Never have I more desperately needed strategies for coping with anxiety and depression, than during this pandemic; but the pandemic has made a mockery of them all.
For example, take the strategem that I learned long ago, in Driver’s Ed.
My first few times at the wheel, I steered the car all over the road: first too far to the right, then too far to the left, then too far back to the right again. “Classic problem,” my teacher intoned. “Are you focusing on the road right over the hood?”
“Yes, of course,” I replied.
“Well, that’s what you’re doing wrong. Instead, lift your eyes to the horizon. When you do that, you’ll automatically correct for any drifting you do, but you won’t be so tempted to over-steer.”
It was such a counter-intuitive, amazing solution, for me, that over the years I have tried it out on other problems as well.
When I got overwhelmed with deadlines in college, I lifted my sights to the vacation after finals were over. When I got overwhelmed at work, I forced myself to look past the morass of immediate deadlines so I wouldn’t forget about longer-term goals, like getting my work actually on the air.
But with this pandemic, looking farther down the road has only backfired.
Never mind trying to plan a party, a vacation, or even going back to school — it doesn’t matter what you plan; Coronavirus is driving this bus. In fact, it’s pointless to make plans for anything farther away than the end of the week.
Take the time I decided to try and order some stew beef, to make good use of the vegetables I already had. By the time it finally arrived, the carrots were black with mildew and the potatoes had sprouted.
Another time, I decided to forego the last few slices of raisin bread, saving them instead for weekend French toast. First, however, I needed a dozen eggs. By the time I had the eggs in hand, the bread was a thriving mold colony.
So planning’s a bust. What about the practice of Daily Gratitude?
“Three things every night, to be thankful for before I try to sleep. That shouldn’t be so hard,” I said to myself. “And it’s always helped me before, so why don’t I give it a try.”
My health. I’m very thankful that that’s good, right now…but it could go away tomorrow. In fact, was that a sneeze I just heard from my husband’s side of the bed?
How about this nice, cozy roof over my head? But then I remember how my bedroom window leaked in the rain, last autumn; and I can’t even have somebody come in to fix it, with this pandemic going on.
How about just being grateful for coffee?
But we’re running low on coffee filters, as well as coffee — and the places we order from haven’t had any of the blends I like for weeks now.
Ultimately, I found that listing the things I’m grateful for had the perverse effect of only giving me more things to worry about, instead. It felt as if I were putting a bull’s eye on their backs, so to speak… drawing the Evil Eye’s attention to how to hurt me the most.
There is one thing that hasn’t failed me.
My radio station — WNYC — has started doing a minute of mindfulness every weekday at 1:00 pm. Just one minute, and nothing more physically taxing than sitting in a chair with my eyes closed. I only have to breathe in; breathe out; and notice that for right now, this minute, I can still breathe in and out.
If that’s Zen, it’s a tiny bite-size bit that is small enough for me to handle.
For right here, right now, it’s enough.