The space between knowing and certainty: hitting surge capacity

Okay, yes, there’s a pandemic… here’s a road map to recovery from the government… now the waiting to see if we have low enough cases to proceed through the stages… This is the complete uncertainty of living in a world with COVID-19 where we have no idea what our future will hold.

We teeter between lockdown and freedom sprinkled with the fear of another wave. We curtly glance at those not wearing masks while ourselves feeling uncomfortable about our glasses fogging. We cringe at other countries that are having mask-free weddings and interstate travel while COVID cases are not slowing down, but also feel a pang of jealousy they have the freedom of just not caring so much.

This is a shameless headline steal from Zara McDonald and Michelle Williams and their amazing new book “The Space Between”. The phrase so perfectly captures that awkward Area 51 when you’re feeling all the feels, but don’t quite know exactly what to do. (Seriously people, read their book, it’s amazeballs – also I am not affiliated or sponsored, I wish)

I also wrote the bulk of this blog post before reading Tara Haelle’s piece on Surge Capacity which definitely captures all the feels described here in a much more eloquent way with some advice on how to heal. I would definitely recommend it as your next reading if you haven’t come across it yet.

To top it off, for me personally, I have been aware of a restructure for almost two months now, but I still won’t know about my own future at this company for another few weeks. I think it’s safe to say that no matter what emotional roller coaster is happening in your own life, we are going through ALL THE FEELS.

My Mum’s wisdom captures this nicely, I have always been the type of person that worries beforehand, but when it’s showtime, I am fine. I go through all the emotions worrying that things that will go wrong, negotiating with the knot in my stomach. But then when the bad news drops or it’s time to do the big thing, I am calm and stoic, a completely different person.

I know I am not alone, Sarah Wilson describes a very similar experience in her book “First, We Make The Beast Beautiful” (yes, another book recommendation!). Sometimes those riddled with the most worrying, have an odd way of showing up when it matters most. But that doesn’t mean the lead up isn’t absolutely debilitating. Here is a peek into a week in my life, maybe you resonate with some of this, or you can giggle at the drama of it all. Sometimes, this even all fits into one day!

A week in my emotional roller coaster of this uncertainty

Day 1: Anxiety and Depression. Oh god. The tears, so many, this waterfall is being wasted on my face when it should go to curing our droughts. These are the days when I wake up and sob uncontrollably for hours (daylight savings has not helped my inability to be a morning person). I genuinely feel I can’t make it through this day, let alone this week or month. Urgently calls Mum or best friend. Feel better… then the worrying spiral starts and it goes from sad tears to pre-panic attack tears. I scroll social media to detach, and then the otherworldly overwhelm of all the uncertainty hits me like a tsunami and I’m sobbing again. Afterwards, I justify this as going through all the worst case scenarios so that I’m ready for anything, that this is self-preservation. (Classic twisted anxiety logic talking right there). It eventually ends with some form of groggy hope, or slow movement like I’m wading through water. But in the end, I have made it through the day. I may be battle worn but I’m here.

Day 2: Action. There are days when I feel I MUST DO STUFF. Whether it be bake 3 different desserts, schedule in every waking hour of my day or obsessive job hunting on LinkedIn for hours. Sometimes it makes me feel productive but the latter makes me feel depleted, empty and hopeless.

Day 3: Anger, frenetic mood swings and existential crises. These are the days when I read some news and suddenly I’m absolutely angry at the injustices of our world. I am spurred to make change. Then the existential crisis dawns on me. Surely my purpose in the world must be bigger and more valuable than simply marketing? The I get thoroughly upset because I have no idea what to do with my life, the world is too big and horrific, and I am a small cog in this capitalist machine. Then I cry about how big and otherworldly these problems feel even though millions are living through the reality of it. I eventually calm down and sit in my responsibility to start the conversation with those around me, and eventually the empathy creates the niggling sadness that there are people who find solace in conspiracy theories to help them cope with all the horrors in the world… and I’m back to crying.

Day 4: Anxiety and Depression, again. This time, I’m upset about the future of my job. How to I rattle with the idea that I might not have one, when my job is so core to my identity and something I have worked my whole life for? Once again, also questioning my meaning in life. If I’m lucky enough to have a job, will I still be happy there is the Head Office is in another city? Will I be given the same opportunities to progress in future? If I’m made redundant, do I look for the same type of job? Or do I pursue something more meaningful like all the entrepreneurs who have found their true purpose in life? What even is my purpose, what is my true passion? I mean I bloody love pizza but will a pizza blog sustain me financially if a) I eat pizza too fast to capture all the elements into a rubric and b) how do I run a pizza blog when I can’t go more than 5km from home? And I am back to the otherworldly of it all. Others who have been stood down or made redundant, please share how you regained any semblance of your sense of self.

Day 5 & 6: Embrace. And then these are the days when it’s okay. I just sit in the shittiness of it all and accept. I make myself a cup of tea, get set up on the couch with a good book and let the roller coaster take me. I accept and embrace that without a doubt, I will cry, and I will feel all the emotions, but that is normal and that is okay. There is peace, even if it is temporary, it is still a worthwhile moment to revel in.

Day 7: Action. Tomorrow is a new week, let’s set yourself up for success with an action packed day!

The lesson here is that I’m basically always crying. I accept it, this is me, this is how I process emotions. Whether I’ve been conditioned to think it’s weak, or my eyes are simply exhausted and I don’t understand how more tears can possibly be shed, I feel a sense of okay-ness that at least my tears do not hurt others. After I have washed away all my despair, I am still here, I am alive and I can make it through another day.

I don’t expect this rollercoaster to stop anytime soon but I’m learning to accept that my honest self is an emotional one, that I should embrace pain, not oppose it, for growth and strength. Tara Haelle’s advice in “Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful” is to accept a new baseline of how wacky and weird life is right now, and to recognise all the different emotions we will feel relating to grief. I’m also learning to give myself more time to play, embrace the grey in every situation and reframe my usual all-or-nothing thinking patterns. And what is hardest for me, is learning to expect less from myself.

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