We need to give ourselves — and each other — a whole lot of credit for how difficult our “simple” daily decisions have become. It really is no wonder that we are emotionally exhausted. For those working from home, we may feel some increased freedom over our choices of pants at meetings … but other than that, so many seemingly simple daily calculations have taken on far-reaching and sometimes overwhelming implications.
We have faced many simple — but not so easy — decisions over the past year, from when to put on a mask to who we touch and where we travel. Many have made these choices based on principles of importance to them, but we all get fatigued, and sometimes our choices become inconsistent. The hardest part is the sheer magnitude of how often we must make the same decision over again. We choose to wear a mask today in one setting, and then are faced with three different settings the next day, each with varying characteristics from the (possibly) clear-cut decision of the day before. Some decisions are agonized over, and some are quick gut-feeling choices. Some of the smallest decisions can carry the weightiest consequences, and we all carry this fact on our shoulders.
I have noticed the most difficulty within relationships — when our decision-making means something different to another, based on our diverging beliefs about public health measures or the degree of risk in our community. All the way from avoiding someone “like the plague” when taking neighborhood walks, to canceling a much-anticipated family visit — feelings get hurt easily when there is lack of agreement about the right course to take.
Mental health has been a major concern in our community as the pandemic has impacted our psychological well-being in so many ways. Seeking to meet our own mental health needs — or the needs of our loved ones — may sometimes come at the expense of following public health directives. These are difficult decisions, made daily, where we set our boundaries of what we can handle, and what we feel we cannot.
Judgment of others throughout the whole process is a stressful shared experience we are also facing. We cannot control the decisions of any human other than ourselves, no matter how much influence we have. And — perhaps more importantly — we cannot know another’s reasons for their actions. Because of this, we make assumptions. First, we think about what it would mean if we took the same action, which introduces motives that may not be present in the one we are judging. We make a conclusion about their behavior based not on their unique context and values, but our own. Then we determine what we will do with our judgment — whether we take action by communicating with the person or communicating about the person in question. Though passing judgment on others is not a pandemic-specific issue, the number of times I feel internal conflict because of judgment has drastically increased since COVID-19 started spreading in the United States.
Whether or not to go to the office, shop at the store, enter a restaurant, or visit a friend … these decisions never held a life-or-death connotation in my mind prior to this year. Now, every errand, every church meeting, every time I enter a building — I carry with me a seed of dread and worry. Honestly, these days the seed feels dried-up and dormant. The months of fiery fear in bloom have passed, and a hopeful spring on the Palouse has led to a quiet hibernation of this particular type of anxiety.
I do wonder how this seed will impact the rest of my life — my choices and decisions, my valuing of relationships and gathering. When we come to a place one day where we truly can say the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, these months will have shaped us. Much of this is out of our control, but I would encourage each of us to be aware of the sheer number of hard decisions we make daily. When we recognize and name this exhausting set of challenges we all face, we can give each other more grace and support when we feel disappointed by decisions made. As always, we are truly in this together.
Amanda Palmer lives in Moscow with heramazing husband, four fantastic children, two feisty cats, and one adorable gerbil. She is adoctoral student in the University of Idaho College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, focusing her research on positive youth development.