You get 5 seconds to feel afraid

Every single one of us is terrified. We’re all going to make a choice to let the fear in, let it take over, let it do it’s thing, but only for five seconds. That’s all we’re going to give it.

I don’t know about you, but when I watch a TV show, I imagine myself inside of the action. I’ve jumped out of a plane like Sidney Bristow (Alias). I’ve manufactured blue meth in an underground lab (Breaking Bad). I’ve strutted down the streets of Manhattan in pink Christian Louboutins (Sex and the City). And I’ve been a plane crash survivor on an island with a mysterious monster (Lost).

Isn’t that the point of fantasy? It pulls us outside of our mundane; we play out a different role in an unfamiliar set of circumstances.

This ain’t no fantasy

We’re all living in a reality we never wanted or could have imagined (except for those of us training for this by reading post-apocalyptic fiction for the last 10 years). Covid-19, or coronavirus, has completely changed life as we know it and as we like it.

We’re all struggling. We’re terrified about our health and the health of our loved ones. We’re afraid for our economic well-being. We’re wondering how we’re going to pass the time inside of self-imposed quarantines. We’re also betting on whether we’ll have any Facebook friends at the end of this.

And if we’re parents and managers, it’s not our own health we need to shepherd. Our children, employees, direct reports, colleagues—everyone is counting on US.

How do we model mental health at this time?

All of the schedules, and family activities and walks, and puzzles and games, are inspired by a terrifying need: To hold on to anything that feels familiar or solid. Think of a boiling ocean and a tiny raft. You’re trying to keep your balance while other people are clinging to YOU. How could you not be nauseous and terrified?

Experience tells me you need to feel it

I once had a life-threatening illness (it’s a long story; I’ll tell you about it later). I was struggling to keep any positive energy and was falling apart about once every hour. I had two little girls (four and two) and I was losing my grip. Seriously. I felt like I was going insane.

I was talking to my sister and she said, “Remember that time in LOST when Jack tells Kate about a surgery he screwed up and how he managed his fear? He told her you have to count to five and then you have to keep going. You get to count to five every single time you’re overwhelmed, and then you have to keep doing what you’re doing. You get five seconds—one, two, three, four, five. And then you keep moving ahead.”

What Jack actually said was, “The terror was just so crazy. It was so real. I knew I had to deal with it. So I just made a choice. I let the fear in, let it take over, let it do it’s thing, but only for five seconds. That’s all I was going to give it.”

That’s all we’re going to give it. Then we’re going to count.

Jack says to Kate about his own terror during a surgery, “So I just made a choice. I let the fear in, let it take over, let it do it’s thing, but only for five seconds. That’s all I was going to give it.”

Falling apart is okay; limit it

It’s okay to fall apart. We’re all totally freaked out. This is uncharted territory. The terror is real.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, when the waves are crashing on you, when the ground is unsteady beneath your feet, you have five seconds. Count them—one, two, three, four, five. Then keep going. Because if you let your mental health fall apart, you can’t be the person that your employees and your children need to lean on in this tiny raft.

I hope you have what you need for physical comfort. I hope you’re not alone and you have people in your life who are asking how you are. I’m sure you’re checking in with them. Most importantly, check in with yourself. If you’re feeling IT, let it move through you. For five seconds. One, two, three, four, five.

We’re all counting together.

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