Some of the most over-exhausted topics of 2020 include the Election and COVID-19. At times, it feels like groundhog’s day in regard to the redundancy. I just read a news article claiming that grocery stores are beginning to feel the second wave of “panic shopping” as the “second wave” of COVID-19 embarks on its steady rise. Sigh. Haven’t we read this chapter already? Wasn’t that in level four of the game of Jumanji we have been forced into this year?
There is a theme that has been becoming ever more prevalent within the therapy room. A theme that seems to be the quiet crisis that “panic shopping” and over-run political commercials have dominated. A crisis that is not only consuming our youth, but perhaps most humans along their journeys.
So, let’s explore it.
The passions that perhaps once provided a sense of identity and security suddenly seem lackluster and there is a void in motivation to engage in them. Once zealous artists are looking at their sketchbooks and cringing. Once creative chefs are allowing their mixing bowls to collect dust as they settle on their 6th frozen meal in a row and indulge with Netflix blaring in the forefront.
This experience of avoidance has many of our youth, predominately our older teens, spinning. College applications are begging the question “Who are you?” and many of our aspiring college students are looking at their sketchbooks gathering dust in the corner and realizing “I have no idea who I am anymore”.
Perhaps one of the most uncomfortable realizations. The pressure to define yourself, morals, values, and passions in the midst of this year’s game of Jumanji. You’ve been frozen in survival mode for so long that you are merely left with hazy memories of what life used to be.
This is where I typically see the color draining from my client’s faces, the fidgeting uptick, and the tears gathering in the corner or their eyes. Throughout this processing journey there are hints of the shame, exhaustion, and loneliness these brave teens are carrying. The burdens that have yet to be spoken about or validated. There’s a name for this, folks.
Trauma. Burnout. Chronic emotional and mental fatigue.
All very real experiences that not only our youth have been subjected to, but all of us as a collective human-whole. Suddenly, our passions have been exposed to trauma. While living day in and day out for months with increased experiences of fear, anxiety, and grief of loss, we have been left to our own devices. The activities that used to bring us peace seem to highlight the feelings of unknown and of existing in an out-of-control world.
Imagine that throughout your life, you developed a love of coconuts. You loved when you would find one at the store, or indulge in a coconut-riddled treat. One day, a giant storm came out of no where and swept you off against your own choosing to an island. You were confined to this island until an unknown time. However, it was overflowing with coconuts! Silver-lining in the crisis. Days pass, and the indulgence in your favorite thing is fantastic. It helps distract you from your confinement, your anxiety about the future, and your loneliness. However, as the acute stress morphs into chronic long-lasting stress, you grow more and more detached from your love of coconuts. By the time you have an opportunity to leave the island, you never want to look at a coconut again.
That’s where our youth are. There is trauma associated with the coconuts in their lives. When they think of what used to light a fire within them, whether it be drawing, painting, baking, cooking, basketball, you name it, it is now associated with the trauma of state-wide lockdowns, loved-ones dying, and missing out on proms and birthdays. Talk about an awkward experience.
But guess what? There’s hope.
I want to encourage our teens, and honestly all humans right now to let themselves off the hook. Normalize that you’ve had one too many coconuts within a traumatic experience and that you need a break. It’s OK to not have inspiration to pick up that paintbrush or bust out the mixers.
So, how do we get back to what we love?
Take the next few months off. Use that time to create a list of activities or things to try for kicks and giggles. Something novel and random that encourages endorphins and positive memories. Whether it be rock climbing, walking on the beach, or hot yoga; pack away the paint brushes with a “see ya later”.
Then, when you’re ready (and you will know when you’re ready), re-introduce yourself to those coconuts. Those ingrained passions, but at your own time. Redevelop that positive relationship on your own terms. This will not only empower you but inspire you to become grounded that you are still, and have always been, uniquely you.