I Miss Me. Do You Miss Your Old Self?

Understanding the emotions kidnapping your brain and how to regain your sanity.

Posted Aug 05, 2020

grinvalds/depositphotos
Source: grinvalds/depositphotos

I was talking to a dear friend and said, “I miss you.” She replied, “I miss me too.”

My brain buzzed. I miss me, too! My work and life drastically changed with the pandemic. I am physically and mentally adapting, but emotionally, only somewhat in control.

I ground myself with a morning walk, appreciating that the sun is still rising. I am grateful for the work I do even though I am stuck in front of my computer. I enjoy fresh food and talks with my friends.

Regardless of this goodness, I am angry at the end of the day. My temper is short. Every glitch is overly annoying. I scream to keep from crying.

My world has gotten too small. I can barely breathe. My suffering constantly swallows up my capacity to care.

Recently, I read two things that gave me some relief. One was the reality of Zoom burnout. The other was the prevalence of grief being felt in the world.

“Zoomed out” is a real thing

Although there are many variations of burnout, the primary symptom is an exhaustion of energy. The toll can be seen physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

“Meeting online increases the cognitive load because several of its features take up a lot of conscious capacity,” write Libby Sander and Oliver Bauman in TED Ideas. They write about the importance of non-verbal signals in moderating our interactions. “In a face-to-face meeting, we process these cues largely automatically and we can still listen to the speaker at the same time. But on a video chat, we need to work harder to process nonverbal cues. Paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy.”

I realized my days are full of online meetings. Then I shift to creating programs on my computer, another drain on my cognitive capacity.

I learned the importance of getting up to do something else for at least 30 minutes after a few hours of online meetings. Now I monitor when my patience is waning, knowing it is time to shut down the computer completely.

The virus called grief

Still, there were evenings my anger consumed me. Then I read what Joan Didion wrote that grief often shows up unexpected, unweaving the “fabric of our being.”1 I had been traveling the world for work for over 30 years. I met many people, enjoyed countries and cultures, appreciated the opportunities to stand on stages and make a difference in people’s lives where I could see it clearly in their faces, even in a crowd. I lost this in a flash. I don’t know if it will ever return. I am grieving.

Elizabeth Gilbert examined grief with TED curator Chris Anderson on the TED Interviews podcast, “The posture that you take is you hit your knees in absolute humility and you let it rock you until it is done with you.”

What prompts grief can be any loss, not just someone beloved. You may be grieving the loss of a dream. Even if you are surrounded by people, you might feel isolated, lethargic, emotionally exhausted, and overwhelmingly sad.

You are not alone. Millions of people are feeling grief around the world.

The antidote for grief is hope. Although grief, like a virus, must run its course, you can’t lose hope if you want to survive. Viktor Frankl, having lost his mother, his father, and his brother to Nazi atrocities, found what makes life worthy of living is the rational faith in the human spirit. He wrote, “…living with the belief in human goodness is the ballast of the scale. Not optimism or pessimism, but hope.”

My afternoon break now includes a reflection on what is now possible. I look at how I am still able to share what I am learning and support those who also want to make a positive difference for us all. I am grateful for still being able to be a writer, a teacher, and a good friend. This gives the hope that I need to soften my anger. It is still there, but when I breathe in and remember, “all is well” my fits of feeling infuriated are shorter.

What I do now when I miss me

When your brain is hijacked by stress, burnout, and grief, try a few of these tips to recover your sanity and sense of self.

  1. Take breaks to relax with at least 3 minutes of deep, abdominal breathing. You might add in music or recall someone or something you love to open your heart as well.
  2. Regularly tell yourself, “I am okay and this too shall pass.”
  3. Write entries in a “gratitude” journal and reflect on what is possible to create in the future.
  4. Buy daily supplies before you run out. Repair equipment right away so you don’t keep facing the aggravation of error or loss.
  5. Set personal boundaries. Kindly let others know how much time you have to talk and what topics you have the energy to explore when you start so you don’t have to cut them off. Learn to say “No, I’d prefer not to” to protect your space and time. 
  6. Know that most of your work will be fine if you downgrade your standard of “perfection” to  “good enough” and don’t do some tasks at all if they don’t support your purpose and vision of the future you want to create.
  7. Check in with your breathing pattern regularly. If you are holding your breath or breathing from your chest, relax, and take a half-dozen deep breaths. 
  8. Don’t lie. Express how you feel. Don’t make promises you can’t keep or you will resent. It is easier to tell the truth.
  9. Delegate and train others to do tasks you don’t have the time, energy, or desire to do yourself.  Learn to let others work without feeling guilty or obligated to help them.
  10. Recall your best self and give him or her more airtime every day.

References

1. Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking. Vintage; Reprint edition (February 13, 2007)