I have a confession: the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic is really getting to me. The uncertainty of how long this will last, the disruption of normal routines, the lack of control over how this affects my life…all of these present unique and unprecedented challenges, at least to me. Yet what I do have extensive experience is the ups and downs of my own mental health, the peaks and valleys triggered by anxiety and depression. What I have learned through this journey is that I am resilient, and I have done much reflection on what some of the key pieces of that resiliency are. I’d thought I’d share three of the more mindset-related pieces here today.
Firstly, joy. I have oft stated that when I’ve been caught in a spiral of despair, or a prolonged period of rumination and self-recrimination, that I know I’m going to be okay when my sense of the ridiculous kicks in and I can laugh at myself again–usually triggered by some irreverent thought. I also come from a family of first responders, and gallows humour is a norm as a result. Being able to laugh even in dark times is a key component of resiliency.
I am also a man of simple comforts, something both my parents modeled in their own way. Some good food, some good drink, some fun TV shows and movies, and some good books, or simply spending time with friends and family–these are all sources of joy to me. These simple comforts don’t cost much, but their very simplicity is a source of great joy and comfort.
Second, hope. Perhaps the most important thing I have learned about hope is that hope is as much a choice as a feeling. All it takes to practice hope is to recognize that things as they are are not as they should be, and to choose to commit to doing everything one can do to make things become what they should be. That commitment to making things become what they should be is the root of hope, and hope can provide the necessary balance to the deep pain that is the cost of living. Hope is a strong tool and it perhaps provides more resiliency than anything else in my life. I tend to have a fairly balanced view of things–recognizing both the negative and positive aspects of many situations with ease–but hope has given me the resource to keep striving even when negative outcomes occur. I have come to have written on my heart the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Finally, a key to resiliency that seems to have become a more popular concept of yet is a focus on taking the next right step. I first encountered this concept at an event at the University of Guelph where several students had a chance to get to know the founders of the lovely organization Hope For The Sold. This opportunity came at a time when a new law had been passed in Canada around prostitution that sex workers had applauded in some respects and found deeply problematic in others. I asked about the more problematic aspects and one of the founders acknowledged that these aspects did exist in the new legislation but in running the non-profit they had adopted the practice of focusing on taking the next right step. This legislation wasn’t perfect, but it was a step in the right direction.
This concept strongly resonated with me, especially as I was discovering more and more that the root of my anxiety was in worrying about the future and ruminating on the past. I was focusing on living more in the moment as a result, but it was still difficult to find that balance. I knew by this point that my identity was more a matter of choosing than of knowing, and yet somehow I had difficulty translating that lesson of identity to living more generally. The concept of taking the next right step provided that bridge. Similar to how I had become comfortable and confident with my identity, I was able to focus on having a general idea of my destination, and focus on taking the next right step. So after several years of practicing this, when faced with the need to take another step, I ask myself what is the most loving and honourable step I can take, and use that to decide what is the next right step. This focus breaks everything decision down to more manageable components. There are definitely times that I misstep but the key is accepting that as an honest mistake, doing what I can to make amends, and then taking another step.
I do not know whether any of this helps, and I admit that these practices are still challenged by the current crisis–but they do help me even now, to get through these times we’re living in. My hope is that this may provide some insight or aid to others. Take care all, and stay safe and well!