To all of you feeling somehow ‘off” during this pandemic – I understand.
To those who are struggling with feelings and emotions brought about by our novel situation- I get it.
I see you when you stand in the doorway, hesitant to take that next step outside because somehow it feels too big. I feel your heart quicken when you put on your mask to get out of your car. I hear your breath, short and shallow, when you pass each person in the store.
I hear the stories of people who are tired of staying home, people who have lost track of time or days. I read the articles about staying healthy and the memes about living in sweatpants. People are talking – everywhere – about hope and hopelessness; about uncertainty and fear; about relief and release. People are talking about anxiety and depression. Loving words are being shared and spread. Concern sweeps over our world, leaping across communities and countries, generations and genders, nationalities and net worth. It has become a universal belief that people need and deserve support for their mental health.
I love the authenticity I see coming out in people. And the sharing – of laughter, of trials, of fears. It is a beautiful transfiguration that has come over us. I have this nagging fear, however, that when this immediate crises is over all of this will go away. I am afraid that we may go ‘back to normal.’ And I think that would be a grand mistake.
I want you to remember. Deeply. I want you to stop and truly let yourself experience the restlessness that has you wandering your home aimlessly in the middle of the day. It’s hard to feel useless. I want you to welcome that fear that creeps in every time you need to go to a store. Take it bit by bit – the tears you try not to cry, the sweat you wipe from your neck, that hollow in your stomach that makes you nauseated – feel all of it. I want you to check off the sleepless nights when you lay in bed, exhausted, with your mind twisting around the what-ifs and if-onlys. I want you to never forget that day you started crying in shower and you didn’t even know why. I want you to recognize the times you worked for hours scrubbing out every kitchen cupboard and alphabetizing your spices and rearranging your furniture, only to find yourself the next day unmotivated to even brush your hair or your teeth. I want you to acknowledge how much of this time didn’t make sense to you, how many times you seemed like someone different, how much you didn’t understand about what was going on in your own life. I want you to feel uncomfortable. Because you have friends or family who feel like that every day. And for the first time, you get a little glimpse into what life is like for them.
When your friend doesn’t text or call you back right away, I want you to remember how you needed to shut off your phone or television sometimes. She always feels the need to shut things off, but she can’t. So she does the best she can, and sometimes that means you need to wait a couple days to hear from her. Instead of getting annoyed at her, remember.
When your brother doesn’t come to every family event, I want to remember how loud and crazy and busy the stores felt to you some days even though they are controlling the number of shoppers. Every family gathering feels too loud and too crowded and wholly overwhelming to him. He needs to stay away from that sometimes. The next time he can’t make it, send him a text that says “missed you, hope you had a good night” instead of “couldn’t bother to show up again?” It could make all the difference. Just remember.
Remember – for the friend who begs off each girls night out but swallows every bit of her fear and apprehension, choking back her instinct to run, just so she can spend your birthday with you at the club because she knows how much you love it.
Remember – for the coworker who never joins in for happy hour but uses all his coping mechanisms to be engaged throughout the day and be a productive member of your team.
Remember – for the child who struggles to the point of tears and thrashing at a change in routine or unexpected circumstances. This has been hard for you. You’ve felt angry and scared and frustrated and confused. But, you’ve had many years to understand what those feelings are and how to manage them. A child hasn’t had that chance yet.
What you are experiencing now is sometimes difficult. But you have an end date. This discomfort has an expiration for you. It doesn’t for some people. For them, this uneasiness is something they must navigate every day, on and on. They can’t look to some date on the calendar and know that they will be able to do something to ease their unrest. Do you remember how you felt when the days you needed to stay home were extended? In my area it seemed like a palpable sigh formed of angst and irritation and resentment and impatience. All because you needed to wait a couple more weeks. For others, the weeks never end.
I do not wish to belittle or dismiss the uncertainty you feel right now. It is very real and I want you to care for yourself, which includes recognizing and dealing with those feelings. But I fiercely want you to take a moment to look at your temporary discomfort through the lens of someone for whom this experience is unbound. Use this to view life for them a little differently. Gain empathy from your misery.
I’d like to ask you to remember everything that you are feeling and experiencing at this time. I need you to remember this. When you are back at work, your children at school, you’re visiting your favorite stores and restaurants – remember the discomfort you feel right now. Because the distress you feel in this moment is how some people feel all the time. That love you’re sharing with everyone now? It will still be needed when this is over. The support you give, without question or judgement, will be crucial to help lift the darkness. Don’t let the stigma back in.
I am so grateful for the steps you are taking to ensure our community stays safe in the midst of a virus that wants to swallow the world. I know it’s not easy to change your routine, to adjust your budget, to re-evaluate your relationships, to face hard truths. But you’re doing it – for all of us. Thank you. Don’t forget the lessons you’ve learned when we find each other again.
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