What I learned in quarantine: patience
Now more than ever before, I have found myself with a fuse shorter than imaginable. I am a ticking time bomb, eager to be set off preemptively. Harmless slights from my siblings lead to prolonged campaigns of verbal exodus consisting of every insult in the book and insignificant disagreements with my parents are the catalyst to what seems to be the next world war. It’s a marvel no one in my family has had some type of mental breakdown resulting from the compounding stress and anxiety being generated like electricity from a turbine of anguish.
I have been on the brink of losing it quite a few times since this all began. I get into these moods. It happens intermittently, maybe about once every 2 - 3 weeks. And similar to the tide, the intensity of the wave that carries my emotions oscillates violently. These moods translate into episodes in which I just shout about all of the little things that have been eating away at me.
As these moods swallow me up, I feel as if I’ve been thrown into the ocean accompanied by a sack of bricks to help weigh me down. My natural buoyancy isn’t enough to keep me afloat, and so I’m pulled deeper. Without any semblance of what’s pulling me down further, I become disoriented. As what feels like dark, cold saltwater fills my lungs I scream out. I try to remain conscious in an attempt to construe why I’m drowning, why it is that I am so distraught.
Even as I eventually breach the surface, as suddenly as I was pulled to the depths, I struggle to understand what sequence of events, emotions, ebbs were to blame for my episode.
As I said, I haven’t been able to figure out what it is that drives me into the aforementioned moods. I’m not familiar with some dogmatic approach like the scientific method to better grasp the probably neurological devices facilitating my episodes.
One virtue, however, has served as a floatation device. This virtue, patience, has kept me afloat at times when I was bound to have another episode. It should be made clear though, I am not describing inherent patience. The patience I speak of is learned, conscious and seemingly tangible. It’s easily attainable, though upkeep requires effort.
It can be difficult, remaining stuck in our homes, virtually experiencing the same thing day in and day out. We begin performing familiar tasks, latching on to whatever brings us closest to that sense of normalcy, of a routine. These de facto routines that keep us from what seems like dying of boredom become monotonous and to an extent create faulty faculties of comfort. Once we’re accustomed to these routines, even the slightest deviations caused by external factors (i.e. a younger sibling rudely disrupting your mid-afternoon nap) can feel catastrophic. We’re snapped back into our current (and indefinite) reality, losing grip on those routines that ensured we kept pace.
That’s where patience steps in. It acts as that intermediary, a breath before the yelling ensues and insults are hurled. It reels us in, offering a moment of clarity to decide whether the battle is worth fighting, if there really is a battle that needs to be fought at all.
That insight, that awareness that creates those brief pauses for patience to intervene are only half of it. We may learn that skill, but we still have a conscious decision to make. It requires willpower to deliberately take what’s commonly known as “the high ground.” I’d prefer to refer to it as a willful election of an alternative to conflict. I don’t think there is anything immoral about expressing human emotion (even if it may come in the form of shouting), so to call it “the high ground” would be an admonishment of those who choose to share their feelings in a more passionate manner. By resorting to that willful election we reaffirm that ability to defuse conflict and dissipate tension.
It would be quite ignorant, foolish even, of me to place the responsibility of being patient on a single individual in an entire household. It goes in either direction, and just as we must practice patience we should be able to expect it in return. However, to think that the principal incentive of practicing patience is for oneself contradicts the act of willfully electing something other than conflict; as conflict requires more than one. This means that our attempt isn’t to become more virtuous or pious than those around us, but instead to guide those we reside with in being more thoughtful when interacting with one another — even if that requires taking the first step. That first step is practicing patience with others even if it isn’t reciprocated.
Patience is a virtuous cycle that pays dividends in an invaluable, intangible currency. A currency that cannot be spent, yet is typically worth more than the value we assign it. It is best we hold on to it though, so as we continue on in these times we have something to keep us sane when facing total and utter uncertainty.