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How we can redefine accomplishment during a pandemic

Trading “success” for the good life

The pandemic hit my awareness shortly after my personal life blew apart by an effective divorce. We married ourselves via my children we co-parented for seven years and counting; joint finances; businesses we launched and shared; and mostly through the formal intention to marry each other as the loves of each other’s lives— best friends who could be plopped down together on any deserted island, never running out of things to talk or laugh about. But, our traumas were incompatible. I grew tired of trying to make our traumas accommodate each other. A beat later, she did too. It was sloppy AF and excruciatingly painful.

Just as I looked forward to healing and crafting my new life I didn’t have to run past anyone else for agreement, as I looked forward to embracing new hobbies like burlesque and new ways of engaging with my community… the world stuttered, halted, shut down, and flailed.

Maybe you heard about it.

And I lost my job. I prepared for my ex to move back in just so the kids and I wouldn’t go homeless. With my kids stuck at home for months feeling the same things everyone’s kids are feeling, the burden upon me as a single parent was and is so enormous I am sure I’ll be processing it for years.

I have never in my life been so left to my thoughts and feelings, as I’m sure you have, too. Have you, too, dissociated from the uncertainty, disappointment, and suspended ambitions by spending way too much time scrolling through social media and watching Netflix? Cool, cool.

The capitalist machine wasted no time bombarding us with encouragement (*cough* pressure) to use this time to improve ourselves. The people who make up the system might suffer but the system made up of the people shall not suffer! When this pandemic is over, we must each reappear animated superhero versions of ourselves, or like Jennifer Garner’s character in the movie Peppermint: buff, tough, and trained to string from ferris wheel structures the bodies of all our enemies (sloth, disorganization, lack of focus). We must emerge from this cocoon more interesting, more talented, more nimble and knowledgable, fitter, better cooks, better friends and parents and partners.

A Facebook friend shared a video which soothed and reassured the needy baby deep down inside me. It’s a loving pandemic-era song by The Bengsons called The Keep Going Song from their album The Keep Going Song (Live From Our Home at the End of the World). You can enjoy it here on Facebook or here on Spotify.

In it, Abigail sings,

“I hope that you’ve watched a lot of really great television, like a lot of it. And I hope that you find a hand lotion that actually makes your skin feel better.”

And I thought, Yeah, yeah I did. I like this inexpensive lotion I discovered during the pandemic. I like the way it makes my feet and hands look and feel hydrated and loved. This is good.

And I wondered what other good things I have accumulated this year-that-feels-like-two-years-and-also-four-months….

This question, this collecting of hidden tiny treasures, can feel like a gentle body scan meditation. Scanning the toes-to-scalp of your life, what comes up?

What floats up for me, in this order:

  • Being without work and at home, I was able to fast-forward getting to know two new girlfriends (one still current). New relationships offer profound self-knowledge. What a gift.
  • Getting to (and having to) communicate primarily by text and email during the day let New Girlfriend and I woo as we each would woo best.
  • I am re-learning how to cook again, especially by instinct.
  • A hearty and frugal plant-based stew I loved was made for me by New Girlfriend. I love that I have a new thing to make quickly and affordably for my family.
  • I have been able to spend a lot of time thinking and feeling. This is healing work.
  • I made some kickass playlists.
  • I discovered some real bawdy lesbian hip hop songs that get me moving and let me feel represented.
  • I re-established and improved a family chore chart system, this time populated and shared on Google Calendar.
  • I discovered a local wine that’s my new favourite: Rathjen Cellars Bunker Red. Love their labels, too!
  • I learned how to rollerblade, kinda mostly.
  • I co-imagined and began a new super-cool business with my ex. We worked out some of the messy, painful stuff and maintained a family structure.
  • We had the loveliest small Thanksgiving as a family with New Girlfriend, three of the kids and one boyfriend, and my ex. The food was delicious and well collaborated on, and the games were a rollicking good time. No awkwardness, just joy.
  • I finally got my gallbladder out with no portending of negative long-term side effects, and it was easy to work around while unemployed and with my kids and ex working from my home to help me recuperate. The very excellent drugs I experienced upon waking helped me to have more empathy and understanding for people who develop drug addictions. That shit was SO good that if I had something like that available to me during traumatic life experiences, I’m sure I’d struggle to resist an instant way out of my pain because that’s just rational.
  • I grew some friendships and proposed a “friendship marriage” to a few friends. One said, “It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my friendship life.”
  • I changed my approach to some mental health challenges, which made all the difference and revealed to me the underestimated capacity and skills of my dearest friends.
  • I was inspired to become a more imaginative lover.
  • I grew my hair really long. I think this is the longest it’s ever been.
  • I rediscovered my love for CBC radio.
  • I swam in the ocean without a wetsuit for the first time ever. Turns out it’s pretty cold. But bearable.
  • I educated myself on what the “defund” and “abolish” police movements mean and changed my mind. #BLM #decolonize

I’ve also been thinking about the ways I’ve abandoned myself over the past several years, feeling bummed out about how my brain has become sluggish, like Hypatia’s in the last episode of The Good Place, and how my passion’s become diluted. I trust that I’ll get myself back on track but in the meantime, I wouldn’t trade the ways I’ve changed as I’ve aged, especially this past year. I’ve become less reactive, less opinionated, less controlling, more open to living for the sake of loving and experiencing and less for achieving. I’ve laughed a lot. I like myself and the people closest to me more than I ever have. Is that not success?

As you think about how you’ve spent your pandemic days, perhaps you can see where you’ve accrued some of these achievements:

  • Did you learn how to like your own company more than you ever have?
  • Did you soothe your nervous system and thereby provide some healing to your body through new hobbies like knitting or practicing guitar?
  • Did you deepen a relationship? Did you get the insight and courage to end one?
  • Did you even just experience new pleasures?

My hope for us all: That we aggressively question everything we’ve been taking for granted as “the way things are done” and dare to imagine and surrender in new places.

Ex-Mormon queer feminist trauma-informed writer. Embracing complexity, nuance, slow conflict, unknowing, non-judgment, love. natashacoulis@gmail.com