Right Here, Right Now: Breaking Out of a Rut During COVID
Sometimes, breaking out of a rut is very important. It’s a piece of psychological work that you just have to do to stay true to who you really are. And during COVID, we can all fall into some pretty deep ruts.
(SPOILER ALERT: while this article has some real relevance in the midst of the COVID lockdown, getting stuck in a rut is something that can easily happen to us at any time!)
You might think that things would work the other way, that, with our regular activities outside of our homes on hold, we would have a lot of free time, and so there would be opportunities to explore new things and go in new directions. While this might be true in theory, I know that my clients’ experience during this major life transition is very different, and so is my own!
One of the things that I enjoy and find meaningful is creative writing. I try and do it on a very regular basis, because I feel that the effort I put into it adds a lot to my life.
Pre-COVID, I had a pattern that I would follow for writing. Not far from where I live is my favourite cafe. I used to schedule specific blocks of time, at the same time each week, when I would leave my office for the day, head over to my cafe, get my favourite non-fat latte, sit at my favourite table with its view onto a busy streetscape, and write. It was a great way of marking a shift from my daily work mode to the special time that I devote to writing.
That seems like quite a long time ago now. Along came COVID and lockdown. It wouldn’t be possible any longer for me to go and sit in “my cafe” and write, until the pandemic is over. So I would sit at home and try to write, but would find it so hard to shift away from work and get into my writing “headspace”. It was clear to me that I was getting stuck in a rut.
Breaking Out of a Rut Means Accepting That You’re in One
As clients have talked about their pandemic experiences, I’ve heard many echoes of this story. People are feeling the disappearance of the usual things that demarcate the limits of time, such as the commute from daytime workplace to evening home or family time, or the going out to restaurants, theatres or activities that make “weekend time” different from “weekday time”. Without these markers it’s easy to just drift.
When you’re stuck in a rut, it can really sap your life energy. It’s not uncommon for the sense of being in a rut to be associated with depression, anxiety, or both. In such a state, it can easily happen that life starts to feel colourless and meaningless. We just get up and do it again, going through the day. Rinse and repeat. Sometimes we rationalize, and tell ourselves that things will get better—but often we can be vague on how exactly that will happen. We may engage in magical thinking—“Any day now, things will get better.”
However, for things to actually get better, it’s essential for us to acknowledge that we’re in a rut. This is something that we may need to face with real compassion for ourselves, as it can be easy to go to a place of self-blame and regret, which can suck away our emotional energy. Instead we need to do what we can to focus our energy to move beyond this stuck place.
Taking It Deeper
To find the courage to acknowledge that “I’m in a rut” means accepting that life might not be what I want it to be at this point. To get beyond that, and begin to fix the problem may require going deeper, as /a-midlife-transition affirms. It may be essential to ask oneself why am I in a rut?
Part of the answer to that question may be “We’re in a pandemic.” However the sense of being in a rut may also relate to a number of bigger questions, such as;
- What parts of life have genuine meaning for me?
- What are the major sources of stress in my life?
- What am I doing in my life, just because I don’t want to feel that I’ve wasted the time or energy that I’ve invested in it?
- What parts of myself have I yet to explore?
I was eventually able to find ways to preserve blocks of time for my creative writing. Just as importantly, I was able to re-connect with my motivation for writing in the first place, and to recognize that it’s a very fundamental and very important part of me. I don’t see any Pulitzer Prizes for me in the near future, but that’s okay: the writing allows a part of me to be alive that doesn’t otherwise get to surface, and, for me, that’s precious.
I can’t go out to “my cafe” to do the writing, but I’ve found some simple rituals to do that mark my change from “being a therapist” time to “creative writing time”. Changing location, and putting on specific music are two of the several things that mark that transition.
A number of clients have had similar experiences in breaking out of a rut during the pandemic. This has often involved individuals finding new ways to acknowledge and honour what has lasting value in their lives, and to explore the parts of themselves that are seeking to emerge, even in the midst of a pandemic. Breaking out of a rut can certainly be in service of the journey toward wholeness.
Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,