There are a lot of you out there at the moment who are feeling you’ve lost touch with your identity. Which may be a huge shock, considering that if you’re in Australia, you’re kinda sorta definitely supposed to be feeling excited right now.
Lockdowns are lifting; 80% of the population is double vaccinated and rising; the world is feeling a little safer and more exciting as businesses re-open and the music starts playing (live) again.
So why don’t you feel good?
I mean, Melbourne has been in six lockdowns for a total of 262 days since March 2020, the longest in the world. The rest of us have had major disruptions to our freedom of movement, life choices, and general enjoyment. After 1.5 years of pandemic conditions, you’d think it would feel like the mother of all relief’s to be ‘free’ again.
Here’s the truth.
It’s been a helluva time, and it’s not over. Covid-19 hasn’t gone away. Climate change isn’t being effectively addressed. Our sense of agency over our own lives has taken a serious beating. Our general resilience is lower, so everything feels harder. We’ve been overloaded by seemingly endless reality checks.
Some of you are feeling anxious… all those obligation’s successfully avoided are back on with a vengeance. Simply being around loads of people all at once is a shock to the nervous system and can be exhausting and stressful. It’s a lot.
Many, though, are feeling something extra.
Big questions are emerging:
- Who am I now?
- What will my life look like?
- How can I hang onto the important lessons from pandemic conditions in the face of ‘regular’ life pressures?
- Do I still care about the same things I used to?
- How can I live most fully and authentically?
- What should I fight for and what can I let go of?
It’s scary, right?!
But it’s doesn’t have to be quite so rough.
Let me explain how you can (re)discover your identity now that things are kinda sorta definitely different.
Accept this is how you feel
You have changed. Maybe you didn’t realise it when you were in your 700th Zoom meeting or trying to homeschool three kids, but things are different now. Whatever it is you’re feeling: it’s ok my love. You haven’t done anything wrong if you’re struggling to embrace the re-opening of the world. In fact, it’s very possible you’re doing something right by letting this take time. Letting yourself feel into a ‘new normal’ again is about accompanying yourself with affection into unknown territory. Giving deserved attention to the gravity of your own life.
What becomes more available when you accept how you feel? That doesn’t mean accepting intrusive thoughts or giving in to darkness, but it does mean no more fighting with yourself. It means letting yourself off the hook for not jumping into everything like a bat out of hell. It might mean saying ‘no’ to things for a bit and continuing to make time to bushwalk, journal, yoga. And yes, it does not escape my attention that these are also lockdown activities you thought you were heartily sick of, which brings me my next point.
Explore what went right
Ask yourself: what did I learn from pandemic conditions that I appreciate?
You may have found out that you hate meetings or that you love bees… that twilight is your favourite time of the day or you’re way better at managing your time than you thought. Maybe you found a creative side or a side that yearns for relaxation.
What became most important to you when all the other stuff was taken away? What surprised you about your own resilience and what did that look like action-wise? Did you learn something new about your values? Did you get a new bullshit detector that you can’t (and possibly don’t want to) switch off now?
Explore what went wrong
Try using the things that were hardest to recalibrate how you think about yourself. If you’re feeling as though you’ve lost your identity, it could be because some of the ways you are used to ‘knowing’ yourself aren’t actually who you are anymore (and maybe haven’t been for a long time- ya’ll know what I’m talking about nostalgia train passengers).
Rather than considering your identity as something that is ‘fixed’ and therefore buried inside you or located in some other time (past or the future but never ‘now’), open up to the idea that identity is fluid. You didn’t chose this pathway, but perhaps the hard lessons are worth something.
Maybe they gave you some insight into what matters most to you these days. That could be as simple as knowing you need more rest. Or that your worth is not tied up in being superhuman (now tell me THAT’s not a crucial life lesson!).
A word of warning: avoid making massive life decisions while you’re in a difficult place. I know it’s tempting to raze the field and escape when everything feels impossible, but you may regret it later. Find yourself a counsellor, talk it out, and let things take a bit more time until you’re clearer that you’re making the best choices.
Take each step with thoughtful trepidation
A time of discovery should be a time of experience and then contemplation. Your whole body knows that, and is likely rejecting ‘all the things’ in response to the pressure to suddenly busy-up again. Think about it: is it the rush to ‘get back to how things were’ that is insane, or your slowness to accept it?!
I know how hard it is to say no when people are inviting you to things or when your boss expects you to physically be at work all day every day again. But if you don’t honour what your body and heart are telling you, you might miss something seriously important. And if you push yourself beyond your limits, what are the consequences?
Try things out slowly, lovingly and see what delights you. Maybe you go out to dinner with two friends and have the time of your life, really appreciating the meal and company, reinvigorating your own experience of ‘dining out’. But then you learn you don’t want to do that three nights a week, or that you don’t enjoy it when there are 15 people. And surely there’s room to negotiate working from home more often if that’s going to support your lifestyle better. Test the waters- maybe a number of times- and begin to keep tabs on what truly fills your cup and then try standing up for it.
But what’s next?
The advantage to being in such a challenging time is the realisation that nothing is fixed, including your identity. The fact is we don’t know what is next, so it’s ok to slow down and BE with our fine selves. You can (and should) plan for hard times, but nothing can prepare you for what we’ve been going through with Covid-19. Sitting with the not-knowing could be an incredible gift.
Try being a little softer with yourself, accept all the feelings (without believing their nasty stories about you), appreciate what you’ve learned, and then approach activity with gentle curiosity. You may very well find your sense of self returning, and landing somewhere more settling than even in the beforetimes.
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Photo by Joseph Frank on Unsplash