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Life & COVID
March 24, 2020
The First Time Is The Worst Time

Megan Rafuse

A cup of coffee with the words "Begin." printed on cup placed on an empty table.

Trying Something New

For many of us, this week has been like no other. Today, I’m on day 9 of social distancing and it feels as if there is no end in sight.

While I am grateful to be healthy and able to do my part to flatten the COVID-19 curve, I can’t help but to feel challenged by this situation. Like many of you, I am noticing my mood change frequently throughout the day as I engage in a multitude of activities to fill my time.

This morning I woke up feeling really anxious and my thoughts were racing.

Will this ever end? Will I have to cancel my summer wedding? Will my family get sick? Am I running the business in the best way? Am I making good choices? How am I going to get through another day staring at a screen for hours on end? They went on and on.

I channeled every CBT skill I could muster to challenge those racing thoughts. It felt too overwhelming so I switched tactics and instead focused on changing my behaviour to help stop my racing thoughts. I put on my running clothes. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, I decided quickly that today would be the day I start a morning walking routine for exercise and most of all to keep me mentally well. I decided that every morning I would leave my house within an hour of waking up and get a long walk in with the dog.

Today would be day one.

I must admit that a few things were in my favour today. First, it was a beautiful sunny morning. If it had been raining outside like it was yesterday, I would have quickly challenged the idea and likely went back to scrolling Instagram from my bed. These situational factors helped to solidify my decision today, thankfully. Also, my dog really needed a walk.

Off I went outside my front door, across the lawn and started high-tailing it down sidewalk. I had nailed this walking thing, I thought initially. For the first two minutes I was feeling empowered; however that was short-lived as my mood quickly switched overwhelm and anxiety.

I noticed these emotions increase as I walked past moms and their children, shaming myself for every step thoughts racing. I should not be walking at 10am. I should be working on the business. I picked up my pace, surely I have to justify my new walking habit and ensure I get enough steps in. My Fitbit was glowing orange and my heart rate was up. Suddenly, I  had a great idea! I can buy fresh flowers and make this walk have an actual purpose. Success!

Turns out, everyone else had the same idea I did so the fresh-cut flowers at our local market were all sold out. I learned this after spending 5-minutes waiting patiently outside the front entrance of our favourite local market, abiding by their new one person in a store at a time policy.

I left the store frustrated and annoyed at myself for wasting my own time. What was the point of that? Why did I waste time and get sweaty walking? This doesn’t even count as fitness. I’m so stupid…

Then, on the way home I turned on Brené Brown’s new podcast, Unlocking Us, that I had been eager to start. Hind-sight is 20/20 and I’ll tell you why. In the first episode, she shares a concept called FFT which stands for F****** First Time. Instantly this strange walking experience felt empowering. This is my first time going for a daily walk so of course it feels weird, awkward and uncomfortable. Thanks Brené!

And then I walked home with a little more pep in my step.

This podcast was just what I needed. A reminder that things won’t always feel easy. Brené shares commentary on how “being new at something is the epitome of vulnerability” and that “the only way to get through the other side of the discomfort of being new is to push right through the middle”. I felt this on my walk. I felt myself wishing that I was already good at this walking thing. That had I been walking for months this wouldn’t have been an issue. I wanted to rush through the discomfort of not already being good at this, but unfortunately that is not an option. The only options I have are to either sit in the feelings, keep going for a few days and allow myself to be uncomfortable or quit.

Honestly, more often than I’d like to admit I choose the option to quit.

I’m challenging myself to keep going. To name and feel the awkward feelings and keep trying. Brené shares that in her research she has seen that “sometimes we all get so afraid of the vulnerability that we actually stop trying doing anything that we are not already good at doing”. While tempted to hop into that club, I need to keep growing. Feeling this discomfort ensures that I am moving forward. It’s the hard mental work that will allow me to find movement.  In allowing myself to feel these uncomfortable feelings I will conquer them and continue on a healthy and helpful pattern. I’m looking forward to see what not quitting after the first time feels like. It’s been a while.

My inner-dialogue on my morning walk gave me some time to consider what each of us are going through right now. Not only are we facing a pandemic for the first time, but many of us are experiencing new routines, trying new hobbies and being faced with new information almost constantly. For those of us switching to video therapy, our usual support of in-person therapy to manage these new situations is also new. It’s almost like a compounded FFT.

That’s hard. But not impossible.

Brené tells us “when we name and own hard things it gives us power” and right now that power can go a long way. Be mindful of those expectations you bring to therapy, or anything you are doing, name them and keep engaging. Those uncomfortable feelings related to first times will dissipate and those activities we are trying will become less difficult or awkward and begin to feel good.

Kind of like how my walking habit will become easier and start to feel good eventually. Let’s name it for what it is- the first time is the worst time! I’m committed to moving through my FFTs. I hope you are too!

I swear everything I absorb from Brené makes me feel confident and powerful. If you want some reading recommendations, I suggest Dare To Lead and Daring Greatly for those of us trying to support others, and ourselves in this difficult time.

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