By Ann Barnet, M.D.
From "Prairie Dogging" on Elephant Journal
“Check out rooms 15 and 24, they are prairie dogging.”
One of my favorite ER doctors of all time coined this term.
I took one look at rooms 15 and 24 and I couldn’t help but laugh. Every 20-30 seconds, a curious head would pop from behind the door as a concerned family member was checking to see if the doctor or nurse was coming back with an update.
I think we all do this.
I am positive I do.
Especially during covid. Especially in the beginning, I would create my bubble of safety and cleanliness and every once in a while I gathered the courage to pop my head out. Sometimes I would make it all the way to the grocery store.
Gradually it felt more normal and slowly it felt safe.
A few months ago, I went to my first “large” gathering in over a year. It was outside. It felt a little uncomfortable at first. Do we hug? Can we just “act normal?” Can we stand closer than six feet from each other?
For a brief moment this summer, things did feel “almost normal”. That was until the newest wave of variants arrived.
Now we are back in a state of confusion. We are told, “never mind, you need to put your mask on after all.” “We thought it was safe but perhaps we were wrong.”
How do we do this?
Last year, “isolation” became the normal, it was encouraged and mandated.
The thing is . . . isolation is not “normal”. Connection and community is. We are hard-wired to connect. Babies will actually die if they are not held. We will wither if we are not connected.
The whole world has experienced a collective trauma because most of us had to retreat and be isolated for a time.
Many are still shell shocked and everyone can relate.
It’s totally normal to feel unsure, to feel like a newborn deer finding its legs and balance.
It’s okay that we might look and feel a little silly as we poke our heads out and survey the world around us.
It’s okay if we start to venture out and then discover that we need to retreat.
Now is a great time to explore and set our personal boundaries.
We can embrace this exploration as we start to reconnect with our communities on a physical level.
In these times of uncertainty, it is critical that we voice our needs and make safe choices.
Some of us need extra levels of protection and reassurance - like a recent negative test result to feel comfortable.
Others may feel safety interacting outdoors, or with a mask.
We all have different thresholds, different needs and different vulnerabilities.
In the old days, alcohol helped ease some of these tensions. This is a popular but risky choice - it can lower our inhibitions, dehydrate and leach minerals from our bodies and cloud our judgement.
Luckily, today there are better allies that actually help our body rather than hurt it.