I planned this piece wanting to write about the things I’ve done recently through our extended pandemic period. To write about the things I’ve done around my apartment that make me feel proud, the small things I’ve done with friends to reconnect and be social in a time when we need to protect each other. The work I’ve started doing again, and how lucky I am to do it, and the warmth I get from spending time with my favorite four year old.
Just when things look like they’re getting back to normal, California is brought back to square one. Most everything that had reopened is closed, due to spikes in infections and rising hospitalizations. It’s scary, and depressing.
One of the things I’ve spoken about a lot in therapy is the things I can control. Even as I’ve had to change therapists this year, it’s been a pretty common thing I’ve had to keep coming back to. Especially as so much of this pandemic, this worldwide and collective traumatic event, continues to go on — and in many ways get worse.
There is so much of the pandemic I can’t control. I can’t control how many people go out and do stupid things that would put themselves, and many others, at risk. I can’t control how many people refuse to wear masks, or wash their hands properly, or stay six feet away from others at all times.
I cannot control the group of older men who set up their chairs less than a foot away from my car at a drive-in concert that was designed for physical distancing. I cannot control the family who let their kids run around without masks at the same concert.
Sure, these are things I could probably try to control by voicing my discomfort to the perpetrators. I probably should be more vocal about these things, because they put everyone, not just those people, at risk.
They don’t care, though. That’s the problem. In the immortal words of one of my favorite articles, “I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people.”
I can’t control that these people do not care about anyone other than themselves.
There is plenty that I can control in the meantime.
I can control my own actions. I can control the time spent outside my home and the events I choose to attend — like the drive in concert that my boyfriend and I attended over the weekend. I bought the tickets, I brought snacks and drinks so we wouldn’t have to leave our assigned space or interact with many other people. We wore masks while we were outside our car, even while we sat on the hood and watched one of my favorite musicians play my favorite album.
I can control my responses to those situations. I can decide whether to just protect myself by keeping my distance, or to start an argument. Or to start an argument, say, when I see someone I care about posting clearly false information online about the pandemic.
I can control how to care for myself, how to protect myself. Like wearing my mask, like practicing things that make me happy, like making sure I get enough rest.
That’s the root of it all, honestly. Focus on the things we can control, the things within our own power. There is so much going on that none of us can control. We can’t control how many people get sick, get treated, are dying. It’s the saddest fact of this whole traumatic event.
There are days when I’m sad, out of the blue, can’t pinpoint one moment or specific thing that triggered it. I’m just sad, find it difficult to do the things I want to do because there’s a heaviness that I don’t know how to carry around. It’s mine, and it’s there, though, and I know it’ll go away eventually — I know that I’m also lucky because my sadness is temporary. It will move through me, and I will move through it. Move through it as I put on my favorite record, make a cup of tea, accomplish something I’d been putting off (I put up shelves in my bathroom all by myself this weekend).
I can control my responses to things, to these moments, even if I cannot control my feelings.
All of this is not to say that you need to have control over every thing in your life. I am not that person, and I don’t think any one else is that person. Having a measure of control, and knowing where it is, is where your power lies in these moments.
Knowing that sometimes things will pass, and all you can do is control the things you know you can handle.
A few weeks ago (or maybe it was the other day — time means nothing now so who knows) Roger Bennett from the Men in Blazers released this video with advice he had gathered through his various interviews with Liverpool FC’s manager, Jurgen Klopp. Even though Rog is a bitter Evertonian, he even admits that Jurgen’s pieces of advice are just what we need in times of distress.
My favorite piece of advice is the last one, when Klopp says, “Effort must be valuable. If it’s not, if it’s not, then this planet becomes a really strange place.”
Putting in the effort, doing your best, trying your hardest to improve the life you’ve lived, the world you’re in, the house you live in, the love around you. Controlling those things, improving those things, are so important. And in times of crisis, of trauma and despair, they are the only things we have.
I can only control the things that I have control over. My responses to people, the love I give and the care I give. The effort that I put into the world, and into everything around me. I can improve my home, the world around me. I can put effort into my relationships, with friends and family and loved ones.
Put in the effort, make it good. Take control of yourself and the things that are in your grasp, for yourself and your loved ones. Make your life the best it can be for you.