Raise your hand if you’re being really hard on yourself right now.
I know I am, and it seems like everyone I talk to is feeling badly about themselves too.
What we’re all going through is unprecedented, and it’s hitting some people much harder than others. I don’t need to reel off the statistics about death or unemployment or domestic violence, because of course we hear them daily. And they’re heartbreaking. What’s going on right now is tragic to a degree that I truly don’t know how to get my head around. The sheer volume of suffering is unthinkable.
And then there are those of us who are relatively unscathed. We’re healthy, our families are healthy, and we still have our jobs. There are a LOT of people in this position, this very very fortunate position, as we are all quick to remind ourselves.
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“First world problems” a friend of mine sighed to me the other day, telling me about having to cancel the 150 person wedding she and her fiancé had been planning for May in beautiful Carmel. She’s been such a good sport about the whole thing, but when she sent me pictures of herself in her wedding dress later that day, my heart broke for her. This beautiful, beautiful dress she ordered months ago, in a completely different world with completely different rules. A dress she’d planned to wear as she walked slowly down a long aisle, surrounded on all sides by smiling loved ones, many with tears in their eyes, there to bear witness and celebrate as she and her beloved shared their vows.
Her loss of this day is, undoubtedly, a first world problem. But that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking.
The lucky ones, we’re struggling too. We’re trying to find meaning and connection in a world where human contact has been replaced by screens. We’re struggling to find motivation in a world without any variety to stoke the fires of inspiration. We’re struggling to create structure in our days when all of our external structures have fallen away all at once. Many people are expected to achieve the exact same results at work, as though the whole world hasn’t suddenly turned upside down and put us all in a state of existential grief and dread. And we’re struggling with our addictions again, whether they be to tv, food, alcohol, scrolling endlessly through Instagram, or whatever else is your preferred source of numbing out.
It’s important to have perspective. And if nothing else, this crisis is giving us that. It’s reminding us how fortunate we are. How absurd so many of the things we worried about and obsessed over actually are. It’s reminding us how much we have to be grateful for. Approaching our lives with perspective and gratitude, rather than the standard achievement/entitlement mode is a wonderful and important shift.
But I do wish we would stop judging our own pain and finding it unworthy. Stop telling ourselves that others have it so much worse and therefore we don’t deserve to feel what we feel. That we don’t deserve to feel frustrated or angry, sad over lost opportunities, dreams delayed or canceled outright.
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My dad was supposed to visit last weekend. We’d planned it months in advance. He and my stepmom were going to come to San Francisco for the second time in my four years here, and we were going to take them to see Hamilton. I’d been thinking about it for months, sitting there next to my dad, watching him take it all in. He knows nothing about the show, and I kept picturing him looking over at me during the opening number, eyes wide in amazement, just utterly in awe of the magic that is Hamilton. I’d had the idea over a year ago, when I first saw it and thought “my dad would LOVE this”. Living far from home gets lonely, and looking forward to that experience went a long way toward filling the dad shaped hole in my heart. So I was sad last weekend, and I’m sad again now, thinking of what could have been.
A cancelled wedding, a missed visit, a business launch delayed, a graduation ceremony cancelled. These may be “little t” tragedies in the grand scheme, but they still deserve our compassion.
Or perhaps more to the point, we still deserve our own compassion.
A few weeks ago I walked by two women in my neighborhood complaining that they’d had to cancel their family trips for spring break. Oh how I judged them. Look at these wealthy white women who probably own homes in the neighborhood, I thought. Acting like they have real problems. Please.
And it felt good to judge them, to feel superior. Because that’s what judging gives us, why it’s so addictive. It lets us feel superior for a brief moment, which is basically like crack for the ego. So I got a quick hit from judging those women until I realized, hey, I’m a white woman who lives in this neighborhood. Sure I live in a rental apartment and not a 5 million dollar home, but my biggest sense of loss right now is missing out on taking my dad to a musical. How’s that for a first world problem?
There’s the tricky thing about judgment. What we do to others, we do to ourselves.
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The fact that I expect to be shamed for writing this tells you something. That I’m waiting for some hateful commenter to judge me for suggesting that my own feelings actually matter right now. But maybe part of why I expect him (isn’t it always a him?), is because he’s one of the voices inside my head. The voice of self judgment that says I really don’t deserve to have these feelings, let alone share them with the world. The voice that says whatever sadness or loss I may be experiencing is simply not worthy of compassion, because it could be worse. Because other people have it so much worse.
But the thing about feelings is that they don’t go away when we stuff them down or deny them. In fact, they lie in wait, demanding to be expressed, to be acknowledged. What we resist, persists, as they say.
And heaping judgment on ourselves or others doesn’t actually make us any more virtuous. It doesn’t make the world any more fair, or us any less privileged. It just hurts us when we do this. And hurt people hurt people.
The world doesn’t need any more hurt people right now. We’re full up on that.
So I hope you’ll take this as a reminder to be a little kinder to yourself these days. If you’re anything like me, my guess is you’ll need it. And if self compassion is something you’d like some help with, you know where to find me!
With so much love now and always,