You Can’t Surf a Tidal Wave

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but everything has turned upside down recently. It’s not just the whole “there’s a highly contagious virus out there that might kill me, or damage me for life, or just make me really sick for a few weeks” thing. Which, let’s be honest, is hard enough.

In my case the combination of changes to my lifestyle (including the fact that even taking my dog for a walk can be super stressful because people), the feeling of doom from a completely inept government response, and trying to “keep it all together” inevitably led to a massive sensory overwhelm situation where I was two steps away from completely freaking out.

I tried what strategies were available to me, but lockdown is not conducive to these when what I needed was silence and well, there’s 2 other people and a dog in my house. Even if they weren’t here, I could hear mowers and power tools and the neighbour two doors down having a conversation.

So I dressed in my comfiest, fluffiest clothes, put my best sensory soothing socks on, and hid upstairs watching Picard. And waited it out.

My friend Claire Cullingworth (@ragbagmending – shameless plug for her visible mending enterprise) said to me that sometimes these things (by which we mean mental health challenges too) can be manageable and almost in the background, drifting up and down like the tide. And we develop strategies and coping mechanisms and it all seems so … not easy, exactly, but almost routine. This happens and I do that. That happens and I do this. Rest. Listen to your body. Be kind to yourself. Eat healthy foods. Exercise. Do the creative things. Ride the tide and surf the wave and things will get back to “normal”.

But then, it hits you like a tidal wave. And all the strategies and coping mechanisms go out the window and all there is, is grabbing onto driftwood and hoping that you can catch your breath and wondering where it’s going to dump you, or are you going to be floating in this maelstrom of chaos and fear forever?

“But what are you grateful for?”

“What is God teaching you in this season?”

(He’s teaching me, sister, that it’s perfectly acceptable to tell you to shove your saintly soliloquy up your arse.)

There’s a time when the tools and the strategies don’t work. You can’t surf a tidal wave. You can’t ride the tide now, and creative expression probably looks less like a meditative exercise and more like incoherent screaming. (100% would recommend screaming, but make sure there’s nobody nearby.) Normal is forgotten, it’s all about survival.

I think a great many of us are either caught in the grip of the tidal wave, or watching others in the grip of it (maybe wondering when it will be our turn?) And the knee jerk response is platitudes and the tools that worked a hundred times before. But to mix my metaphors, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

So please, don’t judge yourself for the lack of creativity, for the screaming, the short attention span. You don’t need to write a novel, or learn a lesson. You don’t need to fix anything or solve anything or make it all go away. You can’t.

You just need to survive. Eat food. Sleep. Make sure the kids eat and don’t kill each other. You don’t need to be striving for normal. That place has been swept away.

(That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope though. Survival is hope.)

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