When my alarm goes off at six AM, I begin my day following the same routine I created the first week of quarantine with the intention of bringing structure to my days. But just like yesterday and the day before, my energy level is not there, my body feels tired, and honestly, I really do not want to start my day. However, I push myself to get out of bed and put on my workout clothes, thinking that if I exercise like I usually do every day, my energy level will improve. I start running with my 11-year-old daughter who always comes with me on my morning run. As she talks excitedly the whole way, I find myself not even paying attention to her talking, because we have had the same conversation for the past week. My mind and body are not in sync. When we get home, I make breakfast for my daughter and my husband, who already is working at our dining room table. Afterwards I take a quick shower and then sit down in front of my computer to tackle my work agenda for the day. I start with telehealth appointments with Spanish-speaking patients in the morning, followed by participating in a live-streamed conversation about self-care and parenting at home to be broadcast all around the school district in my city. Then I continue with an afternoon of administrative work and reading some articles that need to be uploaded to a learning platform. In the midst of all this, my phone alarm has gone off 3 times to remind me to make sure my daughter doesn’t miss her zoom dance, piano, and school lunch time.
After staring at my computer screen, I soon realize that my run this morning did not change my mood very much and that everything I have done since last night and part of that morning I did out of guilt. I realize my sleep was interrupt by my teenage who I heard at 3 AM making himself a snack, but I didn’t make a big deal of it because I know he already has been going through a lot with his last months of senior year being stolen. Nonetheless, the noise of kitchen utensils was enough to interrupt my sleep and keep me awake for 2 hours in the middle of the night. I didn’t really feel like starting my day with a run with my daughter. But I decided to go to allow her to get some energy out, when in reality I wanted to run by myself.
My patient’s main stress was based on their own guilt, the guilt associated with leaving their job as a clerk in a supermarket due to the fear of being exposed to COVID-19 while having a vulnerable, immunocompromised family member. The guilt to continue working as a cleaning person at a hospital despite feeling sick because they can’t afford to stop working because of their limited income. The guilt of not being able to help their kids with their online schooling. I know of coworkers who feel guilty for being less productive at home, guilty about all the initiatives that have been frozen because of COVID-19 and have a sense of feeling inadequate in their job lately. Guilt was the main emotion arising, but no-one, including myself, was able to label it that way.
We all are trying very hard to do our best and to focus on others, but often forget to take care of ourselves, and to be honest with the emotion that motivates our action, guilt. So now what? Well for me, it has been relieving to recognize the emotion and label it. Once I was able to recognize that I was functioning out of guilt, I was able to express my needs. I was able to help my patients identify and name their guilt without judgement and acceptance. Setting better ways of self-care for themselves and their love ones. Recognizing that it was the guilt getting in the way of my coworkers’ sense of being productive. We all were doing a fabulous job based on the circumstances, but it was the guilt not allowing us to see that.
I invite you to take a moment and identify how guilt plays a role in your work and your personal life. If you label it and recognize it, you will find ways to improve your self-care, recognize your needs with more clarity, and help others as well. We need to be vulnerable and honest with ourselves as we all continue to learn the best ways to adjust during this rapid wave of change.