"Don't Live It Twice": The Advice That's Getting Me Through the Pandemic

Monday, May 11, 2020


I once had a coworker, a rabbi named Marcus, who gave me some of the best advice I've ever received: When you worry about events you can't control, you live every experience twice: once as you worry about it, & again as it happens. 

And isn't that exhausting, he asked? Why force yourself to do so much extra living when you could cut it in half & only live each experience once, as it is?

 Marcus died of cancer in 2016, but his advice has always stuck with me - especially now, in the middle of a global pandemic, when I am worried about everything.
I worry that the packages delivered to my front porch are contaminated with the virus & that in bringing them indoors, my home will be, too.

I worry that my mom's trips to Costco & Acme mean that she'll get the virus, or at the very least bump back the timeline of when I can safely see her.

I worry about going to the grocery store - or anywhere else - myself, as I haven't made a single shopping trip since all this began.

I worry that I will be laid off from my job, or that others will be laid off & I will still be working but with the double my already-unmanageable workload. 

I worry about my mom & others who live alone & haven't touched another human being in two full months. 

I worry about people who live in crowded cities who can't get outside safely; I'm worried about people who live in remote rural places, who can't what they need easily.

I worry about pets in shelters without homes, & kids in foster care without stable, loving families, & all of the people who are forced into quarantines under domestic violence situations.

I worry about everyone who doesn't have enough to eat. Kids who don't have wifi & can't even begin to engage in virtual learning. First responders who aren't able to take a break to tend to their mental health. Food service & entertainment industry workers whose livelihoods have been decimated. 

I worry that this will go on forever. That more people I love will die. That the economy won't just tank but will implode. That civilized society will really, truly, actually fall apart.

And in my worst moments, I worry that the virus will morph, that we won't be able to control it, that the world will eventually feel like The Walking Dead. That we will never be OK again, even a modified version of OK.

But the more I worry, the more I live, according to Marcus's version of things - & it's not the worthwhile, meaningful kind of living, either, just the fear-filled, panic-packed kind that keeps me from focusing on actual life.

And so I breathe.

I try a meditation.

I look at the sticky note on my laptop that says, "I choose to see peace instead of this."

I play Words with Friends, & I bake, & I read (sort of), & I write, & I write letters to the people I love. I tell my husband I love him, & I cuddle my cats, & I FaceTime with my mom. I ride my spinning bike, & I watch bad TV, & I clean my apartment. I organize Zoom calls with friends I haven't talked to in a decade, & I try to stay off of social media.

I take a shower. I wash my face. I braid my hair. I stick to my skincare routine. I light a candle. I breathe again, meditate again, do it all again. Every day, over & over, forever - or at least until this is all over, whichever comes first.

I don't want to live it all twice, not like this. I want the one version of living that I do to feel healthy & hopeful & helpful & with an eye toward the future. Controlling what I can control, contributing where I can contribute, & continuing to center my mental health & well-being throughout it all.

I can't do much. But I can try to do this. 

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