An open letter to the ones who feel like they haven’t done enough

Mental Health

by Alan Wright, M.Div.

Jul 15, 2021

To the ones who feel like they haven’t done enough:

You are not alone. I recently heard an ER physician on the radio speak to the fact that he would come home exhausted after taking care of COVID-19 patients and question whether he had done enough. He had done everything he could for patients with the knowledge and skill he possessed—only to feel like a failure.

This matches what I’m hearing from a lot of friends and colleagues. I’m also hearing it in my own thoughts.

Parents had no idea in February of 2020 that their children would soon be going to school virtually. Families postponed weddings and family reunions. Graduations and vacations were cancelled. Surgeries were postponed. Actually, much of life felt cancelled. And let’s not forget the many who lost loved ones to this virus.

To say the least, it’s been tough on all of us. Though COVID-19 is still hanging around, we deserve a victory lap. We made it and that should be enough.

Yet that nagging feeling that “I haven’t done enough” is still haunting some of us. Parents have struggled this past year with whether or not to send their children to school in person. A colleague of mine and one of the hardest working people I know mentioned feeling like a failure. I don’t fully understand this phenomenon but it appears to be commonplace these days.

For so long, so much has been beyond our control and we haven’t really known how to deal with it. Did we do enough? Are we doing enough now? The questions keep coming.

Taking care of your mental health and spiritual health during these trying times is of utmost importance—and that includes tackling the myth that you have failed. Here are a few tips for fighting the failure myth.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Personally, I’ve taken advantage of telehealth to ask our family doctors about these overwhelming feelings that, at times, have manifested themselves physically and mentally. My daughter even had a virtual visit with her pediatrician to talk about the stress she was feeling.

It’s important to remember that psychologists and family doctors are often simply a click away. I have found that half the battle is being able to successfully sift through the many thoughts and feelings that we have when we’ve been under a great stress for a lengthy time. A mental health professional can assist you with just that.

Acknowledge your losses.

You’ve experienced many this past year. Maybe you haven’t seen family members that you’d have normally visited multiple times and greeted with multiple hugs. Perhaps you lost the job you love. You may have lost a sense of safety. You’ve missed living what you’ve come to know as a “normal life.” A special acknowledgement needs to take place if you’ve lost a family member this past year, especially if due to this awful virus.

But also acknowledge your victories.

It hit me that some of what I was seeing as failures were actually victories. Though virtual learning has been tough on our family, I think I succeeded at being a supportive dad. Perhaps though going to work was frightening, you went anyway. Maybe you found yourself calling friends and family members more often, bringing you closer despite the physical distance.

We’ve all learned a lot about ourselves through this pandemic. The story you’re telling yourself that says you haven’t done enough can be retold in a way that acknowledges the truth—that much was out of your control and that you pivoted, learned and made difficult choices along the way. That’s something you can celebrate.

Normalize your feelings.

I don’t know about you, but this was my first experience with a global pandemic. It wasn’t normal. However, the exhaustion you may have experienced is normal. The feeling like there was always more to be done is also normal. By normalizing these feelings, you make the feelings easier to manage and less threatening.

Give yourself a mental retreat. 

Ten to fifteen minutes in silence and basic breathing can reset your mind and help remove the myths that you aren’t doing enough. Silent prayer, mindfulness or meditation can restructure your days and guide you to a more welcomed and helpful mindset. In doing so, you can give yourself a gentle reminder that you are more than what you accomplish.

There are many ways to take care of ourselves when we are overwhelmed. One big way is to tell the whole story of our lives, not just the myths that pull us down. We can admit life has been hard. We can also live into the truth that we have endured and endured well.

If you’re struggling with feelings of failure or anxiety, talking to a mental health professional can help. Find support near you or schedule a virtual visit today in the MyBSWHealth app. You can also submit a prayer request to our chaplain team here.

About the Author

Alan Wright is a chaplain at Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center on the Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas hospital campus.

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