Yesterday I saw a meme that said “2022 is like that ex-boyfriend you took back for a third time because he said he changed.” I enjoyed a burst of laughter because I relate to that statement in more ways than I choose to get into at this time. This quip was still on my mind later in the day when I was sorting through documents on my work computer and came across this piece that I wrote and shared with my colleagues in the spring of 2020.
I feel weary going into the third year of the pandemic. When I originally created this cupcake narrative I expected Covid -19 would be a part of our history by now, and that surely by 2022 we’d be living into our better normal. But that is not yet our reality, and I find it surprisingly encouraging that insight that was helpful to me in the early months of the pandemic can be rediscovered to offer support now.
With all of that in mind, I want to share this personal account with readers here that was originally offered to healthcare workers as we were adjusting to the sudden, intense, and overwhelming rise of acute needs and challenges within the population we serve.
CUPCAKE STORY (Originally shared April 27, 2020)
“Cupcake Story” is the most recent addition to our company lexicon. It is my narrative of becoming completely unraveled at a boutique cupcake shop after they failed to fulfill my Easter order. It is not my typical character to become irate over something as trivial as cupcakes. And yet there I was, mustering every ounce of self control I have developed in over 40 decades of living so that I could control my tongue as an apologetic teenage employee explained that my prepaid order was overlooked during morning preparations, and they were out of Salted Caramel. Of the half dozen cupcakes I had ordered for my family Easter celebration, Salted Caramel was my personal selection.
It became a moment of choosing my response with a cartoon angel sitting sweetly on one shoulder and the inflamed devil standing on the other. The red devil, pitchfork in hand, fanned my burning anger with the prodding of “You are the one who put all the effort into getting specialty cupcakes for your family and OF COURSE your choice is the one that is no longer available. You aren’t getting what you want or what you deserve because no one sees or appreciates you.” At the same time the cherub angel was at my other ear cooing, “You can see that their order fulfillment process has completely changed because of Covid-19 precautions. Just like you, they are doing the best they can as their entire business has been forced to operate differently overnight. Be as gracious to them as you want people in your work community to be to you.”
I wrestled with these competing thoughts as the employee scurried behind the counter putting together my order, sans Salted Caramel. When he handed me a box sealed with a bright happy sticker, I was able to find some middle ground. I half-heartedly smiled and simply said, “Thank you.” through gritted teeth as I took the cupcakes. Then I stomped to my car, called my husband, and vented my cupcake rage for the 20 minute drive home. A quarter century of marriage has taught Ryan that any observations that I’m being irrational is not helpful when my emotional floodgate has opened and all of my feelings are pouring out. So instead he listened empathetically and offered me his cupcake.
I reflected on this experience numerous times the following week as I prepared for a virtual support session that I was leading for administrators from our partner facilities. “Emotions need motion” – a quote from David Kessler and the article “That Discomfort Your Feeling is Grief” – was a theme for this gathering. I highlighted that as leaders in healthcare if we deny our own feelings during this difficult time because other people have greater needs, then our negative emotions stay with us. Tucked away into the corners of our heart, mind, and soul – repressed emotions grow silently until they cannot be contained. If we learn to name our emotions – without judging them – emotions can move through us and be released. Releasing requires feeling.
I didn’t need to commandeer my husband’s cupcake to feel better. I just needed to give myself permission to feel and express my raw and unedited feelings to a trusted person in the private, safe space of my car. Ryan understood that I was never that upset over cupcakes. I was frustrated about everything.
Because of Covid-19 we have lost much of the familiarity and enjoyment that provides comfort and happiness in the lives that we’ve built. We are sharing in the collective grief of losing social connection, physical contact, and professional confidence as we lead and serve in an unprecedented time. If we aren’t taking time to feel and process our emotions without comparing or denying them, then we will end up unraveling over a cupcake. Suppressed emotions will find motion.
When I shared this story with coworkers I discovered that I am not the only rational and compassionate professional with a “Cupcake Story”. Several members of our staff who are providing incredible service and leadership to our hospice community had a similar story of unraveling over a small inconvenience or aggravation in their personal life. Sharing laughter and “Me too!” is some of the best care we have to offer one another as we live and work within the tension, demands and uncertainty created by Covid-19.
Do you have a cupcake story? If so, please share it with us in the comments knowing that you are in good company during a challenging time.