First defined by author and theologian Richard Rohr, liminal time is the in-between, that sense we’ve left something behind but not yet arrived at the new place. A period of transition. A space ‘in-between’ to reset and recover.
The latest Melbourne lockdown definitely threw many of us back into this unsettled state of liminality. A time of uncertainty, a period of flux, disruption and disorientation. It challenged us in different ways as we revived the routines and ways of connecting so recently learned and left behind in 2020. It has been brutal.
On the other side of the world, students in the US are preparing for their long summer break after a year of uncertainty and disruption. Lisa Damour focused on this in a recent New York Times column and in her Ask Lisa podcast. She noted that after working for two decades as a psychologist she has never seen teenagers so worn down at the end of an academic year. While we are not moving into the end of the school year, we have experienced our own particularly challenging and isolating times here in Melbourne. How busy to be or not be going into these holidays is definitely something to ponder for our young people as well.
Damour notes that both children and adults are wiped out and there is a sense of lost time. But that ‘recovering lost ground’ or putting this time behind them is not the answer. She suggested that we think about it in this way; while the end game is resilience, emotional strength and resilience happen in the same way that physical strength is gained. We know that when you physically work out, you then rest and allow muscles to repair and strengthen. This enables us to be stronger. Getting through this pandemic in Melbourne is a strong psychological work out. In fact, Damour is calling it the workout of their lives for students in the US. To gain from this workout and truly increase the emotional resilience, they need time for recovery. Damour gives the following suggestions to support our young people, and possibly even ourselves.
- Give teenagers room to process what they have been through. The pandemic has been characterised by deep feelings of loss, often with plans beyond rescheduling. Damour reminds us that some teenagers do their most productive grieving in the company of friends, talking through what they have missed to find closure. Others may seek a more private approach, journaling, producing art or dance, writing poetry, music or songs. Providing time and space to reflect on the impact of the pandemic on their lives can help to savour what remains and embrace what lies ahead.
- Be open to negotiating the ‘must do’s’. Damour reminds us that everyone has different emotional settings. What energises one person might leave another spent. It is important to monitor whether a teen is genuinely eager to take on activities and tasks or whether she is crafting a punishing improvement regime to compensate for what she might see as lost time. In an anxious moment a gruelling plan can be created then enacted, bringing the student back to school more drained than they leave it. The aim of holiday negotiations should be for each individual to fill their own tank, to recharge.
- Don’t let guilt ruin restoration. It is easy to feel that we have done a lot of nothing during COVID, particularly given our lengthy time at home in lockdown. Damour encourages us to support teenagers in seeing past feeling guilty about using their holiday to relax. She encourages us not to measure against the plans of others, to believe in ourselves and our knowledge of what our own children need. The point is not to simply relax, but to grow, and if downtime is soaked in guilt, that growth will suffer.
Whether we be children, teenagers or adults, rebuilding ourselves is quiet work that should not be underestimated. Damour sees an appreciation of the growth giving practice following stressful periods with deliberate recovery as a rare upside of this pandemic.
Ruyton Girls' School