It’s easy to think that going back to school within this pandemic is something worth worrying about. It’s harder to pinpoint exactly what that means.
Saying that something is worth worrying about, implies that there is some inherent worth in worrying. In the long term, worrying can bring you a whole pile of great things like: difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath, compromised immune system and depression. It also impedes your ability to think rationally and make decisions.
Worry (AKA anxiety or fear) is not a useless thing that our bodies dreamed up to torture us, but it is a reflex that only works in our favour when the right response to a situation is either fight, flight or freeze.
In other words, the coyotes circling you while you are taking your dog for a walk are definitely worth worrying about, but Covid-19 is not.
This is not in any way to say that it isn’t important, it’s just to say that worrying about it will get you nowhere that you want to go.
I have to remind myself of this a lot. I am a teacher, a parent and I have a compromised immune system, which means that September is looming in a way it never has before.
Usually, I’m excited about a new school year. My brain is normally teaming with lessons, games, routines and themes that I can’t wait to start to spin into a year of learning.
This is not usually.
My mind isn’t exactly blank, but for every idea I have for my classroom, the same question circles like a vulture. How can I do this in Covid times?
The answer is inevitably, I don’t know.
This worries me. If I let it, the worry grows and mutates into the Spiral of Despair (cue the scary music).
The Spiral of Despair is how active worrying looks for me. I think about everything that could go wrong and who should be helping but isn’t and what kind of disaster this could bring for myself, my family and my classroom. Then, I do it again, and again and again.
There is often a bit of variation. For instance, I might vary the scale of my negative thought spiral (usually between personal tragedy and greater tragedy), or who exactly I’m blaming (mostly a toss up between layers of government and my school division), but ultimately the Spiral of Despair always ends in the same place.
It leaves me feeling helpless, powerless and utterly defeated. I can’t win because I am fighting myself and I can’t plan or problem solve because worrying robs me of those beautiful tools of logic.
I wish I could say that I had discovered the secret to ending anxiety and was now leading a worry-free life. I wish that I could report that I would be marketing my new worry-free formula on my youtube channel and it could be yours for only 9.99$/month.
But I can’t.
I have times when I get wrapped up in the Spiral of Despair and don’t really want to leave it. There is that allure of righteousness, and almost like a superstitious feeling that if I say all the bad things that are looming then they won’t really happen.
The only successful defense that I have found for these times is to give my mind something else to do other than worry. I used to count backwards from 1000 in Mandarin (not kidding), but I’ve gotten too good at it and it isn’t as good at distracting me as it once was (I guess maybe time to learn to count in Tagalog?)
Mostly these days I use gratitude. I find five things to be thankful for that have happened on that day (and it can’t be the same five things as the time before). On a really shitty day, this can feel impossible. I find myself scouring my day to find little things to appreciate and you know what, I never fail.
Today, I found something new that was working for me. OK, I mean, it isn’t new, it’s probably thousands of years old, but I have never really successfully used it before. Today, I finally understood the power of a mantra.
I wasn’t using it in a stressful situation (other than the stress of being hungry). Leah and I were hiking in the Whiteshell, but I found that the peaceful, quiet setting was giving my mind a lot of space for spiralling.
I was frustrated with myself because I wanted to enjoy the hike. After some self-talk that was not so positive or productive, I thought to myself, just be here. Be on this little patch of earth.
Then, with each step, I found myself thinking the word Earth. It doesn’t sound like much, but suddenly there wasn’t room to think about anything else, there was just me and that next step on the ground. It was delicious.
In the past, I had always tried to make my mantras kind of poetic. Looking back now, they were often too long and too abstract. I like the abstract, I have always wanted to be more abstract, but I’m not.
I am concrete, stable, reliable and logical just like the earth under my feet. When my mind is spinning up in the air, earth might just be what I need to bring me back to somewhere manageable. Somewhere where I can choose a path other than worry.
I often refer to March 13, 2020 (the day they announced that schools in Manitoba would be closing for a few weeks) as the end of the world. But then, I look around at the poplar leaves waving in the wind and the waves breaking over the rocks at the edge of our campsite and it is very clear that the world has not ended.
It was the end of many ideas that we had constructed about our own safety and what we were entitled to as humans. It was the end to feeling like we had control over what was coming next, but the world? She is spinning just as fine as she was in 2019.
Summer will spill into fall and we will all shift and adjust into what this last stretch of 2020 means. It is worth learning (when there is reliable information), it is worth planning (when there is actually something concrete that you can do), but it isn’t worth worrying about. Who has that kind of energy and sanity to waste for that?