The space between: Self-care and reflection during a pandemic

On my daily walk the song “The space between” by Dave Matthews Band popped up on my playlist. I hadn’t heard that song in probably 5 years. While a different context from Matthews’ narrative of a tumultuous romantic relationship, I found that the title—“The space between”—as a perfect characterization of where we find ourselves today. The space between free and house-bound, safe and in peril, grateful and resentful. Many of us are figuring out how to live in this state of limbo as we wait to find out when life will return to some semblance of “normal”, if that is even possible or desirable. From living through the vast ramifications of COVID-19, we also might find our emotions and thoughts bouncing to and from the extremes more freely, showing us greater fluctuation more so than in pre-pandemic times.

While walking and listening to Dave Matthews, I processed my fluctuating emotions and thoughts. One of the emotions that regularly accompanied me in my daily walks was guilt, and this day was no different. Guilt had visited me in waves for the past few weeks for a multitude of reasons: for having the privilege not to worry about potable water or shelter; for not giving back to my community as much as I could; for not helping my children with their school work as much as possible and allowing them to have almost unfettered access to technology during the work day; for sleeping until 10:45 AM on a Saturday when I could be grading or finishing a manuscript review. I even felt guilty about feeling guilty. I could go on. This list is by no means exhaustive. Yet, I had to stop myself, I was approaching the event horizon. I paused to wonder: What if I reframed these feelings of guilt and processed them within the context of a global pandemic?

These are not normal times. This is a colossal understatement. Our world has been upended and the finish line is only discussed in hypotheticals. I found myself in that downward spiral because I failed to situate what I was doing, or not doing, in the extreme present circumstances of COVID-19. When I remind myself that I am working and homeschooling my children while living during a pandemic, I also have decided to remind myself to reframe how I evaluate my progress. I am trying to value what I have been able to do—teach my classes, connect with students, have lunch with my children, connect with friends through Zoom—and believe I have something to be proud of. I try to compare myself less to others and to my abilities before COVID-19. “Try” is the operative word.

It is a process, but I am slowly letting go of my pre-pandemic mindset. Some questions I have been intentionally pondering, that you could ask yourself too, are:

  • How can I show more kindness and grace to myself?
  • How can I extend this kindness and grace to others?
  • How can I reframe “should haves” or “ought tos” and view what I have done as valuable and commendable?
  • How can I reframe “should haves” or “ought tos” and view what others have done as valuable and commendable?
  • What two or three practices will help me through the uncertainty?
  • When working with students, how can I model reframing for them? How can I help them process their experiences, emotions, and expectations during this time?

Like many, I am still figuring out the answers to the questions above. I grapple with them daily, but I have found that self-care through reframing, like all habits, is starting to take root after regular practice. Some resources that have helped me to reflect, reframe, and practice self-care are:

I wish you kindness and grace during these uncertain times. Please remember that you are enough and are doing enough, especially in this space between.