I have a confession. It may be foolish, or naïve or maybe even downright dangerous. But honestly, I thought things would be easier by now. I really did. I thought that nearly eight months into dealing with a pandemic unlike anything the world has seen in over 100 years, things would be getting better. But you know what? It’s not getting any easier. It’s not getting any better. And I’m really struggling.
There, I said it.
It’s an odd thing, really, because most days I move through life somewhat seamlessly. I do my job and I volunteer. I get the laundry done and clean the kitchen. I text a couple good friends and get in some exercise. And there are some things that, dare I say, I’m actually enjoying about these wild and weird times. The lack of Saturday morning sports activities and having my husband work from home every day, for instance.
But even those silver linings are heavy with some kind of unnamable dread, you know?
Anytime someone asks, “how are you?” I wonder: Do I tell them that I’m so beat down from the quarantine fatigue and people behaving as if the pandemic is over, and our narcissistic president who is determined to kill even more people with his lies and inaction, and the country is literally on fire right now, and the next-level crazy conspiracy theories, and the knowledge that 40% of Americans are okay with all of this that I alternate between wanting to scream so loud only dogs can hear and cry my eyes out for hours?
Or do I tell them that I’m so freaking grateful that we have our health and our family is safe and I have a good job where I can work from home and my kids are relatively happy even though their life has been flipped upside down and we have a comfortable home and I have strong relationships with my family and friends that I want to shout with joy and cry tears of happiness?
Because it’s all there. All those feelings. And when you’re a big feeling, highly sensitive empath — like I am — let me tell you, all those emotions are on steroids right now and they are non-stop.
I can feel it in my body. My jaw is constantly clenched. I have a headache just about all day, every day. I have weird pains in my neck and shoulders and… well, just about everywhere. It’s like my body is literally carrying around a heavy weight that I didn’t have a year ago.
Every decision is fraught with complexities. The mental gymnastics of otherwise “easy” decisions like sending kids to school or visiting with neighbors have calculus-level equations about risk assessment. I can go back and forth about what the “right” thing to do is a million times a day. My head hurts just thinking about thinking about it.
And then there’s the loneliness. The deep loneliness. When you’re more cautious about virus safety than others, it’s easy to get left out – or to feel like you’re being left out. But I’m not just talking about the loneliness that comes from not being able to have a carefree night out with friends, but the loneliness that comes from the constant shaming, fear of judgment, and the sense that we’re all in our own bubbles – physically and socially. That whole “we’re in it together” thing lasted a hot minute and then – poof! – gone.
Rationally I understand the whys of all this. I’ve read all about allostatic load and surge capacity. I know about the importance of self-care. I limit my doomscrolling. (Or try to anyway). I disabled Twitter and cut down on Facebook time. I have made intentional choices about who I’m spending my time with and where I’m using my energy to limit the toxicity.
Quit whining and be grateful, some might say. And let me tell you, I am grateful. So. Freaking. Grateful. I have a good job that I can do from home. I have a spouse who is actively involved in remote learning (in fact, he does way more than I do in that respect). Our jobs have not been significantly impacted by the pandemic. We are healthy and have a comfortable home to hunker down in. We are the lucky ones. Believe me, I know this.
Which is why all of this is made even more stressful by the relentless guilt I feel for still struggling emotionally and mentally. You’ve got it good, so quit bitching, I tell myself. Which really just ends up adding heaping piles of guilt to the feelings of exhaustion, terror, and anxiety that I feel in a visceral way.
So no, this hasn’t gotten easier. Sure, some days are better than others, and sometimes it seems like we might be getting closer to the light at the end of the tunnel. Some days I handle the challenges of 2020 with relative grace and maybe even a little levity. And others? Well, other days feel like we are going to be stuck in this Groundhog Day of awfulness forever. Other days I lash out at the people I love most about little things or stuff that has nothing to do with them. Other days (actually most days) I have to resist the urge to put my head down on my desk and cry.
Logically I do know that we will get through this. The pandemic will end. There will be a vaccine, and god willing with the right leadership we can take more widescale mitigation steps to get the virus under control. (Side note: VOTE and wear your mask, dammit.) Eventually things will go back to “normal,” or something more closely resembling normal. But in the meantime, this shit is hard. REALLY HARD. And it’s okay to admit that.
If you’re struggling, you aren’t alone. Trust me. It’s okay to admit that this isn’t getting any easier.