Writing When Crisis Hits

writing in crisis Mar 24, 2020

How are you doing?

Really. How are you?

That’s not just a polite question you ask a stranger at a party. I genuinely want to know how you’re holding up. I hope you’re doing okay, if not, that’s okay too.

I think most of us can agree the world is a frightening place right now. The thought of living without toilet paper is almost as scary as getting the virus. In times like this, fear and hope play hide and seek amongst reality.

I’ve been delaying writing about the current pandemic. Everyone has been weighing in. I wanted to have something helpful or encouraging to add to the conversation. 

I also like to show up after the original crowd of well-wishing supporters disappear. See, everyone is super supportive at the beginning of a crisis. But within a couple weeks, those helpful people vanish, never to be heard from again. And those are the moments when we need someone the most.

I’m sure most of you have endured the pain of losing someone dear. When a loved one dies, most of us have friends, neighbors, and family who surround us. They bury us in food, kind works, and “I’m here to help.” But three months later, when the house is empty and your heart is breaking from grief, you have to face all the pain and loneliness on your own because all those “call me if you need anything” people have gone back to their everyday life. Divorce and unexpected long-term illness situations are similar.

The loneliness is crushing. The overwhelm and unsettledness is crazy-making. But you know that. You’re living it right now!

Probably the most important reason I haven’t written is I’ve taken the last ten days to make sure my head is in the right place so I can support you.

This week I started posting on Instagram and Facebook. I’m going to do my best to share something encouraging with a simple step or practical to do each weekday until this crisis is over. If you don’t already follow me, you can find me @coachingwithjanel on Instagram and Coaching with Janel on Facebook.

As someone who suffered with anxiety most of her life, I spent years – decades – terrified a catastrophe like this would emerge. Now, it’s here. And while I’ve had moments that were unsettling, I’m remarkably calm.

See, after all that’s happened in my life over the last five months, isolating for a pandemic doesn’t seem like much.

I maintain perspective is everything.

In October, my son visited from Boston. He encountered something on his flight that landed me in the hospital with the scariest allergic reaction I’ve ever had. An additional reaction to the medication I was given put me back in the emergency room two more times with tachycardia and Guinness Book of Records-style high blood pressure.

Inconclusive tests and unhelpful doctor visits, along with typically recommended lifestyle changes, were useless with my already peculiar health conditions. Among other things, I lived with horrible fatigue. But it was the constant dread that tomorrow might go on without me that unsettled me the most.

Facing death squarely in the eye is scary business.

The health concerns of the last several weeks have given everyone a taste of mortality. As I watch the fearful posts on Facebook, interviews on the nightly news, and comments online, the world needs to step back and hope like never before. We might not make it out unscathed, but we can hold our heads high as we face what comes tomorrow. See? Perspective.

As writers, we have a voice. Each of us have unique perspectives and experiences. We have stories of pain and survival that the world needs to hear. We might be coping in a way that someone else doesn’t know or understand. Something we write might be the light they reach for to keep them from drowning.

Writers have been given a precious gift. We get to put our heart into words in a way that resonates with our readers. We get to articulate fear, pain, joy, happiness, and a thousand other emotions. Our readers get to nod and relax and breathe again because they finally named the feelings stuck in their throat.

It’s time to think about how we feel, what we know, solutions we’ve found, and what we see as a ray of hope. Once we’ve gathered those thoughts, we need to share them with our readers. We never know how our words can change lives.

If you don’t think you’re up to writing right now, that’s okay too. Jot down notes or feelings in a journal. Not everything we write or think should be published. But once you process all your thoughts and feelings, you will have powerful insights. Don’t force them, wait until you’re ready.

Here are a couple ways to help your readers:

Acknowledge the pain but focus on a solution. We all know how we are hurting. What we need is empathy and ideas to get us unstuck.

Speak life. TobyMac sang it best. There is enough scary, terrifying, chaos going on right now. Encourage those who listen to your voice. Give them a reason to keep pushing forward. Whether it’s today’s pandemic, the loss of a loved one, divorce, tragic illness, or 101 other things, share your story and offer them a glimmer of hope.

Be respectful. Each of us process grief, anxiety, fear, and hope differently. Be careful not to imply your way is the best or only way. Simply offer it as an option in a sea of other ideas.

Be nice. If you don’t have anything nice to say, think twice before you share it.

Our readers need to hear we care. They need to know we, too, feel what they are experiencing. The beautiful thing is we get to articulate it. We get to be salve to their soul.

Start small. If you don’t have a website or email list, share your thoughts in a post on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Never underestimate the power of a few words.

Our readers need to be reminded that grace still wins. Whether it’s communities banding together, helpful people taking care of the less able, or glimmers of sunlight, there is still goodness out there. Bullies don’t always win. Illnesses don’t always steal our loved ones. No matter what happens or how much heartache and pain we experience, there are lessons to learn and love to share. And for most of us, we will be here to see tomorrow.

Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t write. We’re not superheroes. We’re writers living life – and currently, facing a pandemic. Each of us write from a different well of creativity. Some thrive in chaos, others of us need time to process all we think and feel. Write when you’re ready.

As for me, I’m going to be okay. I’ve had to make radical lifestyle changes. But the payoff has been worth it. My fatigue is gone, my blood pressure seems to be behaving, I’ve lost 25 pounds, and a mild depression I didn’t know I had, lifted. So as long as I can get more toilet paper, I should be just fine.

I meant it when I said I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment here, comment on Instagram or Facebook, or write your message on TP and toss it my way. Let me know you’re okay, or not so okay.

And don’t forget to write.

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