When the Running Stops: Working Through The Anxiety of a Pandemic. An essay by Beth Adoette

She’s back! The little girl that I was once encouraged to visualize when I felt really anxious. She is about eight years old, always eight years old, an age which must have been a bad one for me for still only partially understood reasons. She is running. She is always running. For fifty years she has run in the same, tight little circle on an old wooden ship deck trying to keep her balance on an unpredictable sea. And she screams, too. At least that is what it looks like. I am not entirely convinced I have ever heard her, but she is definitely screaming. No words, just one long scream. Eyes shut tight. Mouth wide open. Hair flying wildly in the damp salted air.

And this terrified little eight-year-old has a twin. The twin runs, too. But this sibling is not on the boat. She runs on a little sandbar that appears far off shore at low tide.

The girls haven’t visited me in a while, in a long while. Or is it that I have not visited them?
I first met them about ten years ago when my psychologist, and friend, asked me to personify the anxious the part of me that sometimes surfaced during stressful times. They are wiry little waifs, much like what I think I was like at that age. Since then, their only intent in life is to run. They never stop. Never say a word. Never grow up. Just run.

I don’t see these girls often. Haven’t seen them in years. But I am in covid-19 self-isolation which has forced me to sleep alone, in a second story apartment building, far away from the ground that I so desperately need to touch. Here, the girls have visited twice.

I have been doing very well over the past ten years after making changes and leaving a very stressful marriage. I am happy with my life. But when I start to get anxious, I can still feel the instinct to run. I keep an empty suitcase near my bed to remind myself that I do have the power to flee if I so choose. But I don’t use it. When I feel stressed, I get in the car and go to the ocean. Or walk. Swim laps. Do something to keep moving.

But here inside these four walls of self-isolation, day 11, waiting for my sore throat to go away and my partner’s covid-19 test results to come back, I have looked at the suitcase a couple times. But there is nowhere to run. Not this time.

Twice during this isolation period the girls have woken me up. Still running. I never encourage them to stop. I don’t interfere. They obviously really, really need to run and scream. I give them the space they need, even if the space they choose is very small, especially the twin on the old, wooden boat.

But today, the girl on the boat stopped! After five decades, she stopped! She was tired. So tired. She found a dark place on the deck and just sat down. I can’t envision her very well, but I know she is sad. She is quiet. She wants to stay in the dark. I am not sure if she wants to rest or wants to hide, but she has definitely stopped.

The other twin has stopped running, too! But she is walking. Slowly. Her path is not the repetitive circular path in the sand as before. Now she follows the irregular edges where the land and the ocean meet. She appears contemplative as she slowly walks looking at her feet, but I know that she is not really thinking of much. She, too, is completely worn. But she is walking. One foot in front of the other.

I like to think this twin is in a much better position than her sibling on the boat. The boat would appear to be a safer place than the completely exposed sandbar. But an old, wooden boat on the ocean is not really a false sense of security at the mercy of the waves. The little girl on the sand, who actually seems a little older to me now, has room to change direction and walk. She can see new things. Beautiful things.

I know her sandbar will disappear when the tide comes in. A choice will have to be made. I am not sure what she will do when the tide changes, but she has become strong from running. Strong enough to swim to shore if she chooses.

I didn’t realize, ten years ago when I was feeling so trapped and unable to see a different life for myself, that I had created a personification of choice through these two little eight-year-old girls. Both twins have run the same amount of time. They have run long enough. They are stronger from all the running and both have the same choice to swim to shore.

My boyfriend said to me that when this is over, the pandemic, it will all be different. It will be like starting all over again. I think he is right. In this uncertain time it feels like the tide is rising far too quickly and we can’t see the shoreline we so desperately need to see. But it is there. Somewhere. I am going to be that twin on the sandbar and change direction, swim for shore, and look for things. Beautiful things.


Beth Adoette is an artist and writer working in the field of Eco-Art Therapy. She lives in New England near her children, grandchildren . . . and a sandbar. http://www.bethadoette.com

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