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Empathy in the Midst of the Pandemic.

So you all are witnessing and experiencing the highs and lows in the wake of Co-VID 19, I too have been a bit all over the place, and I still don't know how I feel about it. well, that's not entirely true, I'm learning to navigate it minute by minute and I have to constantly remind myself that there is no rulebook or guide to figuring it out. Between working full time and then total isolation, I feel I'm jumping back and forth. Seeing the NYC subway vacant, feeling the heartbroken and fear walking streets to and from work has been surreal. Photos I've taken that I know one day I'll look back at and say, wow, what an unforgettably heartbreaking time to be there. This city, better yet, our world is resilient but seeing it in such disarray would make anyone feel the weight of the world. For me, it has been a rollercoaster.

I started this month as the bright light positivity lady, ready to pick others up, crush goals, and use this forced rest time to crank out some personal hopes and goals - after all, there were no excuses now! Cheerful, dancing, singing at work allowing to make a fool of myself in hopes of momentary distraction in others' lives from the reality of the pandemic. A friend of mine here in NYC, Sam and I, decided when Broadway went dark and studios began closing one by one, that we were going to take on creating an instagram/forum to be a place of release. A place where artists and people could be authentic in emotions, in our practices as people, fitness industry teachers and clients, and artists. A place to connect and talk. We even sent an email to NYC Education in hopes of connecting families with potential childcare in recently unemployed artists all over the city (hint: it was merely days before people were then working from home). We wanted to spearhead this beacon of hope in our communities. It took less than 24 hours for our idea to have been thought of and executed by so many others with much larger platforms and reach. And it was beautiful. The amount of rallying that happened within specifically our dance community and amongst artists was overwhelming.

We started this pandemic adventure with open minds, hearts, filled with hope and energy. We were sharing each others' classes, we were challenging each other to keep positive, to do push-ups and yoga poses, to keep working out, to stay connected and involved. In reflection, a lot of reflection, we were looking to ensure we stayed motivated, to continue hope. But while all of that may be true, we were also keeping ourselves busy, but maybe even more importantly, we are in denial. Despair, cabin fever, and frustration yet to set in, we were seeing a short term virus and that we would be okay if we just kept busy, time would fly. Well, the joke was on us. First let me say this, if you are someone who is feeling guilty, unmotivated, or even shameful for not having found a rhythm, struggling with emotions, and just overall feeling all the feels seemingly without control, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. These are not normal times. This is not normal. Do not let anyone make you feel small for not having found balance. Also remember, what your balance now might be, may be entirely different than those around you or what you have ever known for yourself before. That is A-OKAY! There is no rule book for this. We have no experience with this. You deserve to take the time to feel your feelings. If you are burnt out, unmotivated and numb, you aren't alone. If you have found successful balance and have regained your motivation, that's such a beautiful thing in some dark times I hope you can remember to be filled with gratitude for that. Hold on to that but also allow it to change if your soul needs it to.

For those of you who find yourself being the cheerleader, please be patient. It isn't so much that people aren't receiving your offering of energy and support, but a number of transitions, levels of acceptance, constant fluctuations of emotions are happening in each persons' life that may keep them from expressing the outcome you are hoping for.

I know some may feel like you are helping someone by giving suggestions, offering solutions and ways to "fix" or "look on the bright side" (I certainly have had my moments) our intention is good. And I also know some of you who simply get annoyed by it (I have also at times been this person). During these unprecedented times, really listen to what they are saying, recognize that push to be happy, to grateful and see the positive may create guilt, pressure and add to the already conflicting times. That is not to say don't do it, but know that we all cope differently. Your balance and someone else's might be different, in fact more likely than not, each person is at a different place in all this needing different things to begin to seek that balance.. And if you are someone who is getting frustrated by the cheerleaders, take a deep breath, recognize intentions are good and you can respectfully acknowledge their energy without having to make some grand shift in yourself. A thank you goes a long way - on both sides of this.

I'll use myself as an example:

At times, I can be one of those silver lining, devil's advocate, shift of perspective, sunshine girls Ready to boost others, put my own embarrassment out there, happy to be the clown to bring a little light and hopefully even the beginning of a smile. And this is the role I take at work with our customers in this time, some grateful for the pick me up, others ignore it, and others still get irritated. But as things progressed two things happened,

1. I became aware that I may offer those things, but they may not be ready to be received.

(And on a personal note: I can't take that personally or it will destroy me.)

2. With all of that positivity and joy and brightness I would take to work, when I came home, I was spent and my "balance" was turning off.

If I'm being honest, I wanted to be left alone. I wanted to sleep. It was when I left work that I could begin, or no longer put off, facing and processing my own emotions. Working in a grocery store right now, you get those who are gracious and thankful, you get people cursing you out or spitting their anger, and others in tears of fear. You see the best and worst in people in fear. At Trader Joe's right now, as an employee, I witness panic, fear, gratitude, stress, cabin fever, and all the millions of emotions and processes of other people all day. By the time I leave work, I'm honestly burnt out. When I began to allow myself to actually feel that, I started napping after work because emotionally I could only handle so much.

Some said I became distant and cold. Some were relieved that I began coping and stepped out from the shadow of denial. And like I'm sure millions of people, during this time, I had plenty of personal stress and emotion happening unrelated to CoVID-19. I was not able (nor did I WANT to) to be bright and positive for anyone else after my job was done.

When I was told I needed to find balance by some people, that I was bitter or angry, I was ready to tell them to F off, but I frankly was just too tired to even say that, so I'd say, "Ok" and nothing more. What these individuals didn't understand was that MY balance during this time was allowing myself to after a full day on the front lines for the people of NYC, when I got home, I needed to allow myself to feel all the things I had been putting aside to make our Trader Joe's customers feel safe and heard or I just wanted to turn off all my feelings entirely.

So for anyone who is struggling to connect, stuck in their solitude, spiraling into depression, feel guilty for their lack of creativity and productivity. For anyone who is finding ways to survive and thrive in this uncertain time, WHEREVER YOU ARE AT in all of this, you are not alone. If there is anything right now that everyone in this world shares right now, is not being alone (except maybe physically). These three articles attached brought me through a few of the stages I find myself fluctuating between. I haven't fully moved through or past any of them. If you care to follow what that journey looks like, feel free to read below the listed articles.

2. "The Discomfort You're Feeling is Grief"

3. "Acknowledging Each Other's Grief"

The Stages of CoVID-19 for MackRawls so far:

1. Sunshine. Goals. Keep Occupied.

When this all began, I had my lists. My goals. My intentions. I designed and colored in my bullet journal for the first time in months (besides audition calendars and notes), and in it I had listed ways to take care of myself. Fitness routines to follow to keep things interesting. I had projects I had been putting off and I had lists of goals and things to learn. I have ALWAYS been good at keep busy, literally, anyone who knows me, knows I'm a busy bee. From previous lifestyles of 7 jobs, to saying yes to all social opportunities, to falling in love with new passions, I was in essence the busy "YES" girl. The "WooHoo Girl" of yes and adventure. And at first, it was good. It was working. I was accomplishing things. I had my bullet journal to keep me on task. I felt calm, ready to take on my next challenge in the Big Bad Apple. I had three different educational things I was focusing on, ASL, Excel, Finances or Brain Studies. Three to Five Business Goals (grant proposal, choreography proposal and draft, new earring designs up, and regular blogs to be posted). I had plans for self care through baths, reading, and meditation. And on top of all that, I was going to connect with new and old friends throughout the week on the phone and find a way to workout everyday. and in a perfect world, that would be just dandy. But that isn't real life, my intentions were good, but completely unrealistic. I just didn't know how much so.

And when things all started out, I was on fire. I learned how to take in a pair of my pants that I had bought and not had an opportunity to wear. Funny story, I'm such a dancer that the only thread I have is pink for pointe shoes, so my camouflage pants have two pink stitch sections at either side of the waist. It is by no means the best stitching job but I was proud to have learned about how to stitch and take in pants, without a machine so that they didn't gap. I went from about 6 inches of extra waist space to a pair of pants I finally get to wear!

I started making bread that I had long been preparing to do. After that IS why I asked for a dutch oven for Christmas. I was maintaining my ten miler training even though it was cancelled, I was doing a dance in my bedroom series on IGTV and I had added Insanity workouts back into my life. I was practicing ASL on the subway to work and I even redid my entire website (which thanks for stopping by, why not check out the latest updates when you are done reading!)

This all lasted a week maybe two all while working overtime on the front lines...

2. I'm F@%(*$& Tired. Please Leave Me Alone.

This is not my prettiest look and most people aside from my family know what to do with me when I like this. Since my own processing has begun, I am emotional. I'm burnt out. I'm physically and mentally more exhausted. And before I started to forgive myself for this shift and accept my needs had changed, I was frustrated that I wasn't working out like everyone else. I wasn't taking every online offering. I wasn't offering classes. I just wanted to turn off the world, cry, and sleep.

Some days, I am desperate to connect with loved ones, but aside from my family, I've been pretty reserved and to myself. More than my social presence may have led people to believe I would be doing during this time with my "Bedroom Dance Series: CoVID19". I try to use my instagram platform to discuss true topics and be raw, open and vulnerable, but I haven't had much energy to sit down and write until this weekend, because I had reached some time off. I had more than a day off in a row. After all, I was supposed to be home for the extended weekend, running the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler for the 4th time with my best friend. This is now the second trip home that I would not be making. To say I am sad would be a gross understatement.

That said, I finally am having time to sit with myself and my feelings to process. To begin to process anyway. And somethings I've come to see are the follow I suffer from guilt that makes no sense. I felt guilty for feeling anything but gratitude for being employed when someone said that I sound bitter and angry all the time and I have no balance. I was defensive, because it felt like I was being told that I wasn't allowed to feel, even though that might not be what they meant. When I wasn't at work, I felt guilty that I wasn't staying longer and providing aid not only to my new city but my coworkers when we had become severely understaffed with callouts. When I admitted out loud to someone that I was exhausted, I immediately thought of the nurses, doctors and emergency personnel who haven't had a break and felt unworthy to feel that, which with a lot of personal time and stuck in my own thoughts and navigating this alone without people's input and opinions that I know deep down, that's just not fair to myself. But with all I was feeling, lectured was the last thing I wanted from anyone.

It is a process but I'm getting better with it. Over the last week, between talking to my therapist who reassured me its ok, beginning to start addressing some things, needs, doubts, concerns, fears (and joys and FOMO and all that) that I was I feeling and actually slowing down, I've been able to start even if only for a few minutes a day to step into stage 3. While I won't give it the power to break me, I finally started admitting that this virus, the state of the world and watching people I love hurt, is weighing me down. I started admitting to people outside of my family, that it's been rough. That I was overwhelmed in more ways that I could express.

3. Mental Shift.

It is beginning. I'm still fluctuating between 1, 2 and now 3. But I find myself wanting to connect more. I am beginning to open up and feel ready to write about it. I've read so many beautifully articulated pieces on this at the start that writing about it felt pointless to try. After all, is anyone even reading this anyway? (Mom I know you are, I love you and thank you for indulging me even if my over honesty at times makes you uncomfortable, I appreciate you.) And anyone else reading, thank you. Writing helps me process but more importantly, as much as I'd love for this blog to be followed and touch and connect to everyone's life especially in these dark time... at the end of the day, this is for me. I'm really trying to step away from the need to be seen, to be social media "connected". I am really trying to step away from the numbers. And yes I'll admit, those things, while I'm not proud to say it, cross my mind. My likes, my follows, my comments and it all feels superficial and petty which is why I've taken so long to write. Because I wanted it to be personal, reflective, and for me. Sure I'd LOVE for people to be drawn to it, to my teaching and dancing, but I'm really trying to do things from a space that is not driven by numbers. I want my intentions to be right for me in these times.

Some of the biggest and hardest internal things I'm reflecting on include:

- FOMO with my family. I miss home. I'm lonely. I miss my friends. Who are my real friends?

What to me qualifies as REAL friendship?

- What is my identity? I've been a teacher for so long and yet I don't feel like one at all anymore ** blog coming with more regarding this **

- I moved to this city to chase my dreams, and I don't want to admit it, but with them on hold, I'll admit I'm annoyed and sad. Now to be clear,I haven't lost hope, I'm just feeling my feelings. I just found such stability and joy taking class and meeting new people and doing what I love more than just about anything in the world and now I work hard and put my health on the line at Trader Joe's and feel so disconnected with my goals, intentions, and soul.

- How do I want to feel about myself on the other side of this? What do I want it to look like?

What will I have wanted to use this time to discover about myself?

- What are my needs right now? During these times, what do I need to do differently? What shifts have to be made for MY sanity? When do I need to push myself to do things and when do I need to allow myself to shut down?

So if you know anyone who might benefit from this, feel connected or similar and need that reassurance, please send it along. These are the times we are humans have an opportunity to do better for each other and for the Earth. May you all find comfort in the darkness, time to feel your feelings without guilt, and also in the midst of it, a little gratitude even if its just, I am thankful when I woke up today. I am thankful for the nurses and doctors. I am thankful for water to drink. Even if it seems small, that little bit of gratitude even when you are feeling the lowest of the lows, can be enough balance. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay Home. Stay Safe.

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