Content Warning/Disclosure: I am not a mental health professional. This blog post does not contain any expert or qualified advice; rather, it is an exploration of my feelings as a public library professional during a pandemic, and how I personally am starting to manage those feelings. There will be things like quotes from Mr. Rogers! This post is not intended to educate or inform anyone else’s approach to their own mental health.
Last year a friend passed along some wise words that I’ll never forget:
What if there is room for every feeling?
I don’t know about you, but my body is home to a host of feelings right now – some of them completely contradictory! I feel…
- Worried about the world.
- Overwhelmed by information overload.
- Stressed over how many needs there are to meet and how much work to be done.
- Fearful for my friends and family.
- Anxious for my own health.
- Lonely without my teammates and friends.
- Adrift without my usual routine, yet…
- Grateful my library is now closed and staff are being compensated, yet…
- Guilty we are closed. Which is weird because I truly believe it’s safer for our staff and communities this way, yet…
- Disappointed we were one of the last libraries in the area to close, yet…
- Proud of connecting so many patrons to resources over the extremely busy weekend and touched by their stories.
- Inspired by ways library professionals are supporting each other and their communities, yet…
- Irritated by how long everything takes in library land, and…
- Ashamed I don’t have more to contribute, like helping translate library resources into multiple languages.
- Frustrated with the delay from ALA, and…
- Confused about what the lane is for libraries right now, and…
- Wondering what my role is as a driver in that lane?
- Thankful and fearful for food workers and emergency responders and essential services folks (like my sister) who are keeping the world running.
- Heartened by how communities are coming together and how people are finding ways to support each other (from a safe social distance!)
- Hopeful that this time will lead to much needed, permanent legislation getting passed like paid sick leave.
- Furious with how some people (and some of them very powerful people) are disregarding the safety and lives of marginalized people (e.g. people with disabilities, people of color)
- Bitter over ableds getting accommodations right now that are routinely denied to people with disabilities.
- Sick to my stomach with worry about schools closed and children being sent to unsafe homes.
- Hopeful that schools and teachers, whose value is unquestioned right now, will be better appreciated and receive better support in the future.
- Powerless when I think about all the things.
- Powerful when I focus on what I *can* do.
I read somewhere once that feelings are like toddlers: they have to be acknowledged and they aren’t very good at waiting. For the past few weeks I’ve tried to put off my feelings by saying “Just a minute!” or “Not right now!” or “I’m busy, come back later!” This stalling strategy can only work so long before, like a toddler, my feelings explode – maybe in a panic attack, maybe in a debilitating migraine. The longer I put them off, the louder they call for my attention – and the more furious they become.
Mr. Rogers once said:
Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.
Now that they’ve been acknowledged, I’m making a promise to my feelings that we’ll talk more and I’m setting aside specific blocks of time. Some of these feelings I’ll chat with alone, some I’ll talk through with others, and some of them I won’t go anywhere near without the help of a qualified mental health professional.
Here’s a three-part questioning strategy from Warren Berger that’s made an enormous difference in my life:
- What If?
This is a problem-solving and creativity formula, but I’m going to try applying it to my feelings now and see if I can’t use those feelings to drive some constructive, productive choices. And I’m going to start with my anger, because like YA author Mark Oshiro says:
Anger is a gift. Remember that… You gotta grasp onto it, hold it tight and use it as ammunition. You use that anger to get things done instead of just stewing in it.
Or like Mr. Rogers asks, what do you do with the mad that you feel? 😂
Here are some ACTUAL mental health resources specifically relating to COVID-19:
Library friends, how are you feeling? What’s helping you manage and keep moving right now? Would love to connect in the comments below or anytime on Twitter. If you’re interested in this topic, I recommend following #LISMentalHealth and joining in the Twitter chat next Thursday, March 26th at 9PM EST/6PM PST!