About a week or two into quarantine, a friend dropped off a pizza, a goodie bag filled with self care items, and a plant for me. Her card made me cry so hard in my kitchen that my children looked at me in panic.
I texted her later. I thanked her for everything she sent and said that I was experiencing a “flat spot” that day and her words and gifts helped get me through it. Now, in our texts, “flat spot” is code for a bad day, an emotional overload, a listless wave of everything and nothing all at once.
Five years ago, my family embarked on a cross-country trip that was one of the most amazing journeys of my life. In it, I saw so much of this country— mountains, deserts, lakes, oceans, geysers, wildlife. But you know what part of the trip I don’t have very fond memories about? Indiana-Illinois-Kansas-Missouri. The plains. The flat spot of America. No offense to anyone who lives, or has lived, in these places; I am using them for metaphor here. On these roads, all there was to see was the road behind us, the road in front of us, and flat plains on either side. I understood why Kansas was the state used for The Wizard of Oz’s tornado. It was perfect.
The flat part of this experience is an emotional one. I’m not talking about the Groundhog Day feel of each morning when you sit and watch another press conference and set up your laptop at the kitchen table — again. I’m not talking about the calendar for the next month having Xs over all your trips, gatherings, concerts, tournaments, and parties. I’m talking about the way you have embraced this experience emotionally. The self talk you have used to help turn one day into another. The method that works for you to release the barrage of anxieties that run a loop as you toss and turn to sleep each night.
We have done the physical hunkering down. We have armed ourselves with recipes and YouTube tutorials. Some of us have decided to adopt pets or sew masks. Idle hands are the devil’s plaything, so we have tried not to be idle. We take long walks with our families, start home projects, arrange weekly Zooms to satisfy our social need to be human around other humans.
But the emotional hunkering down is something we have not yet been able to perfect. The constant waking up to another day to manage our disappointment for plans we had to cancel or relationships that are strained, work obligations that seem more dense and complicated than before. We don’t have a hamster wheel to jump on, a commute to complain about, or a conversation at the dinner table that starts with, “The most interesting thing happened to me today…”
The topography of our emotional life has flattened out. The ebb and flow of both looking forward to something and working toward something is taken away. We are trying to pull ourselves up from the flat spot each day — maintain a routine, reach out to friends, do something that makes us feel good for someone else.
Keeping out of the flat spot is not easy. Sometimes it lasts one or two days. Days that blend together and are barely recognizable as separate spans of time. Sometimes you are in a flat spot when your spouse is clearly not. They are able to joke and laugh and you are floundering, not feeling tethered to anything but this untethered-ness. The flat spot gives you no ramp up to a fun getaway or night out with friends. It maintains its horizontal line with authority, sometimes morphing into some weird kind of balance beam.
The answer to fighting the flat? There isn’t one. Be there for your fellow flat spotters, plan Zooms to help pull you out of it, listen to those who live with you a little more closely to determine if they are maybe in a flat spot, too.
And promise yourself, each day, to appreciate the life that was so rich in its topography — so mountainous, so full of beautiful valleys, craters, and scenic views — that when you resume it — you never, ever, take advantage of it again.
Please note: If you, after reading this, are having a flat spot day, please reach out to someone (maybe me if you have my number). Your code can be “flat spot” and we can work through this wild long plain in front of us, together.