Every day, we are learning through trial and error about what is helping us and what is hurting us during these hard times. For me, breaking the “No dogs on my furniture” rule to allow my pup in my bed at night has helped me sleep better. Leaving my phone behind when I go for walks — also helpful. Watching the news and scrolling through social media, well that’s proven to worsen my anxiety and ruin my sleep so I’m keeping my distance.
We’re all doing our best to navigate the seemingly endless cycle of anxiety.
We’re learning to care for ourselves while also managing everything else in our lives — like work and budgeting (for those that are lucky to be employed), teaching our kids and feeding our pets, worrying about the future, cooking for our families and cleaning everything in sight.
And as we learn how to manage this new “normal”, I’ve become really disappointed (see also: agitated, annoyed) at the number of people online using their platforms to guilt anyone who isn’t “looking on the bright side.”
I’m not here to tell you there’s a silver lining somewhere, this is not that kind of article.
As the sun sets on Day 24 of self-quarantine, I can readily admit to you all that I’m struggling. I’m extremely lonely, I’m scared of leaving my house, and I’m worried about money.
But I’m proud of myself for admitting that because a few weeks ago, I was shaming myself into looking on the bright side.
Any time I felt sad or anxious, I told myself that I was okay, even though I really wasn’t.
I recognized there was privilege in being able to say, “I’m okay” because I had a roof over my head, running water to wash my hands with, a fully stocked fridge, and clients who still needed me.
I thought there was no room for my grief.
And when I found the courage to admit to an old friend (rather than someone I talked to regularly because I was still in denial about my feelings) that I was feeling sad, she quickly reminded me that “at least I have a dog because she doesn’t even have a pet to keep her company.” I made a mental note not to talk about feeling lonely anymore, for the fear of sounding insensitive. (And a mental note not to reach out to this person again, because that was rude.)
I got in the habit of constantly reminding myself to stop feeling sad.
“I need to look on the bright side,” I told my reoccurring headache every morning.
“Things could be worse,” I told my stomach pains around lunchtime.
“I should feel grateful for what I have,” I told my rapidly beating heart as I tried to fall asleep.
In every video call, I explained to friends and family that I was doing fine.
It wasn’t until I got off the phone with my mother last week did I realize I wasn’t actually as great as I told myself. She said, “The next time I see you, I’m going to hug you for 10 hours straight,” and with that, I burst into tears.
I was lonely; I was aching for human contact, and I was DONE pretending otherwise.
The truth is: I’m missing human interaction so much — anything that isn’t virtual. It’s something I never thought in a million years I would be deprived of. I want another human to touch me. It’s been 24 days since I’ve been touched. A hug, a kiss, I’ll take a high-five at this point. A pat on the back. Heck, just a nod and glance from a fellow human walking their dog will do.
It took a while before I accepted that it was normal for me, a woman who lives alone and hasn’t talked to another human being in person in 24 days, to feel lonely.
After I had a good cry, I told myself, everything will be okay, but I can’t get there until I work through these emotions. I need to allow myself to feel all the feelings — good, bad, terrible — and move forward from there.
It’s okay to feel shitty right now. Ignore anyone telling you that your pain, anxiety, and stress isn’t valid because there’s a silver lining in this somewhere. I can’t handle any more positivity preaching — I just can’t.
“Stay strong, keep your chin up, look on the bright side, it could be worse…”
It’s the most repeated saying during any crisis.
But there is a difference between counting our blessings and suppressing our emotions. We must make space for all our feelings, the good and the bad.
Allowing ourselves to feel our feelings is healthy.
Suppressing our inner thoughts and emotions is a temporary band-aid and can prolong the effects of stress on our bodies. In TIME Magazine’s article, Ignoring Your Emotions Is Bad for Your Health, author Hilary Jacobs Hendel writes:
“When the mind thwarts the flow of emotions because they are too overwhelming or too conflicting, it puts stress on the mind and the body, creating psychological distress and symptoms.”
In case you need reminding, this situation is not permanent.
Things will get back to normal, eventually. Our lives will begin over time, to fall back into (some of) the regular patterns of our pre-coronavirus life. We just don’t know when — and it’s partly the uncertainty that is driving us mad.
But we need to remember that there is space for us to feel anxiety while appreciating that things could be a lot worse. There is space for us to feel lonely while appreciating our video chats with friends. There is space for us to feel financially stressed while being grateful for the roof over our heads.
What there isn’t space for is the guilt, internal or external, for feeling what is only normal in a time like this. All the emotions we’re experiencing are normal. The stress, the anxiety, the frustration, the loneliness — all of it.
Do whatever it takes to get you through the day.
There is no wrong or right answer here; I certainly don’t have it. We’re all coping differently — there is no gain in shaming others for how they’re handling their time.
What works for you might not work for me, is what I say to the personal trainers telling me to get off my couch and work out, or to my fellow writers telling me I should have a book written by the end of this quarantine. (Yeah, that’s not happening.)
The most important form of self-care I’ve done during self-quarantine is being honest with myself and others about how I’m feeling.
Allowing myself to feel scared, lonely, anxious without criticizing myself has been a big step in the right direction. Letting others know that I’m actually not doing well is the only way they can try to help — I can’t expect anyone to read my mind.
Remember to be compassionate with yourself. I know it’s hard, but being honest about how you’re feeling is a step in the right direction.
And finally, don’t let anyone shame you for not doing “enough”. Honestly, getting through a day without crying lately is a success in my book. I’m not worried about anything else but keeping myself at home, safe and healthy. That’s all I can manage at the moment, everything else comes second.
Jessica Mendez is a full-time writer living in Las Vegas, NV. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from NAU and her master’s degree in family and human development from ASU. In 2018, she left her career in mental health to pursue a career in writing. She is currently working on her debut novel and a collection of bilingual poetry. Follow her on Twitter and Medium to read more of her work.
Image courtesy of Carolina Heza.