What a crazy world we are living in right now! If you’re like me, I’m finally starting to settle into a good COVID-19 routine, but I am really missing my friends, my co-workers, and being out and about. It’s been difficult for me to stay in a relatively small space all day (I see my clients, study, eat, watch TV, read, work, sleep, etc. all in the same place!) Before this global pandemic, I never would have imagined a time where going to the grocery store once every few weeks would feel like a luxury and a treat!
One thing has helped keep me excited and looking to the future during this quarantine. My boyfriend, John, is getting a new puppy this week! I am so excited for a cutie little furball to keep us entertained and bring some new amusement into our monotonous days. John is very committed to making sure this pup has a good home and is given lots of structure so he can learn and grow. This means lots of play, lots of training, lots of potty breaks, and lots of close supervision and patience. I didn’t grow up with animals, so this feels like completely new territory to me. Truthfully, it kind of seems like a daunting task, but I am also really looking forward to the challenge. It’ll be fun to see our efforts pay off as the puppy learns new things (you know I want to teach him to fetch and play dead). Plus, it’s not like we’re going anywhere anytime soon and this will be a welcome distraction.
To prepare for this little guy to come home, John and I have been watching lots of YouTube videos from expert dog trainers. Well, mostly John has, but I’ve been trying my best to do my share of puppy prep as well. In almost every video I’ve seen, the patient and understanding dog trainer emphasizes again and again that the puppies he’s training are just babies, many of them only on the earth for the past 10 weeks or so. Each video discusses how important it is to be patient with the pups as they’re learning. They don’t know how to regulate their bladders or what is and isn’t okay to chew on or how to self-soothe when they’re scared at night. When we pick up the puppy this week, I’ve committed to doing my best to remember that he’s just a baby and needs me to help teach him, give him structure, and help him understand how to interact with the world. He’s not a bad boy for getting off track or making mistakes, he’s just figuring things out and needs me to be understanding of that!
As I’ve been thinking about puppy training, I’ve thought a lot about how in a lot of ways, we, as humans, are just like these new little puppies, still learning how to interact with the world. Why do we expect to know how to handle a global pandemic? We’ve never experienced this before! Why do we expect to move quickly through eating disorder recovery? We’re just babies and haven’t dealt with something like this. Why do we expect to know how to engage healthily in romantic and other relationships? We’re still just newbies! Even if we’ve been facing challenges and issues for years, this is our first crack at being human and no one really gave us a blueprint as to how to do this and make it through all of the new experiences that will be thrown our way.
Brene Brown, a prolific researcher and therapist, talks about these first time experiences as opportunities to: normalize our emotional reactions, put things into perspective, and reality check our expectations (Brown, 2020). With a new puppy, I might need to normalize that it makes sense that he is having trouble understanding some commands and puppy training takes lots of time (and furthermore, it is normal that I am struggling to figure out how to teach him!) I might then put things into perspective by trying to think about how scary and strange it must be for the pup to be in a new home, without his brothers and sisters or mom, with a new routine and new people around him. Finally, I might reality check expectations that I have of this little furry baby. I might also reality check expectations I have for myself in being patient, attentive, regimented, etc.
During this uncertain time, I’ve found it extremely helpful for me to take some time to be gentle and patient with myself as I stumble through knowing how to be quarantined, work from home, etc. Hey, this is my first pandemic! Even though we’ve been at this for about a month now, I’m still trying to figure out a solid routine, keep myself productive, enjoy and embrace rest, and stay connected to my friends. I’m only 4 weeks old when it comes to dealing with pandemics, so I think I can cut myself some slack and offer myself oodles of grace.
This idea can apply to non-pandemic related areas of our lives as well. As stated earlier, this idea can even apply to things we’ve been working on and struggling with for years such as relationships, school, mental health, etc. Recognizing our relative youth and inexperience can help us be a little gentler with ourselves. Gentleness is not weakness or letting ourselves off the hook, in fact, I’ve seen gentleness be more helpful in propelling us forward than criticism and judgement ever have.
If you find yourself struggling through this pandemic, I am with you! It’s new to us and can be really overwhelming to navigate. If your to-do list is left undone, your exercise app left unopened, your dishes left unwashed, and your children’s “online learning” left incomplete …offer yourself some grace. You’re new at this pandemic thing…and new at this life thing! We’ll just keep trying and learning and soon we’ll get the hang of it. 🙂
Browne, B. (Producer). (March 19, 2020). Brene on FFTs. [Podcast]. Retrieved from https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-on-ffts/