Compassion and Grace

Posted on: April 14th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

In starting this blog, I wanted to create a space for parents to come to know they are not alone. In the midst of COVID-19, I think this space is super important. On any given day we are all experiencing the ups and downs of isolation as well as a variety of fears related to the virus. I’m struggling with this just as much as anyone. When people ask me how I’m doing my honest response is, “no two days are the same emotionally.” They just aren’t. I think this is true for a lot of us. But I think what is also true for a lot of us is that it’s hard to honor the struggle.

photo of a woman sitting on log at forest preserveWhen a physical threat is around us it’s so natural for our fears to take over. Just look at the toilet paper crisis. We’ve all got this fabulous limbic system I wrote about in reference to toddler years deep inside us. Fight/flight/freeze is an over 10,000-year-old response. Just search, plug in and listen to one of my soul sisters, Tara Brach, for more on this. Our brains are predisposed to scan for threats to our physical bodies and respond. Tara calls it our “our caveman brain” and when thinking about toddler tantrums it gives me a little smile. As an adult in our modern world, it’s a response that’s harder to deal with. We, of course, need to know when we are in physical danger. But when it comes to an invisible predator as well as all the fears related to it our brains go into overdrive.

Mentally Dealing with COVID-19

Think about it. COVID-19 came to all of us in waves. First, we heard of the virus as being specific to Wuhan, China. Then we saw it was spreading but not to the United States. Our government turned a blind eye as did many Americans thinking this isn’t “our problem.” Then, as cases started to increase, individuals who were watching the world began to panic. Maybe you were one of them? We saw you stock up before any of us. I saw my husband do this. Finally, in a series of reactions our governments acted and our worlds all halted in almost every aspect.

In each of these waves, we as individuals were trying to navigate the threat from wave to wave. Fight, flight, freeze? There is not a wrong response. How can there be? You and I were just doing the best we could as information came to us. For professional reasons, I’ll leave my views on the government out of this piece.

When we got to the final wave of Shelter in Place, a new series of threats came. We worried about working, childcare, access to food, our loved ones, the virus entering our homes and so much more. As a business owner, I worried about this for myself and my employees. As a woman, I worried about my family, my friends, and our world. I’m still having a hard time sleeping. I am scared, I know you are too. But here’s what I want to hold space for. What I think our community really needs to hear: your fear(s) are no greater or less than my fear(s). This is where we can all use compassion and grace.

Handling COVID-19 with Compassion

I’ve heard countless friends not want to air their frustrations surrounding COVID-19 because their frustrations don’t seem to compare to what other people are struggling with. In reality, a very small percentage of us have someone close to us who is affected. If you are in that small percentage, please know that you are my sisters and brothers. I see you, I feel your pain, and I’m so sorry.

But for those of you who have not lost a loved one, seen someone get sick, or lost essential needs like housing or food, your fears are still real. It’s OK. You can look at them, hold them, and still give compassion to the person suffering more. Honestly, I think this is the only true way this is done.

I learned a little phrase from yoga, “the light in you is the light in me.” I think it is also true that the darkness in me is the darkness in you because we are all human. And as humans, we all feel pain, fear, and have days–even years–where we are not our best selves. But if we push down those fears and mistakes without giving ourselves permission to have them we are not being our best self. We’re making ourselves miserable and unable to see each other. To see the other we first have to see ourselves.

So here’s what I suggest. I suggest everyone taking a collective deep breath and honoring our fears. If we don’t label our fears because we’re afraid they don’t hold a candle to what everyone else is going through, we can’t release them. It’s that simple.

Working Out Your COVID-19 Fears with Grace

Here are some of my fears. I’m afraid to go on walks with my children or grocery shopping for fear of bringing the virus into our home. I’m anxious every time we get a package if brought inside within 24 hours. I’m afraid I’m not cooking enough quality food for my children. I’m upset I can’t get my meat from the farm right now. I’m worried I’m not being a good enough boss, wife, and mother all at the same time. I’m worried about my mom and aunt who have weak lungs. My cousin too. And, of course, I worry about the virus overtaking my children, husband or myself.

If you name your fears and honor them you have then given yourself compassion. You’ve said it’s OK to feel what you feel. If you can give yourself compassion you can give it to another person. Empathy is born from comparing your own feelings to someone else; it teaches you to hold the world in your heart.

Lastly, I’d like to talk about my friend grace (not my adorable niece Grace). Grace is knowing that it is OK to fail. Has anyone else yelled at your kids while pulling up the news lately? Or snap at your husband when he interrupts you trying to do a work email? Yeah, me too. Walking through a time of fear is messy. Learning that honoring your fears isn’t taking away from someone else’s hurt is hard. Giving yourself a mental hug when you lose your shit or walk up the stairs 15 times to see if you can breathe? Absolutely necessary.

It’s Ok. The world is hurting and you are too. But together we can hold ourselves close to our own hearts and by doing so hold the entire world close as well.

Xoxo,
Jessie

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