A guest blog on getting past the 6-month wall, by Gary Gower, a wire fox terrier that likes to be heard.
A long time has passed since I wrote my first ever blog – my guide to life in lockdown. When I wrote it I didn’t realise that the corona virus would impact us all so significantly or for so long. Last week we hit a 6-month wall.
At the start of lockdown we were optimistic. I was delighted that I got better walks and the long evenings and the light mornings meant I got the best sniffs of the day. My PA got really busy providing more support and connection for her membership community, the Lucidity Network. We even had Zoom lunches where I got to wear a cravat and cheer people up just by being me! But then we got Zoom fatigue from looking at people and pets on a screen all day and we went into a decline.
That’s when my PA had a panic as her work is mostly training and conference speaking in rooms with lots of people. They stopped happening. She wasn’t going away at all. We were stuck at home alone and I missed seeing my friends at doggy day-care. We both got a bit grumpy and anxious.
I think this was when my PA started baking cakes. She made a different one every week to practice new recipes’, and feel she was learning new things. But that stopped in June when she said the cakes were making her clothes shrink.
Then we worked hard at optimism. My PA appreciated that she wasn’t spending much on petrol. We got lost on the common a lot as (my PA said she had to do 10,000 steps a day) and we appreciated discovering new tracks and bogs. I appreciated the volumes of stinky mud I got to roll about in.
We’ve definitely got to know each other better, and we have adjusted to a different life. My PA always has an online delivery booked in, and the cupboards are better stocked in case we get locked down. We do good walks and don’t get lost as much as before, although there has been less mud. We moved to a smaller house that apparently costs less and I have new neighbours to bark at.
But last week I’ve noticed my PA is back in a slump. I think she hit a 6-month wall. She’s got a kind of disinterested boredom. She said she has brain fog and is finding it difficult to concentrate. She’s talking about wading in treacle. She’s struggling to be motivated to do anything; work, relax, watch TV, read or do the washing up. At least she still gives me dinner and takes me for walks, but even that feels like an effort. I think her mood affects me. I sit on the top of the stairs with a sad face. Even my favourite toy, Christmas Pig doesn’t cheer me up.
I was listening to the radio and apparently there’s a thing called surge capacity.
According to Ann Masten, PhD, a psychologist and professor of child development at the University of Minnesota; Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems – mental and physical – that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.
However, she says that natural disasters usually occur over a short period and are visible. If there’s a hurricane or a flood you can look outside and see the damage. And according to my PA (dogs don’t have great sense of time passing) we passed the 6-month wall last week and there’s nothing visible – just an uncomfortable feeling of indefinite uncertainty.
Masten says. ‘It’s important to recognise that it’s normal in a situation of great uncertainty and chronic stress to get exhausted and to feel ups and downs, to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout.’
Basically we run out of steam. No wonder my PA is feeling it. Maybe you are too? Me, not so much as I’m a dog and I just roll with the punches, but my PA talks about a feeling of loss; loss of ‘normal’ life.
Gary Gowers tips to get past the 6-month wall
The ‘new normal’ is indefinite uncertainty. All the tips to help you adjust to life in lockdown in my last blog still apply. In addition, here’s some things that I’m working on with my PA to help her keep going for however long it takes.
Give yourself permission to feel what you feel
If you feel rubbish, disconnected and disinterested then that’s OK. You don’t have to be brave if you’re just not feeling it. Work on just accepting that’s how you feel. Give yourself permission to expect less. It’s OK if you feel like sitting on the sofa. It’s OK not to feel great. Accept that it is what it is for now. I just go and sit in my bed with Christmas Pig.
You can’t change the situation but you can change how you approach it
My PA said that 2020 had been a ‘sh*t show’. Acknowledge that and then find a ‘yes and’ to go with it. For example, ‘this year has been really tough but me and my PA have got to hang out a lot and go on some great walks with some brilliant mud which has been really great’. Don’t deny how you feel, and in addition to the gloom, see if you can find a positive ‘yes and’.
We all need to have something to look forward to. And lots of us have had big plans curtailed by the pandemic. (I was supposed to go and stay with my grandparents, who give me lots of treats and I was super disappointed). Don’t stop making plans for the things you enjoy doing. It helps to have something to look forward to. Even planning a walk with a friend can make a positive impact on your day. Recently my PA and me went canoeing to the pub with some friends. We looked forward to it, and it was a really super afternoon.
What things do you miss – and how can you recreate them?
We’re all missing things, holidays, coffee with friends, playing at doggy daycare. Jot them down. Are there things that you can adapt? For example, many people have told my PA that they miss the informal chats at work while making tea because all they do now are proper meetings. Can you start the meeting 10 mins early and everyone in the meeting make tea first to still have those chats? I miss when my PA used to leave me on my own when she had meetings, so I go and hide on my PAs bed and pretend she’s gone out.
Build your resilience bucket
Humans are resilient. You all have a full bucket and every knock back spills some resilience out of it. So its important to do things to keep the resilience bucket topped up and not let it get empty, because that’s when you burn out. Thankfully I’m one of the things that keeps my PA’s bucket topped up. She feels better after going for a walk or when she fluffs my beard up into funny shapes, or boops my nose. What’s your thing or things that help to build your resilience? And can you do them regularly so your bucket doesn’t get empty?
According to Masten, ‘The biggest protective factors for facing adversity and building resilience are social support and remaining connected to people. That includes helping others, even when we’re feeling depleted ourselves.’
I know that when I’m feeling grumpy I just want to sit on the top of the stairs on my own, but I know if I go for a walk, chase a ball, chew a stick and sniff other dogs that I feel much better.
Humans need to stay connected too and make a deliberate choice to do it. It can be easy when you have disinterested boredom to just go inside your own head. Be deliberate about stepping out of your own head and connect with others on a regular basis.
If you’d like help, support and connection to get past your 6-month wall, check out the Lucidity Network. My PA runs it. It’s a mix of training, learning and connection to a network of brilliant people to help you keep your resilience bucket full during the new normal uncertainty. You get to have the occasional lunch with me too. For more information and to join us click here.