Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Unseen


Earlier this week, I shared an article that did an accurate job of summarizing many of the challenges we as parents have endured through this arduous season of COVID-19. “COVID Parenting Has Passed the Point of Absurdity,” was it’s title and the full version can be accessed here. The decision fatigue. The ever-changing dynamics of policy and system. The lack of good options. It has all been so much. As I sit here writing this, I’m wearing the exact same outfit as yesterday (minus the underwear, which is fresh) because that felt exponentially easier than selecting new clothing for today. Yesterday’s style served me well, so why not wear it again and repeat? I don’t want to have to weigh options and decide even one more thing.  

There have been so many times over the past 23 months where I have had the desire to put some of my pandemic thoughts and struggles to the page, but stopped. What is it that gave me pause? Beyond a basic lack of time and energy was the root motivation that I didn’t want to create yet another point of contention. I didn’t want to rock a boat that was barely staying afloat to begin with. I lacked confidence that outwardly expressing my inner turmoil would result in anything more than additional hurt and pain. What if people judged me? What if they didn’t “get” it? What if they didn’t understand what I was saying? What if they couldn’t relate? Still worse, what if they disagreed with me? What if they thought I was crazy? 

The article I opened with hit on many of the “hot spots” living in a pandemic has brought to the surface. I would add to it another point of challenge that could use a little more air time. As I attempt to boil down my internal experiences of the last two years (about as simple a task as eradicating the virus itself), one word continues to come to the surface:

Unseen.

One of my deep longings is to be seen, known and understood. And when those three things are met, I’m well on my way to feeling accepted, a fourth desire that my humanity aches after. Though I have waded my way through many, many messy emotions over these past two years, I have a growing awareness that this has been a painful season of feeling unseen by many of those around me. With the severity of the divides in our nation right now, I imagine we can all relate to this feeling, though the angles from which we are experiencing it might differ. 

I looked up the definition of the word “unseen.” The dictionary describes it as not seen, noticed or perceived. Unobserved, invisible. Not known about by anyone. 

My obsession with language led me to research words that are considered nearby to the word, “unseen.” My search resulted in the following: imaginary, imagined, lurking, dark, undiscovered. “Imaginary” suggests that something is made up or unreal, which for a facts-obsessed person like myself, triggers all my insecurities about being considered crazy. But from this list it was the word “lurking” that really jumped out at me. When one is lurking, it implies they are here, but uninvited, an unwelcome presence in the shadows, one who doesn’t belong. Taken all together, when one goes unseen, a smallness is implied, which, if left unchecked, can rapidly evolve in a sense of being devalued or unworthy. 

There is no denying that COVID has changed our relationships tremendously, some for better, many for worse. Throw a bunch of humans who are just hanging on by a thread into a room for a couple of years and wish them well and they will inevitably begin clawing at each other in their desperation to make sense of the situation. How did we get here? Why are we here? How do we get out? When we aren’t mauling each other like angry caged animals, we are dividing into separate camps and turning our backs on each other, ignoring one another in frustration.

I have always been one to hold deep personal convictions and I have fought throughout this pandemic to maintain them to the best of my ability. I have a number of trusted sources that I have looked to for guidance and safety recommendations on a whole myriad of situations. I have gone to great lengths to operate by the books, sometimes obsessively, according to the best research I know to be available. The decisions have been endless. Pushing through these two years has involved weighing risk and risk tolerance on constant repeat. For a natural overthinker, this has been nothing short of sheer torture. 

My convictions, and perhaps yours as well, have required saying “no” a lot more often than “yes.” It’s no wonder relationships have suffered! Being told “no” stings, whether we are a toddler wanting a piece of cake we spy on the counter, or an adult wanting to plan a gathering like the pre-pandemic olden days. Our worlds have undergone a significant shrink. We see less people. We share tables with smaller numbers. We no longer participate in many regular activities we once held dear. And though these changes have taken place under the umbrella of safety, when it comes to relationships, it is hard to not take them personally. Whether we are on the receiving or giving end of less, when we no longer hold the space we once did, there are painful questions that rise to the surface. Do I matter, and, how much? 

I have found this to be true when my personal COVID-related convictions bump up against the convictions of those around me. Especially earlier on in the pandemic, I encountered pushback against my boundaries that surprised me. After doing years of work to find my voice, it became apparent rather quickly that, in this season, it felt far too exhausting to use it. It was full-time survival mode for all of us. 

I was ill-prepared for the new complexities I found in relationships, and after a few painful attempts at trying to explain myself, I shut down. Whether closing myself off was the best choice in a sea of not-good options, I will never know. But that's what happened. Rather than exerting more energy to defend my choices or express where I was coming from, or explore my root insecurities that were being triggered, I gave up. We were all operating in our own orbits of stress, and the tremendous gravitational pull of crisis and chaos prevented us from seeing each other and attempting to understand the places we differed. 

I choose to give us all the benefit of the doubt - if we hadn’t each been enduring our own significant shock waves of change, perhaps we would have been better able to see what those around us were walking through. But we didn’t. And couldn’t.

For me personally, rather than fighting for space to make an imprint, I accepted my seat at the table that went by the name, “Unseen.” It just felt easier.  

And yet, accepting this fate did not erase my longings. I want to make sense. I want others to know my motivations and heart. It comes down to that deep-wired desire I mentioned earlier - see me, know me, understand me. Perhaps, you can relate?

The disagreement, the tension. At times, it has made me second guess, taking yet another ride around the spin cycle. When my choices have differed from those around me, I’ve found myself asking a million times over, “Am I crazy? What is a reasonable standard to hold myself to? Someone please draw me a line. WHERE IS THE LINE!?” 

I am so very, very tired of it all. Of the awkwardness. Of the confusion. 

I remember expressing to my therapist at one point during the pandemic how I wanted someone to help make a chart for me that would divide my thoughts and perspectives into two columns: “Crazy” and “Not Crazy.” Could someone please just bring order to this madness? I have often felt like I have lost all metrics to help me make sense of where I land in this mess. 

My therapist did not oblige this request, a point I found rather vexing. Fire her! What use could she possibly be to me if she couldn’t help me categorize this chaos? Most annoyingly, she did not provide me with a one-size-fits-all pathway forward. She did not tell me what was right and what was wrong (again, fire her!) Rather, she challenged me to continue identifying my own personal convictions and stand confident in them, without looking for the affirmation and agreement of others. 

It has been a brutally painful process for me, making decisions that don’t always jive with those around me. It has meant standing out in a crowd at times (my worst favorite). Saying no when others dear to me say yes. Asking hard and uncomfortable things of others. I have hated every last minute of it. And wasted hours of my life agonizing over how my decisions might impact, disappoint, and bother those around me. 

I have to keep coming back to the fact that, at the end of the day, these hard decisions are rooted in a desire to do good by my community, look out for those at greater risk than I, protect my neighbors, and stand up for my beloved, tired, exhausted people in healthcare. “We” before “me.” Others won’t always take the time to parse out my internal motivators, and the reverse is true as well. 

I am working to connect the dots of my experience, I suspect a fairly universal experience, of sitting heads down while surrounded by people, at tables in front of place cards that read “Unseen.” As I process, the dots that once felt scattered across the page, clouded by storms of emotion, are beginning to make sense. I wonder how often our sense of value became intimately entangled where it shouldn’t have. When we feel unseen, a mere half step away is the experience of feeling unvalued. I am confident that none of us, in our modes of apparatus, set out with intent to communicate a lack of value to those orbiting around us. This was a result of our hunkering down into survival mode, doing the best we could in our own ways to push through what will likely be the greatest collective trauma our generation will face. 

Wow. It’s no wonder this season has deeply wounded us.

Feeling unseen is painful yet it is not the worst possible outcome. Where does this leave us? I imagine we could all tell our own story of the ways we have felt invisible or unnoticed during the past 23 months. What comes to mind is the old adage that the same input brings about the same output. We can’t expect a different result unless we change what we are putting in. I’ve been pondering what my pivot point might look like in order for me to break away from the pain I’m holding from feeling unseen. Others have failed to see me. I have failed to see. It’s inevitable in our world right now, is it not? 

Perhaps the movement I can make toward healing involves surrendering my desire to be seen by everyone around me. I was never promised this kind of knowing on this earth. Does this mean we should stop seeking to see each other? I should hope not. Does this make the hurt we have experienced OK? No. But we need not hold onto it forever. It isn’t serving us well. 

While many won't see us, I pray a handful will. I long for each of us to find small spaces where we are seen, known, understood, and safe. This takes hard work and showing up vulnerably, over and over, even when we’d rather just hide. And when these safe spaces let us down, as they certainly will, may we rest in the knowledge that we are known and seen and loved intimately by God. 

 “You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.”

~Psalm 139:1-3


May that be enough. 


4 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this Kelsie--I'm always so grateful for the way in which your words make me feel not so "unseen!"

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    1. XOXO solidarity! And thanks for saying so.

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  2. This really resonates. The phrase "greatest collective trauma our generation will face" rings so deep and true. We have been through some stuff and I think that the first step to healing is acknowledging that we have been deeply affected.

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posted by kelsie