This has been hard. But now we can look forward to lockdown ending, right? Hmmm. Anyone else find that less than reassuring?
Do you know the song, “Anyone Have a Map” from the musical Evan Hansen, (which was canceled this spring in Detroit ☹)? It is about raising teenagers, but to me it applies to our current situation. We have no map for moving forward in a pandemic. Oh, I forgot, we will get a map from our leaders, right? Maybe, but they’re giving us two vastly different maps. One says, “go for it!!” and one says, “stay home if you can.”
I don’t know about you, but neither option feels comfortable to me. And this conflict and lack of clear direction leaves us in a place of doubt and fear.
We had settled into a routine. We were home. If it was not raining or freezing, we went outside. We cooked and baked and ate and talked and argued and eye-rolled, and somehow managed to put one foot in front of the other. We kept going. We didn’t have a choice. We hunkered down and did it.
Now we are faced with changes. Some of us must return to the workplace. Some of us must have long awaited surgery. Many of us must resume parts of normal life amidst our fears and worries. We do not know what to do. There does not seem to be a right way forward that is not fraught with emotions.
This is ambivalence. Ambivalence is when we have both positive and negative thoughts about something. Ambivalence requires the highest level of human thinking. It is easier to think in black and white, good or bad, right or wrong. But, when we are ambivalent, we can navigate the more challenging grey areas. Very little in life is either black or white. In long-term relationships, with a partner, children, or even a long-term boss, we usually have ambivalent feelings about them. We love them and find them annoying at the same time. When we can handle this, life is richer because we are able to tolerate difficult times to benefit from good times.
I spoke to a young mother this week. She talked about her 24/7 parenting struggle with a baby and a toddler while in quarantine. She said, “I don’t know how long I can do this!” I recognized this as exasperation, rather than depression, and I said, “you will do it as long as you have to, because that’s who you are.” And she said, “I know, but I don’t like it” and I said, “I know, It’s excruciatingly hard.”
This is ambivalence. She does not like her daily grind but is committed to being the best mom she can be. I spoke with a single mom this week who has been working from home but has been beckoned back to her office. “How do I do this? Yes, my kids are old enough to be at home, but all day every day? This has been my dream job and I don’t want to lose it!” This is ambivalence. How does she decide what is best when there are positives and negatives both ways?
We are going from a black and white stay at home order to the grey of returning to our lives. Given the nature of this virus, there is no way to make this transition without feeling ambivalent. We are worried and we are excited.
If you are sheltering with other people, each of you may have different thoughts and feelings about this process. Some may be more open to it and others may be more fearful. It is OK. There is an opportunity here to move from arguing to expressing feelings.
This is how you express a feeling: “I feel_____ (insert feeling here: happy, sad, scared, frustrated, etc.) There is no “you” in a feelings statement! It is only your personal feelings. Doing this moves us from arguing about what we consider black or white, to expressing our thoughts and feelings about these grey areas so we can hear each other. This is a skill you can use to sort through your own ambivalent thoughts and feelings too.
Having these conversations with yourself and with those around you will help you create your own map of moving forward.
Feel free to share!