I didn’t want to admit it to anyone, especially not to myself. For weeks I pretended that everything was alright and as it had been before. But down deep I knew something was very wrong. Losing my focus felt like I was losing my mind.
It was worse than death because I was living through it each moment of every day and could not escape its grip. My mind would wander and I would exert every ounce of determination and mental toughness I could muster to pull it back in. It was as though I was fishing off the pier and was attempting to reel in the biggest fish ever caught, only to have said fish bite through the line and laugh as I pulled up a piece of seaweed.
My sleep was affected first. Then the crazy dreams came and sleep no longer seemed as attractive. Even when I napped I would fixate on the colors and shapes I could see in my mind’s eye and believed I was seeing images that resembled a silent movie. Some of these little movies were innocent enough and others frightened me because I knew they had originated from my own thoughts so I would jump up and forego any rest I was going to get that day. A sleep deprived person gets off track very quickly, sometimes within 48 hours. I had lost my way and needed to find it again to make sense of what was happening around me and all over the world.
Of course, I’m speaking of the pandemic here. I think of it as “the situation” in my mind. The virus; COVID-19; the Chinese flu; coronavirus; the plague. Call it what you want (and I do not think it is racist to refer to something based upon where it originated) but it bore down on our planet and may be here to stay.
There are so many interesting and relevant stories I could share with you here. But I want to focus on losing my focus and finding my way back. This is my attempt to talk through the situation in my writing and to share with you what worked for me. Perhaps you will benefit from this, personally or by sharing it with a friend or family member.
The first morning I knew something was wrong, so very wrong was on Saturday, March 14th of 2020. I get up no later than five each morning, without an alarm of any kind and on that day my ceiling clock read 06:21 when I first opened my eyes. I sprung up out of bed, thinking it was Monday and I would be late for a Mastermind group meeting with people in Austin, Texas who prefer to meet at 9 am Central, which is 7 am for me.
But my head was pounding and my ears were ringing and I wasn’t quite ready to begin my day. I lay back down in bed and close my eyes and the next thing I know it’s after nine o’clock and the neighbor’s dog is barking. I sit up straight, recalling the earlier experience and realize it’s Saturday and I don’t have any appointments all day.
Every morning for many years now I have written at least a thousand words…for a book, a blog post, a product or course, or for something else. I didn’t write anything on that day and that alone took me deeper into a world where everything was fuzzy and nothing made sense.
I did my best to compartmentalize this new, unwelcome part of my life away from the rest of my daily activities. But this was only effective for short periods of time throughout the day. At other times I experienced what I told others was a “brief moment of sadness” but these moments sometimes lasted for several hours at a time. I thought of my mother, stricken with grief after miscarrying twins when I was five; she later told me she would try to put that into a box and close the lid to spend time with me and be grateful for the child she had, but it did not always work out that way.
My vocabulary, ever a challenge for me to grow and expand in my quest for personal growth became larger with words like positivity (the percentage of people tested for the virus who will test as being positive), asymptomatic (infected but not displaying even the mildest of symptoms), community spread (people passing the virus to others within a specific geographical area), and social distancing (maintaining a 6 foot – 1.82 meters – distance between yourself and another human). I learned that the term “social distancing” has a history that goes back over a hundred years.I find myself chanting out loud to “wear a face covering, physically distance from others, wash your hands.” My collection of masks and other face coverings grows; I hope that having a colorful assortment will make me feel more lively and alive. I keep my distance from all except for those in my immediate family. I wash my hands until they are red and raw. Early on I begin wearing disposable latex gloves everywhere I go, also in a variety of colors and these keep me more calm when I am away from my house. I order more online and share with those who want them.
This continued for several weeks, with only sporadic periods of productivity and joy, until I forced myself to snap out of it. Losing my focus was one thing; not being able to get it back again was something else altogether I did not wish to even entertain.
These are the steps I took:
I looked for volunteer opportunities appropriate for the new situation. The testing center at the college and the senior center welcome me and the service I continue to give to those who come in for help.
Brendon Burchard has mentored me since December of 2019. I took it to heart when he told me “If you are failing to implement something you already know you can do, your progress is limited to only what you know today. It’s time to look towards the future. How do you fully tap into your dream and find the motivation to pursue it?”
I started slowly with Brendon’s words of wisdom. I already knew I could wake up before five each morning and begin by writing a short email message to my online community before six o’clock. I learned about writing emails with military precision and these strategies stretch my thinking. The difficult part of what he asks of me to “fully tap into my dream and find the motivation to pursue it.” This sent me spiraling downward and focusing on the end of the world. I had to make a concerted effort to snap back to the present and dream of one day at a time.
I reminded myself of what I still had in my life that was not being directly affected by the situation at hand. My health, my family, my pets, my friends, my knowledge, my personality, my experiences, my life. Yes, my life has extreme value to me, during my advanced age more than when I was young.
As a younger adult I did not realize I was surrounding myself with people who would keep me from growing. By the time I did come to this realization I wasn’t sure how to handle it. Would I end my friendships and other relationships or simply take the steps that felt right for me and hope they would understand? I did neither. Then years went by, and decades and finally I was ready to reimagine my life. I reinvented myself from the inside out and that process is what I was able to draw upon when I needed to get back my life. Losing my focus was not a state in which I wanted to remain. Finding my way back again became the goal.
Meditation helped me to find my center. Beginning a meditation practice was awkward and unfamiliar at first. Then I settled into the quiet stillness and extended the time a little each day. During one of my sessions in solitude I could feel myself coming back to me. That may sound funny but it describes exactly how I felt.
I took control of my health by joining an Intermittent Fasting group and also an online exercise program. The combination of these resulted in weight loss, healthier numbers for cholesterol and blood sugar, and made me feel like I was in complete control of my health and my future. I began saying to others that I was changing the way I was eating and exercising as a way to save my life. My life includes my mental health but people don’t seem to want to discuss or acknowledge that as much as they do weight loss and a lower A1C.
Volunteering is like refereeing grade school basketball. Allow me to explain myself. During the twenty years I worked as a classroom teacher I had great joy spending time with my 5th and 6th grade students out on the yard at recess and after lunch, as well as during our physical education period. At some point I began to referee their games and the most fun we all had was when I was running up and down the asphalt court and blowing my whistle.
The other teachers teased me about this but I had this to say,
“I dare you to spend even ten minutes playing or refereeing a game and not completely escape any worries or problems you’ve dealing with in your life.”
A few of them took me up on my dare over the years and agreed that the focus required would not allow your mind to wander. I feel the same way when I’m volunteering in the community. It requires great focus and you are living in each moment with the work you are doing. Losing my focus and finding my way back again is part of my story now. It is my hope that I will be able to help others along their journey during this situation and beyond.
I’m Connie Ragen Green, someone who lost her focus and found her way back again during the situation, known more commonly as the pandemic. I’m fully tapping into my dream and finding the motivation to pursue it, always looking towards the future. Let’s connect and explore the new world together.
“Worry can become a self-perpetuating loop.”
~ Bill Harris (1950 – 2018), Founder of Centerpointe Research Institute
“Don’t worry, be happy.” ~ Bobby McFerrin