The first three weeks of this pandemic did not bring out the best in me. I would argue it brought out the very worst in me. My heart broke every morning when I studied the death stats, and I found myself taking out that frustration on my husband. I was unfairly snarky towards anyone in my circle who seemed to find joy during this crisis, when, in fact, we should all be hunting happiness even harder in the bad times. I was short-tempered with my kids, who did nothing wrong. I was even annoyed with the homework assignments flooding my inbox. None of the above I am proud of, but it’s the ugly truth. And the stories of these hero nurses and hero doctors assisting the sick – I cannot recall any other time in my entire adult life that I felt so sad for so many people at once. Every. Single. Day.
I was angry and sad that America was suddenly under attack.
I was angry and sad that COVID-19 was so lethal.
I was angry and sad that my doctor, nurse, and first responder friends were forced to risk their own lives just to do their jobs.
I was angry and sad; my 90 and 92-year-old grandparents were stuck in a nursing home, alone, without visitors.
I was angry and sad that fellow journalists were having panic attacks and vomiting daily from covering so much death in New York and Washington.
I was angry and sad I was being forced to be a home-school teacher.
I was angry and sad; our country didn’t have enough protective gear for our medical professionals.
I was angry and sad college kids were still going on spring break, partying so close, and not taking the pandemic seriously.
I was angry and sad, so many hard-working friends were out of a job and left to wonder if they could feed their children. While other friends laid awake night after night wondering if they would have to shut down their small business.
I was angry and sad my 401K, representing 22 years of hard work, was sinking before my eyes.
I was even mourning everything we took for granted before – being able to hold a friend’s hand over tea, being able to dine out, being able to travel – just to name a few.
I was so lost in anger, sadness, and grief; I could not see anything else.
Keep in mind, because of my journalism profession; I was probably exposed to more sad news than most.
None of it seemed right. And all of it felt so close to home.
I became a reporter to fight for the underdog – those less fortunate – but suddenly, almost everyone I knew fell into that category, and I internalized a feeling of defeat, not being able to fight for any of them. The virus was just too big. It consumed my thoughts with its viciousness, ruthlessness, and unforgiving nature. When I interviewed people about COVID-19, I cried for and with them. I cried when I talked to my cousins who are both nurses in Florida. I cried, putting my kids to bed, hoping I was not bringing the virus into my own home, after working. (To give you some perspective – I usually cry about once a year. Once. A. Year.)
So the beginning of April, I called up one of my best friends who happens to be a brilliant surgeon and someone who has been in my life for nearly 40 years. We talked at length about trauma and what it can do to the mind. How it can be a rabbit hole. How it can consume you before you even realize it’s taken over. And how clarity can be elusive, especially when the mind is processing trauma. He reminded me of all the things I should be happy about – fewer errands, seeing my kids for lunch each day, and my family’s good health. (Don’t get me wrong – I think deep down I was happy about all that, but at the time, the anger and sadness of the world trumped any other emotion. It blinded me. In the fog- the only thing I even remember feeling good about was God’s presence. I did and do feel like COVID-19 is a sign for our world to slow down and lean into Him. Strange how the mind can simultaneously be angry/sad and also know God is present.)
Anyway, I needed that talk badly from my surgeon friend. And this conversation made me think of every human. We are all experiencing trauma right now. I look back at just a few months ago, and America was cruising along. Although no one’s life was perfect, many things were collectively going well. Unemployment was at an all-time low. Big and small businesses were booming. We had the freedom to travel and shop. We also had the privilege to hug our neighbors and co-workers. There was excitement in the air for Spring and Easter celebrations. Families were planning reunions and graduations.
And then BOOM! This bomb went off, and everything changed. Just like a car crash, a terrorist attack, or a mass shooting – we have “life BEFORE” and “life AFTER.” A thriving economy was replaced with long lines of unemployment. Growing businesses were replaced with closed signs. The freedoms we had were taken away and replaced with face masks and hand sanitizer. The excitement in the air was replaced with fear and worry.
Some people handled all of this change with acceptance and calmness. They coped well. I was not one of them. I wanted to share this in the hopes it may help someone else going through something similar. Now that I am on the other side of this, I look back with gratitude. Pain always teaches us. I am indebted to my circle, who recognized my heart and the weight on it. A handful of my girlfriends, my surgeon friend, my mom, and my husband rescued me. They were kind to me when I didn’t deserve it. They bite their tongue when they could have rightfully fought back. They loved me through it when I gave them no reason to love me at all. And that is what this pandemic reminded me – emotional drowning can be silent. And for those of us pulled from the water, it’s only because someone has eyes on us.
If you too feel like you are emotionally drowning, here are a few tips that may help:
- Talk to someone. A parent, friend, or even a counselor.
- If you feel angry, ask yourself where that anger is coming from. Write those things down and then cross off anything you CANNOT control. Let those things go. (For example. I cannot control college kids partying in large groups during quarantine, so I have to accept reality and let it go.)
- For the remainder of the list – things you CAN control, make a promise to yourself to approach those with a servant’s heart. (For example – I am not a fan of home-schooling, but since I CAN control my face, I am choosing to smile each day while I teach.)
- Write down SIMPLE things that bring you joy. Make yourself do at least one thing each day on that list. (For example – I enjoy reading, so I am reserving twenty minutes to read each night before bed.)
- Practice gratitude. Each time you find something to be thankful for, write it down and place it next to your toothbrush. Each morning and each evening, read it. Recognizing the blessings still around; you will help counter negative feelings. (For example, I wrote down that I am thankful I still have my job. Therefore I can support local restaurants and small businesses by shopping online. Gratitude helps wash away anger, sadness, and grief.)
Just know, if you too experienced a pyramid of emotions over COVID-19 or are currently feeling emotionally exhausted about this virus, it will get better. It took me a solid three weeks to feel optimistic again. Almost a month! And this comes from a girl who typically feels happy 364 days out of the year. If you are wondering what pulled me out of my funk – I believe it has something to do with time – I allowed myself time to mourn. And it has a lot to do with God. My entire life, He has reminded me that pain is the tradeoff for happiness. And you can’t have one without the other. March was filled with pain. But just like the April flowers, hope is blooming again.
P.S. Don’t forget to check in on the front line doctors and nurses in your circle. They are experiencing trauma, like no one else right now. Of course, medical professionals are prepared for death, but no human is ready for mass causalities week after week. The virus will eventually go away. But for the nurses and doctors – the scars on their hearts will linger on. They are our heroes.
P.S.S. If you feel “beyond blue” and have a suspicion you are clinically depressed, then my five tips above may not be enough for you. You may need to seek professional help. Remember, raising the S.O.S flag does not make you weak – it makes you strong. God Bless you all!