Warning: Surge Capacity Reached

When you have nothing left to give, let yourself receive.

Posted Nov 04, 2020

This election may be leaving you feeling more traumatized and emotionally exhausted than any recent world event. Our human “surge capacity” was likely reached a few months into the pandemic response when we were watching cases and losses climb so quickly and all we could do was wash our hands, wear a mask, and isolate ourselves form others as much as possible. In summer, the horrors of social injustice and loss of black lives became more palpable for more people than they might have been in the past.

The opportunity to gather together and protest the systems that crushed people of color provided a concrete way to expend the anxieties and pent-up energy from being in lockdown for so many months. Natural disasters, including wildfires and hurricanes, churned and further exacerbated our unrest. And then we were immersed into an election campaign with stakes that seemed higher than they had ever seemed before. It wasn’t just a president that was being elected, this election represented a battle of historic and archetypal proportions. Just like when hospitals reach surge capacity, we need to recognize when it’s time to call in reinforcements or turn away requests for more of us than we have available to give.

This election cycle has taken an unprecedented toll on the American people this year. Regardless of who is elected, though, we will still be very much the same people, dealing with life's hassles, and relationship struggles. The stressors may shift and our struggles grow, but you will still be the person you were last week. Finding meaning and purpose in life are not based on who is running the country, but who we are surrounded by in our lives. Belonging and mattering are key to health and wellbeing, and while we'd like to imagine that the leaders we elect really do feel that we "matter" to them, the truth is that it is with our friends, families, and communities that our lives will truly matter. This election represented so much more than a typical presidential election might, but the people who have "elected" us to be in their lives are the ones on whom we should focus now. 

The country has been wrestling with social justice conflicts, public health issues, economic and employment disasters, and our citizens' desire to exhibit the individualism and autonomy that are integral parts of the American culture. The election became a battle between "good versus evil," "science versus fiction," and "party versus country." Our personal reserves of strength, stamina, and vitality have been drained to varying degrees by our responses to the issues of racial injustice, responsibility to the welfare of our fellow citizens, and the economic fallout of the pandemic. A lot of us have little gas left in the tank.

While we are currently unsure who will be sitting in the Oval Office on the evening of January 20, right now we have to recognize that for our country to heal and thrive, we need to focus on what we can do in our own corners of the universe to make the world a more hospitable and healthy place.

Most years, few of us take much notice of executive orders, international affairs, or the daily activities of the president and vice-president. We may complain about taxes, we may have specific viewpoints about preserving our forests, and wish that the weather wasn't as unpredictable or as intense as it has been, but our focus tends to be on our own families, our communities, and the life that we're leading and the bills that we're paying and the pleasures that we're pursuing -- with little focus on the executive branch of the government. And that's what we must bear in mind as we move forward -- that we can still find meaning, satisfaction, and joy in our lives regardless of who is signing off on executive orders.

While we may feel that this is a dark period of American history, we also should be cognizant of the darkness that other nations and peoples have faced throughout history. What we do know is that finding meaning and purpose in life can be the driving force that gets us through the hard times in life. Struggle is inherent to the human condition and while it is never comfortable, it is also a challenge that makes us stronger. 

Lastly, we should recognize that the election has been so very close and that there are clearly folks who agree with our perspectives and support our belief systems. We aren't alone in what we see as right and fair, and spending time with those people can provide a sense of connection and belonging that can renew our commitment to fighting for a more just world. The pandemic has worn us down emotionally and physically. The fight for social justice takes perseverance and commitment as it is not going to be easily won. Continued commitment towards other "hot button issues," such as climate change, renewable energy, transgender rights, voting rights, and so on, will be needed.

There's a saying that "happiness isn't a destination, it's a journey." Many of us took our country and its prominence on the world stage for granted — we were raised to believe that we were living in the best country on earth. While this is still what I hope we all believe, we also must realize that you cannot stay at the top without consistent effort and continued growth and development. We've learned the hard way that our equilibrium can be upset instantaneously as we witnessed the pandemic ravage the nation, black lives be lost by the actions of the people we hire to protect us, and politicians who exhibit selfish and harmful behaviors be rewarded. 

Regardless of who is declared the winner of the presidential race, we are still going to be waking up in our own homes, seeing our own faces in the mirror, and being a part of the support network that we have built in our lives. It's our responsibility to continue to "show up" for life and for others. It is our responsibility to do what we can to make the world a better place. The election is winding down, but the pandemic is still going strong and injustice to others has not abated. But being present for others, taking responsibility for ourselves, and caring about the future of our country and taking actions congruent to our beliefs are the ways that we can bring a sense of purpose and equilibrium back to our lives.

You've Got This

So, in essence, while many of us may be terribly disturbed by what we've found out about the country, as a whole, through this election — no matter who is declared victor this week — it is our own lives and the communities (professional/social/spiritual/familial/etc.) in which we function that are the spaces in which we should seek happiness, purpose, and belonging. No matter how downhearted we might feel, we still must "show up" in our lives and while we can't force our beliefs on others, being surrounded by folks who share our beliefs can give us a sense of security and stability even if our beliefs are not endorsed in a state-by-state majority. The pandemic taught us all that we are unable to predict and control threats to our wellbeing, but we do have the ability to be resilient, take precautions that protect ourselves and others, and creatively respond to the unexpected challenges that we face.