Stepping Out of Survival Mode: Life Beyond the Pandemic

It’s interesting what your brain does to protect itself in the throes of trauma. It often goes straight into survival mode. When I arrived at the scene of my house burning and I couldn’t find my husband, and the EMT wouldn’t let me run into the burning house to look for him, my brain did a full-on shut down. I was right there, at the curb, when I fell asleep.

Fast forward three years, and one month later, to March 2020, I was sitting in a camp chair in the woods. And then the world stopped. Again, my brain enacted survival mode, as most people’s did. Collectively, we purchased all the toilet paper because we were able to. Comfort came from knowing that we were guaranteed a clean tummy. It was control, when we couldn’t control anything else.

Unfortunately, in March 2020, returning home from campingIn reality, I was completely out of toilet tissue. I was without three-ply comfort, so I had to find a source of quilted three ply comfort. Instead, we purchased a bidet. {For the record, it’s amazing and I strongly support anyone who would like to join the bidet club.}

It’s now spring of 2022, and we’ve rolled past the end of two years of the pandemic. No matter which side you are on regarding vaccines, masks, or how it was handled we can all agree on one thing. We are tired.

Like, Really tired.

Many of us are in survival mode for over two years. We’re trying to keep our families healthy, trying to make the right choices, trying to keep our jobs, adjust to new schedules, zoomscancelled plans. For many of us, including my family, our day to day lives look very different than it did on March 1, 2020.

We’ve Just Been Surviving

It’s been tough. We’ve walked a long road, with so many other hard thingsEvery step of the way. We’ve all lost people. We’ve missed birthdays, weddings and funerals. We’ve canceled vacations and work trips.

We’ve battled murder hornets. We had so many named hurricanesIn 2020, we ran out alphabet letters to name them so we switched to the Greek alphabet. Thailand was a scene of chaos as monkeys rioted. Marine life returned to Venice’s canals. Protests and riots were held across the country. We all watched the tiger monarchy. Redditors destroyed the stock market. Professional baseball games began to be attended by cardboard-stamping people. Official UFO reports were released by the Department of Defense. We survived one worst freezesHouston has seen more than any other city.

The past two years have been exhausting and wildly bizarre.

Many of us have developed routines to help us get through. We’ve bonded over a simple 5 letter word game. I think it’s the consistency and simplicity of the game that drove people to it. We’ve tried to control what we can, just to survive the stress of two years of weird pandemic life.

I’ve found that the routines I’ve enacted, while they have helped me keep it all together, now have me feeling…stuck. My hair was dull. My daily wardrobe of t-shirts and yoga or sweat pants became repetitive and dull {albeit super comfy}. My skincare routineI had reduced to nearly nothing. I honestly don’t remember the last time I wore a dress. I haven’t done anything creative in ages.

Routine: Shaking off the Dregs

Recently I’ve been making an effort to do things out of the survival norm to help shake off the dregs of the routine. We need to survive, and we also need to live.

A week ago, I went to my hairdresser and asked her to completely transform my look. I hadn’t dyed my hair since before the pandemic and I’d only gotten trims, many of them in our backyard. I was full-on red in “the before” and over the last two years my natural brown had mostly grown out, leaving a patch of red/brassy hair at the bottom of my long hair. She asked how much she could trim and I made it a point of saying yes to every offer. We ended up cutting almost 8 inches. She did balayage with deep reds or brassy browns, keeping my natural color high.

I left feeling like a new human, I’d shed 8 inches of hair, but I’d also shed pounds of the humdrum routine I’d been in.

I also visited my dermatologist and resolved to do better with my skincare. Based on her recommendation, I purchased a few new products. They’ve been a game-changer, not because my skin looks all that different {yet} but because it feels good to take care of myself. I’m taking time away from just survival and putting it back into my own self care.

I’ve been buying new clothing, trying out new looks and things I wouldn’t normally buy. I still mostly refuse to wear hard pants but I’m trying to venture out of the monotonous in an effort to really thrive and just Feel alive.

I’m becoming more and more active in my hiking group. I’m leading paddling events and campouts and encouraging other women, men and children to explore the outdoors.

Truthfully, I’m still working on the creative aspect. We’re planning our spring gardenWe are also doing lots of renovations to our yard. I also have big plans for my studio and home office. I would really love to start painting and sketching again, but honestly, I haven’t made an effort towards it. It’s coming though. One thing at the time.

Stepping out of Survival Mode

stepping out of survival mode- light at the end of a tunnel

We’ve all been surviving the last two years, and that is not a bad thing, it’s gotten us through. I believe 2022 is the right time to get out of survival mode. I encourage you, no, I implore you to take a look at what routines you’ve taken on in an effort to survive over the last two years.

What have your let gos been?

What can you bring back that you have lost in your struggle to survive?

What could you do to make your life more enjoyable?

How can you get out from survival mode and begin living again?

I can’t wait to see what we can do, collectively as a culture, when we move from survival mode to living a life that brings us joy and meaning.

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