.
There’s no way around it. It just plain sucks.
Each day, I force myself away from the horror stories and personal anecdotes flooding my social media. Instead, turn to positive sources that help me get in control of my thoughts and feelings. While I can physically be there to support anyone outside of my personal bubble right now, I can share with you the wisdom I’ve sought that is helping me cope.
Here are the mantras I’m repeating to myself to help cope during this pandemic, especially for those wishing to travel.
Humans were designed to adapt
There was a quote I once read many years ago by Tom Holt that goes like this: “Human beings can get used to virtually anything, given plenty of time and no choice in the matter whatsoever.”
I remember reading this quote after a cruel boyfriend dumped me. I felt the words reverberate through every cell in my body. As I sobbed pathetically into my pillow, I read the quote over and over, long to adapt to this *horrible* fate I hadn’t asked for.
Oh, how trivial that anecdote seems now.
Of course, I got over the heartbreak quickly and moved on with life. But I found Tom’s message coming back to me during periods of hardship, providing me much needed moments of clarity.
It’s true, isn’t it? Civilizations rise and fall, peaks and valleys fill our lives. We adjust to things that seemed impossible to endure. Just think about how different experience was three months ago. If I could back and talk to the January version of myself, she’d have a good laugh about my forewarning. And now, leaving the house once a week for groceries seems wholly acceptable and reasonable even if we wishing to travel.
We can adapt quicker than we think, and we get to chose how we live in our new, adapted lives. It’s up to us to find meaning and the will to make the best of the situation we’re in. It’s not easy, but it is a choice and a skill that comes with practice and time.
Live the hell out of the present because we’re not going back to normal
Many months ago, before COVID-19 was a household name, I started doing some work on myself. I sought out some free podcast therapy, as you do when you need some sage advice and live in a country where mental healthcare is virtually nonexistent.
I was recommenced Unf*ck Your Brain by Kara Lowentheil, who is a life coach (like Liz’s coach Kait Rich) who focuses on how to get in control of your thoughts, and thus, in control of your emotions and feelings.
Stay with me; this is going somewhere.
Over the past month, Kara has veered slightly from her standard script and adjusted her podcasts for the current pandemic, but the basics remain the same.
She has spent a lot of time going over this concept we’re all obsessed with about “going back to normal” when in fact, this reality is our normal. The past and the future don’t exist except within our minds.
Think of it this way: If you were to wake up tomorrow with amnesia and no memory of the past, what would that be like? Your current experience would be your only frame of reference. You wouldn’t compare your life to the past because you don’t know what the past is.
This obsession with getting back to normal at some point soon is detrimental to our present life. It’s something that we humans have been doing for millennia. Humans are always thinking about what the future will be like and consequently giving up on living in the present.
Once I get that job, my life will start. Once I’m in a good relationship, I’ll be sorted. Once I lose weight, I’ll be happy.
This tendency we have of putting off living with intention and purpose in the present is common and is often a reaction to our acceptance of mortality. We don’t want to face the truth that the present is all we have, but the reality is we have never been (and never will be) entitled to the future.
So instead of pining for life that doesn’t exist, what if you accept the life you have right now is the life you have PERIOD.
This, of course, doesn’t mean life won’t change eventually. But what if, for now, you could try to embrace the idea that this is life and it’s not a problem. It’s not better or worse than your life before. It’s just life.
Release the belief that life should be or is something different than what it is. This is always what life is. It’s changing circumstances we can’t control and incredible resourcefulness and resilience inside ourselves and our ability to decide how we want to show up for the life we have.
Release the attachment to the past, and the fixation on the future and what you’re left with is the ability to be present in your own life.
Yes, this pandemic will probably pass. We will likely get treatments and vaccines, and maybe life will go back to the way it used to be for a little while, but then, growth will continue to happen, and things will change again, whether personally or globally. Wishing to travel doesn’t do any good.
That’s life. Life is change. It’s only an illusion that life shouldn’t change. Life is an always-changing set of circumstances. The work of life is to practice the skill of surfing the waves and learning to fall softly.
We have work to do
This advice comes from another self-help podcast, a recently adapted version of Dear Sugar. If you aren’t familiar with Dear Sugar, you’re in for a real quarantine treat! Dear Sugar is the work of Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild and unofficial best friend of the world.
Her podcast, which is now discontinued, answered letters from people who needed advice. It sounds simple, but listening to it is like getting free advice from your best friend, who is always right. Listen to it right now if you’ve never tuned in. It’s one of the interesting things online I’m enjoying these days while wishing to travel.
Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. Cheryl ended that podcast a few years ago, but in light of the recent pandemic, she has picked up a spinoff podcast called Sugar Calling, where she calls and interviews writers to help her make sense of what’s happening in the world.
The first interview she did was with an old professor from Syracuse University. She asked him to read a letter he wrote to his writing students during the lockdown. I could try to summarize the bulk of it, but it’s so beautiful that I think it should be in its purest form so here you go:
“…But it also occurs to me that this is when the world needs our eyes and ears and minds. This has never happened before here. At least not since 1918. We are, and especially you are, the generation that is going to have to help us make sense of this and recover afterward.
What new forms might you invent to fictionalize an event like this, where all of the drama is happening in private, essentially? Are you keeping records of the emails and texts you’re getting, the thoughts you’re having, the way your hearts and minds are reacting to this strange new way of living? It’s all-important. Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened. Or will do the sort of eye-roll we all do when someone tells us about something crazy that happened in 1960.
What will convince that future kid is what you can write about this. And what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you’re paying now and what records you keep. Also, I think, with how open you can keep your heart. I’m trying to practice feeling something like, “Ah, so this is happening now.” Or “Hmm, so this, too, is part of life on earth. Did not know that, universe.
But I guess what I’m trying to say is that the world is like a sleeping tiger. And we tend to live our lives there on its back. We’re much smaller than the tiger. We’re like Barbies and Kens on the back of a tiger. Now and then, that tiger wakes up, and that is terrifying.
Sometimes it wakes up, and someone we love dies. Or someone breaks our heart. Or there’s a pandemic. But this is far from the first time that the tiger has come awake. He/she has been doing it since the beginning of time and will never stop doing it. And always, there have been writers to observe it, and later, make some sort of sense of it — or at least bear witness to it.
It’s good for the world for a writer to bear witness, and it’s good for the writer too. Especially if she can bear witness with love and humor, and despite it all, some fondness for the world, just as it’s manifesting, warts and all.
All of this to say, there’s still work to be done, and now more than ever.”
I think about this letter every time I get into a rut lately. Every time I get overwhelmed with the state of the world and how far away I feel here in New Zealand. While I would wholeheartedly love not to be living this reality right now, I have no choice.
While I’m here, I have an opportunity to create, to write, to reflect and record what life is like during this pandemic.
As George so eloquently says, in 50 years from now, some snobby, sarcastic teenager is going to be rolling their eyes and wishing he was anywhere else but here listening to an old granny’s tale of the 2020 pandemic.
We have a chance to create. Also, we have a duty to make sure the records are not only correct but also helps connect future generations to the struggle. The world will continue to spin, and someday, this panic and trauma we’re dealing with now will be nothing but the past.
And that’s all I have for you, my fellow travelers and those wishing to travel. It’s a weird, uncomfortable time. I know all of us are wishing we could be living the lives we had three months ago. I encourage you to play the hell out of cards the universe dealt us. We may not be experiences far away countries and exciting new cultures, but we are experiencing something extraordinary.
Take care of yourself and take care of each other.
For those of you wishing to travel right now, how are you coping? Any mantras or insights you want to share? Spill.