My blog has been suspiciously silent in the last few weeks; can you guess why?
Maybe you can relate. Maybe you feel the same sort of dragging lack of motivation that’s been plaguing my mind and body. Like there’s a block between myself and all my usual creative juices. And it seems bigger than normal.
I’m no stranger to writer’s block – every self-proclaimed storyteller has hit that particular wall at least once in their lives. But for me, usually it just means I need to focus on a different outlet for a while and gradually circle back to the writing once I’ve had a pallet cleanse. I’ve got plenty of hobbies waiting in the wings for me to dabble in until inspiration strikes once more, but they are all laying stagnant as well.
Some of my family and friends will roll their eyes, as I’m known to have a bit of a fickle sense of attention span anyways. Me not writing for a while would seem fairly normal for my typical habits. My interests wax and wane like the stages of the moon, and I’m fine with that. It doesn’t mean that I’m any less interested in those things, or that they are somehow unimportant. I just like change and fluidity. I like doing new things and feeling the burst of excitement with a new endeavour, and I can replay that same burst of passion each time I revisit an old passion after some time apart. One moment I’m very deeply into a video game saga, the next I’m obsessively reading a string of novels and online books, and then I’m bouncing back to remembering how to play guitar, cook, draw or some other new skill. Absence makes the heart grow fonder after all, so time away from an interest just means I can fall back in love with all over again after my break, and I’m still fond of all my hobbies even if I don’t stick with one for very long.
This might be why my hair colour changes every other week.
But I’ve had no energy for any creative endeavours as of late. None. That new video game I’d pre-ordered and looked forward to for months? Haven’t touched it. The guitar I’ve said I’d get back to using once we moved my daughter’s room to the other level of the house? Collecting dust. The blog I’ve been so excited to keep running and all the ideas I’ve jotted down? Empty. It’s not even that I’m busy with the next thing of my rotating list of proclivities. I haven’t done ANY of them.
And yet, here’s this time in our world where we are stressing the importance of self care, of keeping busy, of using distraction and any other form of purposeful productivity to help manage the impacts of social distancing. Build a positive routine. Do something creative every day. Complete at least one productive task daily that makes you feel accomplished.
I’ve been repeating the exact same advise nearly every hour to my clients and feeling like a hypocrite at the same time.
Admittedly, my days haven’t changed much since Coronavirus began. I am still expected to attend to the office for my regular full time job. I do not have the same ‘Corona-cation’ free-time that many people are finding themselves with while their workplace is shut down. But I am noticing a pattern with many that I support; that there is a sense that during this time, it is as simple as ‘keeping busy’, and we should be somehow grateful for the time afforded us to actually explore our interests.
I recall seeing a post on Facebook that, paraphrased, implied that if someone wasn’t able to complete some massive project, or maintain a sparkling magazine worthy home during this pandemic, that the person never lacked time in the past to do it but they instead lacked the personal determination and discipline.
And my blood boiled at this thought.
The primary complaint I’ve been hearing from nearly every client I’ve supported through this situation is an almost unilateral sense of being a ‘lazy person’. That we are not ‘doing enough’, and therefore are ourselves deficient. I should be learning a language, cleaning the closets, mastering how to make French macaroons, and coming out of this a better and more skilled individual, because we have been given the privilege of being home, with more time to ourselves than we ever thought possible. So what’s my excuse
for being unmotivated? For being so lazy?
I won’t be the first to point out that this sort of phrasing can be damaging to many of us as a form of shaming for a perfectly natural and normal response to a global form of trauma.
THAT’S RIGHT. IT’S NORMAL.
This is a time in our lives, that for many of us, is unprecedented. Who else felt when this all began, ‘There’s no way this will affect me in Canada/America/Enter your First World Nation Here’? That’s because we have no concept of a national crisis of health to this scale in countries where health care is accessible and
an expectation of our modern lives. I’ll admit my privilege, my existence fairly secure and comfortable as part of the vast majority. My income status has been low at some points, but overall I’ve never wanted for security, financially, physically or otherwise. A roof has always been over my head, my fridge has always held enough to feed me, I’ve always had the support I needed without barriers to my access. I’ve been sheltered from the truly horrific difficulties many in our world suffer. My needs have always been met and that sense of security has allowed me to pursue more lofty ambitions because my mind was never preoccupied with concentrating on the fear and uncertainty I might have experienced if I was wondering where my next meal was coming from, or when the next bill would be withdrawn from an account that was already in the red.
And this is the crux of why some of us may be entirely unable to dive deep into a Rosetta Stone lesson right now or turn our pantry into a Pinterest project. Because we lack security and without that, we cannot access the energy or concentration to tackle our higher needs of creativity and self-actualization.
Let me introduce you to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a concept every first year Psychology 101 student will groan about. Abraham Maslow, although some in the field will argue the simplicity of his model and have gone on to expand this, suggested that as human beings we have 5 basic needs that stand one on top of the other as a pyramid: physiological needs, safety, love, esteem and self-actualization. The needs must be met in the order as they appear for us to move onto the next.
PHYSIOLOGICAL needs include the ability to eat, to drink, to sleep, to find shelter, to have clothing, to use the bathroom. This makes sense – it’s our most base instinct as mammals to ensure our body’s survival. If my legs are crossed and I can’t find a toilet, or my stomach is growling with starvation and thirst, I’m not able to concentrate on anything else until those needs are satisfied.
SAFETY refers to a sense of security with our surroundings. This could be physical safety, my health, knowing my belongings are safe and I have the resources I need like a job, or money. Again, this is logical. If my belly is full and I’ve found a home, my next step is to make sure I know I won’t feel hunger again and to protect my interests and find a way to ensure this feeling of security lasts.
Now that I’m safely housed, fed, and well, I can start seeking out LOVE. I can build relationships, a family, a sense of connection to a community. Picture our prehistoric ancestors, hunting for survival, claiming their caves and gradually realizing that connecting with neighbouring tribes meant better protection, better resources and better safety. Villages began to grow, allegiances were made and the wellness of the group supported the wellness of the individual.
ESTEEM grows from this; once I am assured everything else is taken care of, my family is well and I’m reasonably supported and not worried about any other needs, I can focus on myself. My sense of self-esteem, my freedom, recognition for my skills. I can worry about my status in the community, my personal growth.
SELF-ACTUALIZATION is the top tier, when we become the best that we can be. When we feel the most secure in ourselves. I know who I am and I am proud of that. My sense of self is based on my own ideas and I can be creative, I can explore my own morals, my own sense of the world and others. I am flourishing. I am more than just surviving, I am thriving.
Now, take a look at that pyramid, and take a wild guess at where we are right now.
Are some of us struggling for access to food? Is there a fear around leaving our homes, related to safety in our health, our jobs, our finances? Are we connecting and engaged with our family, our friends, our community? Do you feel free to engage in intimacy with all your loved ones? Do you feel like you can begin to access your creativity and explore your sense of self, because you’re not even having to worry about your career and your ability to go out into the world and get all your needs met?
As a nation, as a country, as a world, we have all collectively been knocked down into the second, or even the first level of the Hierarchy. Safety. Physiology.
So how can we expect ourselves to use this time ‘wisely’ as if it were a gift, when on the most basic of levels, we do not have the psychological power to devote to hobbies and new skills because our brain and nervous system is too busy screaming about the unmet needs staring us in the face.
You’re not lazy. You don’t lack discipline.
YOU ARE ENOUGH
What you have is unmet needs that some of us have never truly had to experience.
If you can’t muster up enough strength to tear out the carpet in your basement and renovate a room in your house, that’s OK. If you haven’t been able to do much more than binge watch Tiger King (and send memes to all your friends for a week straight and started every video chat with ‘Hello all you cool cats and kittens’), that’s fine too. If you are struggling to keep up with the stress of your children’s online learning and feel more exhausted after one day at home than you would have all week at work, that makes perfect sense! Even if it’s unconscious, there is a deep seated instinct for you to satisfy these first few needs, and your internal systems will focus the majority of your cerebral resources on that yearning until it gets resolved.
This is not to say give yourself a free pass to let it all go and lose yourself. Far from it. It’s more of an acknowledgment that there is more going on in your body and mind than you are aware of. That noticing this and taking time to offer yourself kindness about how you are coping can go a long way in making this just a bit easier.
So instead of labelling yourself lazy because you haven’t finished that knitting project, acknowledge that you might not be on that level of the hierarchy and focus on where you actually ARE. Satisfy your physiological needs with purpose and intent; go for a walk, ensure you are eating, shower and clothe yourself in a way that remind your hindbrain that this need is fulfilled and satisfied (HINT: while comfy, check in if that pair of 4 day old Hello Kitty pyjama pants are really fitting the bill, and consider switching to a clean outfit – even if it’s still cartoon themed and cozy).
If you are lacking a feeling of security, focus on what DOES make you feel secure. Tidy your immediate nesting area – make your bed, clean up the dishes, stack the books and papers, plug in your phone. You don’t need to remodel your bedroom to feel a semblance of control and a reminder that your environment is stable. Your subconscious will take clues from your environment about its survival; if it sees disorder and a feeling of clutter and anxiety, it will reflect that in your emotions.
Again, we are not aiming for perfect. We are looking to give yourself at least a slight sign that you are surviving, that you are actively involved in the act of satisfying your needs somehow. Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly. Even a 20% effort is better than no effort at all.
Try a mindfulness exercise where you focus on your body, repeat to yourself that you are safe, that your body is well, reflect on the things that do feel good right now. You might have anxiety in your chest, but maybe your legs feel relaxed and you can notice the strength they use to carry you around your house. Maybe your stomach does feel full after a meal, and you can imagine the energy the food can give you. Take a shower and mindfully wash yourself, paying attention to each body part while you focus on the sensation of cleaning. You are reminding your anxious brain that not all is in chaos. That some needs are being met; cleanliness, food, exercise and breathing and movement and blood pumping in your veins.
Tip toe towards the next level of the hierarchy for love and belonging by making a point of more connection with family, through video and messages and silly filters. Remind yourself that intimacy feels different right now, but it is not totally lost, that you can try to increase this with writing letters, or finding new ways to still be a part of others’ lives. Window writing, community scavenger hunts, even Facebook groups and apps like Marco Polo or House Party can spice up the monotony of text messaging and phone calls. Even if its for 5 minutes – it’s the little signs of proof that will matter the most.
Even if we all must stay home right now, and social isolation isn’t turning out to be the great time of personal improvement you thought it would be, taking time to acknowledge where you personally fall in the hierarchy of your own needs and development can be essential in alleviating any pressure you may be feeling by comparing yourself to what others are able to achieve. Their needs may be being met in some way that yours are not. Try not to look at the grass on the other side of the fence; instead ask yourself what need you have right now that you can reasonably meet and try not to judge yourself for how big or little that task may be. Start small and above all else, treat yourself with kindness.