“I am nothing if not flexible,” I said once to a friend when our plans were spontaneously changed. We both laughed and laughed because, though I have a sense of humor about it, we both know I am not flexible. I am mature enough to make changes when necessary, but I am not a go-with-the-flow, roll-with-the-punches kind of person. I am more of a “sweat myself into an anxiety attack if I don’t exert some sort of control over a situation” kind of person.
I’d rather create a dam or wind tunnel to harness powers bigger than myself than be moved by forces I will never be able to predict or persuade. My personality in a pandemic reads like a Shakespeare play: so much tragic comedy. Thankfully I am self-aware and have enough social-emotional intelligence to know not to be a dick to others when things do spin away from expectations. So many elements of our lives are spinning right now, and being flexible doesn’t come naturally for me. I would be a big liar if I told you I was okay with bending when I want to stay rigid in my routines.
When I say I am self-aware, I mean that I know my response to change and my resistance to it is a mix of trauma response from childhood abuse and my obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis. My OCD does not manifest in germ-fearing; instead my brain plays a swell game called Imagine All The Scenarios, wherein I obsess about them and make plans to “solve” them. My plans have backup plans. As you can imagine, this is super fun during a pandemic where nothing is certain and everything is out of my control.
During normal times, routines, plans, and doing anything in predictable ways on a schedule I can control are vital tools in my toolbox. My to-do lists have to-do lists, people. And on hard OCD days when my anxiety and fear are overwhelming, I overcompensate by micromanaging people and situations while constantly checking the status of anything that has a status—the weather, Facebook, trending news, and now I have added COVID-19 related infections and deaths.
Of course I know that what doesn’t bend, breaks. I know all of the clichés and “shoulds” and blah, blah, blah. I also know I would probably be better off if I wasn’t so dependent on structure and predictability. But instead of fighting who I am, I recognize where I struggle and do my best to make accommodations when necessary. I’m allowed to be stuck in my ways, even if digging in is simply another example of my aversion to flexibility. And apparently the universe is allowed to throw a pandemic at me and all of the other people who cringe at the words, “Let’s mix things up!”
I am a creature of habit. I don’t like surprises. Last minute changes of plans make me anxious and angry—even if I ultimately agree with the change or end up happy with the alternate plan. This is because if I let go of what I thought was the truth about what was going to happen, then I lose control and risk being physically and emotionally hurt. Unpredictability and change are scary.
Since March, everything feels like it has been thrown into the air, including how we grocery shop, socialize, and send our kids to school. Everything is weird and we are living in the upside down. And our kids are living it too. When my kids asked me questions pre-COVID, I could either answer them confidently or tell them we could work together to figure out what they wanted to know. We could always find an answer.
But we can’t Google our way out of a pandemic, and Alexa is useless when it comes to knowing when we can travel to see family again, when we can stop wearing masks, and what will happen this winter to sports and school when it’s too cold to be outside. I tell them I don’t know and remind them it’s important to be flexible even though it’s hard to constantly be asked to pivot. I tell them these gems while knowing how hard and frustrating change can be, and while struggling to take my own advice.
This pandemic has harnessed all of my fears and waved them in front of my face while expecting me to accept promises and plans based on smoke, mirrors, and irrational people who think all of this is a hoax. I have had to scramble to find new ways not to break thanks to COVID-19. It hasn’t been pretty, but even in a world of uncertainty, I have managed to cultivate some certainty each day to help me manage my mental health. I know we are all out of fucking whack here, but I decided early on that I would throw everything I had into my mental health. I rely and thrive on routine. Even experts say that building routines are good for us.
So I made a plan to exercise each day, eat food that makes my body feel good, and go easy on myself when just functioning feels like too much work. I created routines for my kids too — set screen times, bed times, and meal times have allowed us to structure our days at home so that the pandemic is a backdrop, not the star of the show.
My Crossfit coach recently told me to loosen my grip on the barbell during a transition for a lift I was struggling with. I dropped the bar and laughed at the apt metaphor. “My grip is too tight, huh? Well, if that doesn’t sum it all up.” In Crossfit — and in life — my results are better with a looser grip, but it’s going to take a lot of repetitions to get comfortable with the adjustments.
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