By: Rachel Clark, Programs & Communications Coordinator
Edited by: Sloane Ferenchak (#WeLoveConsent Coordinator) & DanceSafe Staff
We’ll start with the obvious: Everyone on the planet has been impacted by COVID-19.
Living through a global pandemic is a traumatic event. Our minds function under the premise that certain things are the way that they are, and having those pillars jostled (or removed entirely) lays a foundation of uncertainty. Basic, fundamental facts about what it means to be alive in the world have been threatened by COVID — this is traumatizing, and it is a shared trauma between billions.
We are now all in a position of reconfiguring ourselves on an ongoing basis as the country begins to tumble back into position. Millions of people have lost their lives, and millions more are grieving. Some of us have felt grief in tidal waves, through experiences (like death) that tear the fabric of reality. Some of us have felt grief in aches, plagued by sadness at opportunities lost. Some of us have felt grief knocking quietly, empathizing with the troubles of people we love. Birthdays, holidays, parties, graduations, friends, lovers, the easy familiarity of a local grocery store — these things have been lost, too. Grief is not limited to death. So it has been said, grief is just love with nowhere to go.
There are so many emotions to contend with here, including feelings of jealousy or resentment towards others who have been visited a little less by grief during the pandemic. Perhaps most challenging of all, however, is the tendency of humans to overestimate the happiness and capabilities of those around us. As we begin to tentatively gather together again, it will be tempting to evaluate others through a lens of whether they’re doing better. The comparative questions may begin: Are they happy? Are they also anxious right now? Are they able to socialize easily? Am I doing enough? Am I enough?
It is human nature to assume that those around us hold some secret key, some knowledge that we do not, about mastering emotional or behavioral states. We attribute amazing qualities to the people we encounter (and dream of). The fact is, no one knows exactly the right way to feel or act in every situation. We are all constantly making choices and feeling emotions, but there is no inherent standard of correct existence to measure up against — we are terribly hard on ourselves for thinking that what we’re feeling is somehow wrong.
So here we are, dog paddling collectively as society struggles to right itself after more than a year of unprecedented (are we tired of that word yet?) turmoil, and it makes perfect sense that millions of people are looking around to see who’s getting things right. It makes perfect sense that we’re seeking out others who have the answers; people who we believe are perfectly, fluidly adaptive to everything that happens to them; people who are doing it better.
Seeing others (appear to) succeed can offer stability and hope during periods of uncertainty, lighting otherwise dismally dark tunnels. Sometimes, however, our observations and assumptions about others can cause us to anxiously compare our perceived shortcomings to their perceived strengths. These comparisons may be transient, like wondering why we’re feeling tired or quiet when others are dancing wildly in front of the stage — or they may feel complex and heavy, like mulling over the possible reasons why we’re not getting invited to go out while our friends seem to be busy seven days a week. Maybe we see someone sail through a breakup or a loss of a loved one without losing much steam, while we are incapacitated in bed for months at a time. Maybe we internalize the consistent smiles and socializing of our friends as indicators that they are always doing well, and ask ourselves why our own experience is so different.
Perhaps you’ve felt these things, and perhaps it has been lonely. None one is a stranger to loneliness; we have all felt the crushing uncertainty of whether we are loved, and whether we are safe, at some point in time, feelings that are simultaneously very personal and profoundly universal. While the uniqueness of each individual’s experience cannot be overstated, there are core facets of the human experience that intertwine us, one of which is being unsure. It is easy to forget this fact when it seems as though everyone else is doing, being, or feeling something that we are not — especially when they appear to behave with confidence.
Ultimately, all of us are just trying to figure it all out. This is the case regardless of whether a deadly pandemic is sweeping the globe. When we ask you to be a little kinder, we especially mean to yourself. Being alive is the greatest experiment that anyone can undertake; it is a breathtaking, remarkable, sometimes extraordinarily emotional process. The act of building ourselves through trial and error is the human experience. Giving ourselves permission to live in ways that work for us – regardless of whether we are doing what we think we should be doing – is a profound gift.
So, our message is this: Go home when you want to. Take a nap when you’re tired. Halt your drug use when it doesn’t feel right. Speak when you feel inspired to, and exist in silence when you don’t. Respond to your body’s needs. Do nothing. Exist authentically. Pursue things you enjoy. Refer to yourself with affection. Participate in things when you’re in a place of curiosity about them, not because you feel like you must in order to succeed. And refuse to agree with the assumption that others are living in ways that are superior to you, just because their life (or personality) is different from yours. There is no underlying “should” that informs the right state of existence for any person. There is only what is best for you, right now, in this moment.
Our assumptions about the minds and hearts of those we meet are based on a collection of clues. It is natural to assume and infer, and we may feel as though we have no control over observational thoughts. What we do have control over is how we respond to the observations that we make; whether we are kind or cruel to ourselves, or develop sprawling narratives based on limited information. We encourage you to choose to be gentle with yourself as we all continue to figure it all out, especially in the era of COVID, and we remind you: You are allowed to do what feels good, and not just what feels urgently necessary. We hope that you choose to support others as they pursue the same for themselves.
Whether it is on the dance floor, in your tent, on your sofa, or anywhere else, we are proud of you for what you’ve done. For what you continue to do.
All our love,
Sputnik and the rest of the DanceSafe Team