Fear: An Update from Robbie

It’s been four weeks since my last blog post about leading in the unknowns. I am writing from the built-in desk in my bedroom. Mike created it for me out of an old, freakishly small, 5-panel door, discarded from a room when we renovated our upstairs in 2015. Surrounding me are various pictures that showcase a life, our life. It’s fascinating that this desk space, which I envisioned five years ago, has never been used for work. It’s been used for memento collecting but not any actual work. That is one thing that has changed in the last four weeks but, certainly, not the only thing.

Today, this desk is my “office.” With two adult children now living at home, my mom who was living with us following an accident in the middle of the pandemic, and the three dogs and a cat, it is officially MY OFFICE. And, I need it. I need this 6¢ x 2¢ area that is just mine where I can have some sense of order, some imaginary sense of control, some place where I can pretend, for just a moment, that I am managing my surroundings.

Four weeks ago, Eclectic Eye was operating with a reduction in staff and limited hours. By March 20, we had closed completely. The next two weeks would be the hardest two weeks I have ever faced in our business. Probably in my life. There were wild swings in emotions as I first disappeared into the humiliation of not being prepared. I had to cocoon myself in the blanket of terror and wallow in the failure of it all for a few days so I could start to regroup, and then re-emerge from the grief of it. One night, I just cried and cried on our beautiful front porch with my foursome about the unknowns. They affirmed these fears and this desperate moment and simply let me go there. It wasn’t pretty, but I am proud of them and me for allowing this vulnerability to exist. Note to others…no need to fix someone’s emotions. Being a witness is the best you can do.

I realized, somewhat later, that this vulnerable moment was my identity being slowly and brutally torn off my body with blunt, rusted pliers. The exposure of this was like being openly flayed in front of all the people who mean the most to me. Eclectic Eye is me and to even ponder the thought of losing it is like suddenly losing the ability to breathe. That false self I have built is a liar and a thief AND has been my saving grace. Being punched in the face with the actual reality (you know the one ­– that we are powerless) made the open wound almost too much to bear. However, by allowing the emotions to flow, the hope has gradually started to appear. I may be powerless, but I am NOT helpless.

To move through the tidal wave of emotions, I’ve had to have daily check-ins with my old frenemy, Fear. It is like a drug to me. Truly. I have used Fear for years to propel me…like a rocket. Get out of the way when it’s in the driver’s seat. It’s survival of the fittest and creating a game plan and pedal to the metal. It could also look like a few Tito’s martinis, a bag of Dove chocolate, and a vacuum cleaner. It was a pressure washer for two glorious spring-like days a few weeks ago. It’s most likely disguised as an Excel spreadsheet, color-coded with goals and milestones. Or, it also might look like 10 hours of weeding in my garden.

None of these things are inappropriate medicators on their own, or necessarily ever. For me, I must acknowledge my own motivation in relation to Fear to proceed in a conscious state. Why am I doing that thing I am doing? Is it helping me or hurting me? Am I trying to control the uncontrollable? For me, Fear is often disguised as production, isolation, fixing, perfectionism, dualism. I have been digging deep into my self-care tools to become aware of its lurking nature, or I risk careening off a cliff. This awareness of the Fear helps me so that I don’t operate from the deeply ingrained coping strategies I have often deployed for protection. I have had to allow the Fear to sit beside me in the passenger seat. Fear may be a passenger, but I am still the driver of my own car.

Paul Ollinger wrote a great piece for Medium that talks about the work it takes to actually survive this long day of travel. He said: “Today’s flight, dear friends, is very much delayed: not by weeks, but months. Travel conditions are – to put it mildly – sub-optimal, and each of us should have in mind only one goal: to arrive on the other side in one piece.”

My response on my friend’s post was: “I am focusing on arriving. I have to change my metric or I simply won’t survive this. My oxygen mask is already dangerously low. I affirm anyone’s need to perform extraordinary self-care so we can all emerge, lovingly re-oriented. My cape has officially been surrendered. It was always an illusion anyway.”

It’s all about putting on my own oxygen mask today. That looks different day-to-day. It means doing a few things daily that move Eclectic Eye, me, and my family in a forward trajectory. But, only a few things, not all the things. It also means doing a lot of none of the above so I can feel the Fear.

The first week we were closed, people tried to work from home. And, they did in various ways. Our philosophy was simply to keep our expectations low of what people could accomplish. Since we were paying people, we did expect production. Yet, it was unchartered waters and we knew it would be a messy experience. The old me wanted a daily accounting of everything people had accomplished. Why? Fear. The becoming me accepted that people were doing their best.

We applied for an emergency line of credit (LOC) with our bank about five weeks ago. We have been with this bank for 18 years and have had an exceptional relationship. I asked our banker for this assistance as soon as I saw that our business was not going to be immune from the impending crisis. This was simply a back-up LOC in addition to another one I already have. Liquidity was an immediate concern of mine well before all the government stimulus talk began. In my head, I knew what I had in savings and just wanted an extra cushion…just in case.

Our credit score is great and our assets far exceed our liabilities. When we got the paperwork back late on a Saturday after our banker had hurried it through, Mike and I were both stunned to see that the bank had demanded to collateralize EVERYTHING we have for this small LOC. The amount of collateral they attached was not equivalent to our liabilities. After talking with our financial planner, we opted to not take the LOC. For me, it was a very dark day.

I realized that our banking system was stressed and scared. I hadn’t really understood until now the privilege and benefits I expected within these systems. That caused me a day or two of panic. I mean, if we can’t get an emergency LOC, what about everyone who has a little less in equity, a little less cash on hand, or just an average credit rating? First, I was enraged. Then I felt victimized. Then I felt the Fear. I am still struggling with feelings of betrayal in the banking system, despite knowing they share the same fear. Couple that with the confusion with our insurance, and I am seriously questioning the systems of protection I thought had our backs. Then I lay down the Fear and chose to believe that they, too, are doing their best.

By this point, we were already knee-deep in the CARES Paycheck Protection Program application with our bank who is an authorized SBA lender but seemed to have little or no experience with the SBA system. I had to put the LOC aside and focus on the SBA process. With each passing day, with each new application requirements, the rules changed, and the Fear mounted. Will the money run out before we get approved? No idea. We have a loan number now but still no other information after four different applications. We wait.

On Monday, April 13, 2020, we furloughed our hourly team. With a completely uncertain financial future, we feel that was our only responsible choice. We told them this on our weekly Zoom call Monday. It was met with so much graciousness that I cried. I feel like I have failed them and yet, if they are to receive Tennessee Unemployment Insurance benefits and the Federal stimulus, hopefully, they can survive until we can start bringing them back. One by one, little by little.

I have no idea when this will happen, but I am hoping for sooner rather than later. I must believe that Eclectic Eye will go back to business soon. Not believing this allows Fear to move back into the driver’s seat. I won’t do it. I can’t do it. I might do it, but I’ll pull myself out. That’s the best I can do today.

Update: As of April 21, we have been approved to receive funding from the CARES Paycheck Protection Program.