The first time I ever heard this phrase was my sophomore year in high school. It was written on a note and clipped to a stack of late work I needed to complete for Mrs. Thompson, my English teacher. That’s all the note said, “This too shall pass,” in her very unique, cursive handwriting.
My 10th grade year was difficult and, as I look back, also a pivotal year for me. I came down with mono during the winter of that year and missed 4 weeks of school. I was jaundice, my spleen was enlarged, and I couldn’t walk up a flight of steps without stopping to rest on the way. Needless to say, teachers had to send all my assignments to my house.
Then, in May of that year, I had an accident and was badly burned over 30% of my body with 2nd and 3rd degree burns. I spent almost two weeks in a burn unit, and the rest of the summer recovering. I will never forget picking up my incomplete work from the high school office that summer and reading the note from Mrs. Thompson clipped to the top of the pile.
Mrs. Thompson was definitely not a warm and fuzzy kind of teacher. She was a very good teacher, who I respected immensely, but she maintained a professional distance from her students. So, I think that note, was her way of saying, “I see you. I know it’s been hard, but this is not your forever. You will come back from this.” It made me cry. While everyone else was feeling sorry for me, she just matter-of-factly told me that things would get better. End of story. She didn’t try to tell me when it would get better, how it would get better or how much work would go into getting better. She just assured me that the space I was in, would eventually be different.
That made sense to me. In my 16-year-old brain, I was worrying about things like having my summer ruined, not getting my driver’s license on my birthday, not being able to hang-out with friends, and wondering if I was going to be scarred forever. The well-meaning people in my life were filling me full of positivity, but I couldn't believe they knew what they were talking about. Mrs. Thompson didn’t do that, she just said, “at some point, this will not be a thing you worry about.” Ok, that I could believe.
Why do I tell you this story right now? Because I think everyone needs to hear “This Too Shall Pass.”
In my practice, I’m seeing a significant increase in anxiety levels this past month. I’m seeing more anxiety now than I did in April/May when we were all staying home. Why is it harder to maintain emotional equilibrium right now?
One, we’re growing exhausted with all things “pandemic.” We want to resume some normalcy. We want some hard and fast answers about when we can get back to our regularly scheduled lives. In a previous blog post, I talked about the anxiety that comes from not knowing. We would like a timeframe please and thank you. We’re weary of the unknown. The not knowing elicits a thousand questions-like how are we supposed to work if kids don’t go back to school? How can I work if daycares aren’t open? How am I supposed to work from home for one more minute with all these kids here? What if I get laid off again? The questions are endless, and the answers are scarce.
Two, since things have opened back up, we have to rely on the actions and kindness of strangers to ensure our well-being. For obvious reasons, lots of people no longer feel they can control their own safety or the safety of their family. I’ve seen this cause a tremendous spike in anxiety levels.
“This Too Shall Pass” has become a mantra in my life. No matter what challenging circumstance I was facing, this basic reminder was all I needed to take a breath and carry on. When my babies wouldn't sleep through the night, when potty training seemed like it would require some kind of magic spell, when my teenagers became moody and irrational-I knew it wouldn't last forever. I knew it would pass and we would move on to something else.
So, what I’d love everyone to do at this moment is take a breath and remind yourself that “this too shall pass.” We won’t be in this pandemic situation forever. Literally, everyone is trying to weather the same storm. Your kids aren’t going to fall significantly behind any other kids, or be irreparably damaged by not going to school or playing sports. Yes, it will be HARD for a while. Yes, they will be more unhappy, but they will recover. Let me tell you what the biggest predictor of your child’s mental health will be. The biggest predictor of how well your kids will navigate the next few months, is how well YOU handle the stress and anxiety it brings up for YOU.
Ultimately, our children learn from what we model, not what we say. If we freak out about what we’re going to do if they don't go back to school-they will freak out about it too. If we model good emotional regulation, we talk calmly about our feelings and we demonstrate healthy problem-solving that doesn't involve blaming or complaining, they will learn those skills as well.
If we can reinforce that this is hard, but it’s temporary, they will make the adjustment. Allowing your kids to hear you blaming governors, school boards or teachers won’t be helpful. Allowing your kids to see you anxious and angry all the time will create the same emotions in them. But, if you show them you’re able to verbalize your feelings while also finding solutions and providing reassurance-you will give them permission to feel disappointed, while also showing them how to be resilient.
I'm in no way saying this is easy or minimizing the very real struggle you feel. I'm encouraging you to stop resisting what is and accept the idea that it’s temporary. Resistance to reality ultimately breeds anxiety. Acceptance allows us to create space for what’s possible in this given moment. Controlling our own reactions is possible, teaching our kids resilience right now is possible, learning how to deal with uncomfortable emotions-anger, exhaustion, loneliness, sadness-is possible and a necessary life skill.
Will we all lose it once in awhile? Absolutely! It would be weird if you didn't. Have your moment, feel all the feelings. Then, remember this is temporary and trust in your ability to do hard things.
We’re coming into what will probably be a very difficult few months. Please seek out professional help if needed.
Know that I see your struggle. I know it’s hard, but this is not your forever. You will come back from this. “This Too Shall Pass.”