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April 10, 2020

No Guilt, No Pressure, Just Us Surviving

By Vega Subramaniam

Cycle of Renewal

Hudson Institute’s “Cycle of Renewal”

What a difference a month can make, eh?

I’ve found myself cocooning for the past several weeks.

For one thing, Mala and I (and her mom) moved a couple weeks ago, from Silver Spring to Laurel, MD, because we thought that would be a fun thing to do in the middle of a pandemic (it wasn’t). We love our new place(s), but we really need to work on our timing.

Partly because of that, and partly because of, you know, the pandemic, I cocooned. Guilt-free. I slept in, ate horribly, ignored emails. I continued to solve crossword puzzles, obviously.

Osprey Nesting

I really had no choice. I really just couldn’t help but notice how untethered I felt. Notice my anxiety, my grief, my pounding heartbeat. Notice that I was having a hard time locating my thoughts. Notice my guilt, my gratitude, the gut-punches, the compassion. The rage. My rage and our collective rage.

Notice that I was unable to be productive in a way I can’t remember feeling for many, many moons.

Notice, too, that I was not in touch with my community, my creativity, my ability to participate in my world the way I would have predicted, assumed that I would have.

Strange as all of this was, I settled into it, allowed myself to cocoon, recognized that even if I tried, I wouldn’t be able to accelerate my reentry.

And finally this week, my body released my brain and permitted me to reenter.

I know this is a prime moment for us to point out the reason we fight systemic injustices.Now do you see why we need universal health care? Unemployment insurance, universal paid sick leave, living wages, internet access, belief in science, prison abolition, Jeff Bezos paying his taxes, adequate emergency funding for our collective good?” Now, finally, do you see?

I would like to add to that catalog. For years, I, along with many many others who study this for a living, have implored people to be kind to ourselves, to recognize the value of self-compassion, failure, rest, sleep, and slowing down.

I am now going to take shameless advantage of this pandemic moment to ask, now do you see how useless self-flagellation is? How you get to do or not do anything or nothing, guilt-free, because you’re a good and decent person and deserve exactly what you want for other people? How slowing down is good for your mental health? How all of this doesn’t make you a self-indulgent, privileged wastrel but, to the contrary, actually more likely to bounce back and access your better self?

Nothing like a pandemic to remind us that we matter, the limits of our capacity matter, and that we show our love for our community through our compassion for ourselves. We need our communities to be whole, and to do that, our communities need us to be whole. This is my plea to you: in this moment see that you must extend to yourself the grace, the patience, the recuperation, the compassion that you are worth, not only right now, but always.

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