During these unchartered waters in our collective human history, you suddenly find your spouse or partner, your kids, your work, everything at home with you. Whereas you may have constructed boundaries before, boundaries are now blurred or non-existent. This can be overwhelming for everyone, but for twice exceptional adults – on top of all the usual struggles; intensities, perfectionism, anxiety, executive functioning difficulties, and the traits and characteristics they struggle with that perhaps their children also struggle with, all magnify the tension and stress. Moreover, if you are an introvert or an extrovert, you also have coronavirus-unique stressors. Let’s take a look at how social distancing and family converging affect the twice exceptional adult.
Rigidity and Perfectionism
Our time right now is like a bad combination of the Twilight Zone, Stephen King’s novel, The Stand, and Groundhog Day; we can’t get away from it. The challenges are all day, every day.
During this time, 2e characteristics can become exacerbated. If you are a black and white person, rigid, inflexible and challenged by a lack of structure, you are likely flailing a bit right now. It’s difficult to set up structure for yourself and work, for yourself and home responsibilities and for your children. Rigidity can cause you to dig in your heels, to hinder your ability to go with the flow and to lean in to changing directives. All day long we are dealing with uncertainty; from the government, from work, from school, from health care. This can be extremely uncomfortable for someone challenged by change and transitions.
The “Now What”
Take a moment and allow yourself to wallow in the uncomfortableness. Ask yourself why the lack of structure and the unknown is so uncomfortable for you. Then roll up your sleeves and start to “structure up.” If you are at home with kids, sit with each one and discuss important everyday goals: getting outside, exercising, eating healthy foods, sleep, schoolwork, creative outlets. Help them set a daily schedule and remember, even if you put times down on a schedule – undoubtedly the times won’t be exact. Be okay from the outset at letting go of everything (or anything) going perfectly. Know that you can take note of what didn’t get done today and it can be a priority tomorrow.
This same type of structure can happen for you and your spouse/partner regarding work. Remember, you WILL be interrupted a bunch of times. If you get angry, raise your voice or say something you might regret, this time will become very frustrating for everyone and you may hurt your relationships. This is the long-haul people; it’s not going to end next week or maybe even next month; so, pace yourselves. Take a deep breath – literally practice breathing to give your body and brain the reboot it needs to deal with frustration. I like to call this “settling the snow in your snow globe.”
Then, each morning, make a list of “absolutely must get done today” and things that would be nice to get done. Do this for work, home and family. Practice self-forgiveness and self-love. I can tell you right now, you will not get everything done that you want to, plan to, or even think you need to. But guess what? Everyone is in the same situation. If you have kids, give them a break too. Literally the three priorities should be outdoor time, exercise and doing something for someone else. Mental health comes before school or work. That last one on the list, doing something for someone else, may include calling a grandparent, or helping with something around the house. It is important to feel as though you can make a difference and that you are a part of something and connected to people around you.
For family priorities, try to plan a minimum of having dinner together and one activity – whether it’s a quick card game, reading or hanging together outside, it’s important to set intentions in order to participate in the most important family bonding activities. For spouses/partners, setting time to be together and sharing thoughts/fears but also telling each other that you recognize this stressful time and that you plan to give each other the benefit of the doubt when your snippy side comes out.
You are likely hearing from everyone that you need to create structure for yourselves and your kids. If you have executive functioning challenges, you likely have no idea where to start or how to prioritize. Everything seems important. The sheer overwhelming nature of what to do when, and how long this will last serves to paralyze us.
The “Now What”
First and foremost, forgive yourself. Everyone is struggling. Then decide on ONE thing that has to be done in the realms of work, school, family time. One thing. For example:
|Answer emails||Math||Family walk|
Another way to think of this is by naming Priority Categories and listing what activities fall within each category like this:
|Jogging||Garden||Call a friend||Write letter||Answer email||Knit||Read|
These seven Priority Categories are listed because they are important for you to feel productive and also for addressing mental health needs. Outside time, connection, using that creative part of your brain and indulging yourself in what you love to do, are all imperative for strong mental health. Feel free to combine a few categories, for example jogging outside with your child or partner allows you to exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and connect. If you write a letter or draw a picture for someone who is isolated, you’ve been creative, helped someone and connected. Using these templates will help you to organize your day and plan. But again, remember, there are distractions and challenges for accomplishing tasks when everyone is home, so give yourself a break. If you don’t accomplish something today that was on your list, there is always tomorrow.
Anxiety and Intensities
Twice exceptional people feel things deeply. We tend to react with our existential antenna. Remember, your spouse and or child(ren) may have the same intensity and therefore you may be feeding each other’s fears.
The “Now What”
Limit your exposure to media coverage. Find inspirational stories and videos to lift your spirits. “Inspirational Stories about Coronavirus” is literally a Google search. Address your fears with loved ones and make room for your loved ones to share their fears with you. It’s okay not to have the answers but sometimes just sharing your fears helps to ground you. Talk about things you can do to stay safe. Go through the seven Priority Categories listed above.
Practice kindness and “non-judgment.” The other day as the line was wrapped around the grocery store just to get in, a disabled person was heading to the back of the line. Several of us offered for him to join us in our spot in line and then we all agreed that he should just go up to the front of the line. No one balked. A mother with a young girl cut in front of this same grocery line. At first people shook their heads and mumbled about the example she was setting for her child. One person in line argued with her. When a group of us thought about it, we realized we have no idea what circumstances or needs she has. We decided not to judge.
Introverts and Extroverts
If you are an introvert living with other family members, you are likely overwhelmed right now. It’s nearly impossible to get alone time within your home. The constant interaction and need for your attention are likely frying your nerves. You are wishing for a little bit more social distance!
If you are an extrovert, you are likely climbing the walls wishing you had others with whom to interact. Social distancing is like solitary confinement for you.
The “Now What”
Introverts – go on daily walks. Start out your day and end your day with much needed alone time. Let your family know that you recharge by being alone. Understand that others in your home may need the same or the opposite. Create a sign to hang on your doorknob that has “alone” on one side and “together” on the other so people know when you need your own time.
Extroverts – learn how to use video conferencing. Seeing a face makes a huge difference from just talking on the phone. Try to schedule daily or weekly check-ins with multiple friends or family members. Take walks with friends (remaining three to six feet apart). When you are outside and you see someone, make a point of saying hello, smiling and waving. These gestures help your brain feel connected.
If you have to do just one thing during this trying time, be sure to give yourself and your loved ones and everyone around you a break. Give the benefit of the doubt, avoid judgment, and make time to do the things that make you happy.