I’ve spent the last two weeks working, although you haven’t heard much from me.
My priorities have been:
First, save lives.
Second, save businesses.
Because you can rebuild a business, but you can’t rebuild a life.
I think I’ve done about as much as I can, for now, for the first one, producing Social Distance Game, and web sites for activist programs We Need Vents, See Us Schumer, and Disability Demands. I also helped Thomas with the design of this image:
#FlatteningTheCurve by #SocialDistancing isn't enough. We must also #RaiseTheBar by increasing healthcare system capacity— Matthew Cortland, Esq (@mattbc) March 22, 2020
How? An immediate, massive whole-of-country response, mobilizing all of America's manufacturing, logistical & personnel capability. #DefenseProductionActNOW pic.twitter.com/TGW2wdbNyy
If you live in the US, please go to Disability Demands and use the menu to tweet about some of the policies that will help you, your loved ones, your community. We can still use a boost!
If you have loved ones who still don’t understand the crucial importance (and power!) of physical distancing, please send them to the game.
Now I want to turn my attention to my business — and yours.
In a way, that’s also a nested two-parter:
- Mental & physical
I’m going to focus on #1 today, because…
Without people, there is no economy.
Without you — if you’re like most of us — there is no business. Or there’s a business that is devastated by losing a key person.
So, we’re in “oxygen mask first” territory again, in a microcosm.
Now, this whole *waves hand* situation has brought me back to my childhood.
That’s a weird thing to say, I think, in a putatively business essay, and I thought about not saying it at all, but when it comes down to it, it’s given me something to contribute so here it is:
I grew up in a terrible and chaotic environment, under the charge of an abusive narcissist — just like Trump — who could not be swayed by facts, reason, logic, begging, or pleading. Who did the stupid, wrong thing even when it was harder. Even when it would benefit them to do the right, smart thing. Who, in fact, was capricious, and venal, and cruel.
The feeling of frustrated helplessness? Of the painful knowing? Knowing that there are things that could be done to stop this from happening — but the people in charge aren’t doing them? The excruciating sensation that you can scream and beg, but it makes no difference? That you can see it coming, but are powerless to stop it?
Anxiety dreams where people, machines, and events spin out of your control?
Oh yeah. That was my entire childhood and young adult life.
Current events remind me of it, every day.
And I’m here to tell you that it can be borne.
You can get through it, past it, and over it.
It’s like a panic attack, but rather than heart-thumping and paralyzing for a few minutes, it’s slower moving, existential.
It’s normal. It’s expected.
There are things you can do to help alleviate it, also like a panic attack:
The first is to accept that you are feeling this way. You can’t talk yourself out of feelings, you can only repress them, which makes them worse.
Next, remind yourself that these feelings are a totally rational response to this kind of chaos.
Telling yourself or your friends (even jokingly) that you’re “going crazy” may be a totally normal reaction, but it’s not going to give you the results you want. Again, trying to undermine your own feelings doesn’t help, because it breeds a lack of trust and respect for yourself. And you need yourself.
Once you’ve accepted that you feel this way and there’s nothing wrong with that, you can begin to make some choices that help steer you to firmer ground.
Not everyone is going to agree with me on this one, but I find it comforting to think about how insignificant I am, globally speaking. I’m just one person, sitting in my living room, typing on my laptop. I’m not a senator, or even a big shot CEO. If I were those things, I might be able to force something to happen. But, in reality, I run a two businesses that employ five people, and that’s it.
I have skills, and brains, and privilege, for sure, but I am not powerful.
I think a lot of us grow to believe that we are powerful, even though we’re not. And so then when we try to flex our power and it works barely or not at all, we get stressed out, discouraged, even depressed. And then we quit.
I’m not saying we should give up and stop trying. The opposite, actually; I spent the last two weeks trying! But I did it with the knowledge that even my best may not make much of a difference, and that’s okay, I’m going try anyway because that’s who I am, and there’s value in trying.
Basically, try — but let go of the idea that you can force an outcome.
In other words, a keep a rational perspective about how the world works and what you can and can’t make happen with the force of your will alone.
This includes letting go of the idea that you can control other people.
If you have loved ones who can take precautions but refuse to, you can tell them and show them and chastise them… but you can’t control them. They are separate people from you. That’s how it works.
These two forms of letting go will help prevent burnout.
Another thing you can do is to ground yourself in the material world. Yes — horrible things are happening. It’s natural to endlessly doomscroll, check numbers, or just think, over and over, about how bad things will get. But unless that preoccupation with bingeing bad news is helping you change your behavior to make yourself & others more safe, it’s not serving you.
If you can break that cycle, even for a few minutes, and give your stress hormones a rest, you are literally helping your body (and your mind) be safer and healthier.
- Look around you.
- Find 5 things you can see,
- 4 things you can touch,
- 3 things you can hear,
- 2 things you can smell,
- and one thing you can taste.
It gets you out of your head, into the world, and helps to derail the hormonal train of panic itself.
For a slower moving, existential panic, curate the best of “escapism” for yourself:
Pets. Books. Tea. Music. TV. Games. Photo streams of things you love. Poetry. Touching something that feels nice. Cat videos. Taking a bath. Taking a walk outside if you can, or even looking out the window or at photos and videos of nature. Take a walk around your home and take some time to enjoy your favorite objects as if they were in a museum. Tour a virtual museum or watch a virtual concert. Podcasts. Audiobooks. Stories of people doing kind, brave things.
You need & want & deserve anything that makes you feel good about your body, yourself, your loved ones, the people who made the thing, life itself. This is not frivolous, it’s life-giving.
When you are calm, focus on what you do have the power to do.
It’s fine if it’s small; we’re all just trying to get through this, and everyone is stressed out. Even if they don’t show it. (In fact, it’s a small act of charity to let people know that they’re not alone in this.)
For me, working on these projects to spread the word and persuade decision-makers? It tired me out, but it helped me a lot. It gave me a purpose. (Although I let go of the idea that it would magically create some kind of earth-shattering result; I can feel satisfied in myself that I tried.)
Now, writing this for you, helps.
Texting and video calling my friends helps. Continuing to pay our cleaner, who obviously isn’t coming to our house, helps. Editing my friend’s Gofundme to be clear and urgent, helping my friend spruce up their résumé, mailing supplements I don’t need and an extra thermometer to a friend helps, offering to drop off toilet paper and wipes to a neighbor who is also immunocompromised…
Small stuff, but it’s nice, clear, concrete stuff I can do.
If you can, help one person. “HOP” to it.
Help can be practical, or it can be emotional. Both are valuable and important.
You can help people your way…
Right this second I’m helping by doing my work, keeping my business going, and helping others do the same with the skills that I have.
Advice. Sympathy. Fellow-feeling. A sense of purpose.
Kind understanding, a reminder that “hey, this is super hard, what you’re feeling is normal.”
A momentary relief of stress? A moment of delight? A laugh? Absolutely one-hundred-percent real help.
A sense of connection is rare, and extremely important.
Maybe you’re more creative or artistic than I am; maybe you’re musical or funny; maybe you have a super cute pet or roll of nature photos you could share… maybe you’re that friend who organizes things and haven’t yet brought that skill to the new, all-virtual world… maybe you have a killer chill-out playlist…
Maybe you think it’s disrespectful, somehow, or wrong, maybe, to create and share beautiful, happy, funny, or just plain cute things “in these times.”
But nothing could be further from the truth.
We can’t live on fear.
We all need all the things in these times.
We all need each other. We’ll get through this together.
One way to help others is to keep yourself safe, because by keeping yourself safe, you reduce the potential spread of the virus.
Another way is to take care of your emotional wellbeing as much as possible, so you can be there when someone needs you. Be kind to yourself; these are extraordinary times.
A final way we can help each other is economically. Those of us who can work anywhere owe it to those who can’t to do our best to stay afloat, stay in business, run our payroll, and spend in our local economies, donate money, and help our friends & family as much as possible.
In these three ways, we can help others by helping ourselves.
Up next, you should read my post about money and brass tacks.
But first as a reminder — a list — to distill all those words above:
- Accept that you are feeling this way
- Remember, it’s a rational response
- Remember, you’re just one person
- Try — but let go of the idea that you can force an outcome
- Let go of the idea that you can control other people
- Ground yourself in the material world
- Curate the best of “escapism” for yourself
- Focus on what you do have the power to do
- Help one person (“HOP”)
- Help yourself, which helps others
And PS — It’s normal and expected to be distracted, fuzzy, scattered right now. Be kind to yourself and others.
There's more where that came from
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