Post #10: Owning Up
Updated: Dec 8, 2021
As I've mentioned before, I work at a public library. Today I spoke with a lovely older gentleman who wanted to thank us for providing "peace and a whole lot of books" while everyone is dealing with COVID.
I thanked him gracefully, as one does, when one does customer service. But the truth is we're all burned out around here. Libraries are a microcosm of the greater world. Angry people come into the library looking for someone to be angry at. Right now, since there's a mask mandate in my home state, the people who come into the library are mad about wearing masks. People swear at us, yell at us, complain at length to us, ignore us, and pretty much force us into a mean-babysitter role.
We're tired. We're worse than tired; we're burned out.
The symptoms of burnout are the same as those for depression: poor sleep or too much sleep, fatigue, lack of interest in things you used to enjoy, moodiness, quick temper, feelings of hopelessness, feelings of anxiety or lack of self-worth. If you hear yourself in that lineup, well done! You're not a sociopath. You are, however, miserable.
Experts and specialists and talk show hosts are all saying things like, "practice mindfulness!" (A phrase that drives me bonkers, by the way.) Also, "be good to yourself!" And "take care of your health!" And "get enough rest!" And whatever else, with an exclamation point after it. COVID is the exclamation point illness.
The truth is, we'd all love to be good to ourselves and take care of our health, but right now there's no place in this world that isn't stressful. That's how it can be, sometimes: you can't make the pain go away, all you can do is learn to live with it. And (to the best of your ability) keep your cranky to yourself.
I've done a lot of thinking during this whole COVID thing about how people respond to stress and pain and fear. I think there are only two avenues of approach: you either take it out on others, or accept it into yourself. And I don't think the path is determined exclusively by your childhood, or role models, or even your faith. I think it has to do with whether you can stand to look at yourself as you really are.
Self-reflection is always the harder road. Nobody wants to think about why they do awful things. Nobody wants to think of themselves as capable of awful things. But we hurt others - and ourselves - all the time. The capacity and willingness to own that is the difference between selfishness and clarity, between immaturity and realization. You don't get true love without truth.
There's a Proverb that goes: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life." (It's Proverbs 13:12, actually.) I'd say we're all at the sick-at-heart stage, barring the sociopaths, and there are so many desires - noble ones, necessary ones, legitimate ones - that we're waiting for, sometimes desperately. So it's a tall order to stop for a bit of self-reflection.
Do it anyway. Don't stay in the "takes it out on others" group. We've a ways to go, yet; let's help each other get there.