This is going on a while.
Maybe at the beginning, you were mobilized. Whether actively (routines!) or passively (Netflix!), you were engaged in making it to the other side. Some moments were better than others, but on the whole you were coping. Just gotta get through this.
But as time wears on, coping gets harder. We look for relief and it doesn’t come. We look for the end and it’s not in sight. The “just gotta get through this” attitude wanes as we realize that we don’t know how long this will go on. Perhaps some things get easier, perhaps some things get harder. But it’s not over.
When humans suffer, we like to know how long we’ll be suffering for. We try to find out when we can expect discomfort to abate. In a way, this helps us feel the suffering less. We attach to the upcoming relief, and that lessens the immediacy of the sensations. This also helps us protect the rest of our experience from the distress. The pain is contained, separated from “normal” life, and therefore normal life feels less painful.
This serves us well much of the time. But it doesn’t always work, especially when discomfort goes on a long time. After a while, there’s no way to separate our current reality from, well, reality.
In other words, we’re in it.
This is no longer a short-term experience. Here we are, running a coping marathon, one that none of us got to train for. We are in something lasting, heading somewhere unknown. And that asks something different of us than a sprint.
If your tried-and-true coping mechanisms are becoming weary, no longer buoying you as they often do, this is sometimes referred to as coping fatigue. Like a muscle, coping gets worn out. When this happens, it can dawn on us where we are. What we’ve kept at bay arrives. And we feel what we were trying not to feel.
The good news is that coping fatigue can give way to a moment of adaptation. Under new conditions, we are called to adjust. And in so doing, we can find what we need to endure for the longer haul.
If you find yourself here, consider how you process. Maybe you write in a journal, text a loved one, sit quietly in solitude, or commiserate with friends. Maybe you read articles and books, make art, pray or worship, or talk to a therapist.
Whatever the form or venue, you might find yourself:
1. Accepting what is. Sometimes in coping, we try not to let things change. But they have. We are now somewhere new. Some things will go back to the way they were, and some things won’t. We can hope, but not predict. So, here you are. Now that you are here, what do you need to accept as a more lasting part of this new normal?
2. Changing expectations. Now that we are settling into a reality that we acknowledge is not simply a fleeting departure from our lives, perhaps it’s time to examine your expectations. Which ones need to be adjusted to what is possible now? Where can you relinquish outdated standards, for yourself, for others, or for situations?
3. Grieving your losses. Some losses happened right up front, while others are rolling out over time. Some we can hope to make up for in the future, while others must be honored as irreplaceable. From where you sit right now, what has been lost? What do those losses mean to you?
4. Keeping comforts close. Our blessings don’t take away our pain, but they accompany us, reminding us that life is more than suffering. Through these changes and losses, what comforts, pleasures, and joys are seeing you through? What bright spots have endured or revealed themselves to you?
5. Realizing what matters. A radical shift in perspective can illuminate what’s important. Things that mattered before can fall away, while other things are revealed as pillars. How have your priorities shifted? How is this changing what you are called towards, what you are called away from, and how you spend energy?
6. Learning lessons. Sometimes all we can learn is “I survived.” Other times, we can search for meaning. Maybe this moment brings new insights and perspective. Or perhaps, longstanding ways of making sense of yourself and the world are challenged or affirmed. How does this experience fit with what you already believed? What new wisdom have you gathered? What questions does this experience open in you?
How has your coping adapted through this time?