Like the rest of the country, my family and I have been under social distancing lockdown for more than two and a half weeks now. When the news came down that everything was cancelled, our once-packed schedule suddenly looked a hell of a lot more empty. Basketball games were removed from the calendar, as was running around town to various baseball practices. Errands were deemed impossible (or at least completely unnecessary). Spring break travel plans vanished, which meant we had a week at home with pretty much nothing to do.
For a fleeting moment, it sounded like an introvert’s dream. I could hunker down at home with my favorite people. I wouldn’t have to run around town from one activity to the next. We could sleep a little later because school was canceled and work could be done from home. Maybe I could finally reorganize the basement or finish the book that had been sitting on my nightstand for a month.
But what I quickly realized was that all that so-called “free time” social distancing seemed to create was now jam-packed with fretting, worrying, and debilitating anxiety.
Sure, I could read a book – if I could only stop thinking about COVID-19 for ten damn minutes. Which is apparently impossible.
I no longer have to be up at the ass-crack of dawn to get my teenager out the door, but I’m still up at dawn in a sweat thinking about the latest news developments. I’m no longer running from one kids’ activity to the next; instead I’m clicking from one news article to the next. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with activities and obligations, I’m overwhelmed by an anxiety-ridden paralysis.
I’m in a constant daze. I’m confused and exhausted. My brain is foggy and my shoulders are tense. I have no idea what day it is, let alone what I should be doing.
I say all of this with full acknowledgement of the privilege that I have. I live in a safe home with family I love. We are healthy. My extended family is also safe and healthy. Our careers aren’t in jeopardy. And I’m an introvert who genuinely enjoys being at home.
The internet is filled with people telling me that I should be grateful. And I am. But there’s also oodles of advice on how we should be living our lives during this strange time. We should be organizing our closets. We should be FaceTiming old friends. What a great time to take up painting or learn how to play the keyboard or remodel the bathroom.
But what these well-intentioned nuggets of advice forget to take into account is that many of us are struggling with debilitating anxiety. Some of us aren’t sleeping, and even if we are, we’re physically and emotionally exhausted. Some of us — especially the empaths among us — are literally in tears about the anguish that others are facing even though it is not directly impacting our own. We know we should stop watching the news incessantly and need to get off social media, but we just can’t.
These suggestions about how to use this time more “wisely” just adds to our guilt and anxiety and sadness. Advice to “make the most of it” and “be grateful we don’t have it worse,” while well-intentioned and true (because many of us are incredibly privileged) don’t acknowledge the realities of human emotions.
There are no Struggle Olympics. Someone’s sadness, anxiety, or disappointment isn’t invalidated because someone has it worse. And it is possible to be both incredibly grateful for your situation and to also feel lost, confused, and heartbroken about what is happening. Both. And.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bemoaning the “look on the bright side” mentality. If you’re one of those people who are seizing the “silver linings” that mandated social distancing brings, that’s fabulous. If you’re checking things off your list, great.
But if you’re just making it through the day, that’s also okay. These are weird and scary times. So let’s be kind — including to ourselves.
Give yourself permission to cry once a day (or more), if you need to. For no reason at all. The current upheaval of life as we had known it is enough.
Give yourself permission to spend a day sleeping or staring out the window. Let go of the pressure to be productive, and be satisfied with making it to the end of the day without losing your shit.
We’re being asked to face things we’ve never had to face before, and it’s terrifying. Some of us are trying to homeschool kids while holding down a job. Some of us are struggling with an underlying anxiety condition that has been kicked into high gear by current events. Some of us need a little more time than others to adjust to a “new normal.”
That is okay. One more time: that is okay.
There is no “right” way to deal with a global pandemic. (Other than staying at home and following the advice of medical experts, of course). So be gentle with yourself. Go easy. If you’re lacking in motivation or energy, you aren’t alone.
One way or another, we will make it through this.