Anxiety, Fear, Personal Growth, Self-Care

It’s OK to Feel Moments of Hopelessness

You are not alone.

Unless you are streaming television from a subscription service, you can’t escape the around-the-clock Coronavirus broadcasts. Last night, in a matter of five minutes, we watched the death toll increase by seven people. We turned off the TV and, instead, watched as two fire trucks and an ambulance pulled into our neighborhood, and took turns making up a story about a cat stuck in the tree.

This is what our lives have come to.

Mindlessly scrolling Facebook and Instagram has become a chore. Half of the people don’t believe the virus situation is a big deal and continue to live their lives, while the other half are slowly beginning to shut in on themselves and lose their mind. Some people blame Trump, the others place the blame on China. We have friends who are doing their best to stay positive and post happy messages all day long. We have friends who have contracted the virus and post updates about just how torturous this virus actually is. And we have friends who have possibly contracted the virus and have gotten away with “just a really bad cold.” We have friends who are scientists, researchers, epidemiologists, or doctors, pleading with us to stay home – to do our part even if we aren’t concerned about contracting the virus.

But there is a common theme: no one knows what the hell is really going on or how long this is going to last.

In the attempt to stay positive, I think we are forgetting that it’s OK to feel vulnerable. It’s OK to share that you are losing your mind. It’s OK to feel like you want to cry or scream.

When all of this started becoming real – when the news first started talking about social distancing and staying home – Tyler and I decided it was best to avoid leaving the house as much as possible. I did a late night grocery run on Thursday, March 12th, and since that day, we have ventured out into public only for essential reasons: TMS therapy, picking N up from her dad’s house, and getting more wine (because somehow, those bottles are disappearing faster than anticipated).

It’s been ten days. Ten days of the same routine, day-in and day-out. Ten days of just Tyler and N. Ten days of waking up and forcing myself out of my pajamas and into the shower. Ten. Long. Days.

And it isn’t going to end any time soon. I am not going to wake up tomorrow to a news broadcast that says I can leave my house, that the virus is no longer something to be concerned about, that I can return to my real life. This is real life. This is the new normal. And while it isn’t permanent, not having an end date is the thing that is most difficult to handle.

How long do we have to endure this for?

At least as a teacher, when I was feeling like I couldn’t go on another moment, I could look at the calendar and count the number of days until the next break. I knew that I had eleven glorious weeks of summer vacation. I used those dates on the calendar as a floatation device. They were my savior when the days were long and arduous.

In the military, there is something called SERE training – Survivial. Evasion. Resistance. Escape. – it is training for military and DoD personnel who will be on the front lines, those who are most likely to be captured. During the course, trainees are essentially tortured. I can’t speak from experience – I didn’t take the course – but from everything that I read while in the military and since leaving the military, exploits your weaknesses and pushes you to your edge before rebuilding your character and strength.

The reason why I bring this up is because when you arrive at this training, you know that it will end – you know that there is an endpoint – but you don’t know when that is. You have classroom lectures and academic training first, and then you are dropped in the field where you are to put all of your training to the test in a simulation as close to war-time reality as possible. You are captured, you are isolated, and you are tortured. And during that time, you have no idea when it is going to end. This is by design. Because if you knew when it was going to end, you would hold on to that thought: Four more days. Three more days. Two more days. Tomorrow, I am free.

Just as being a prisoner of war doesn’t have an expiration date, we don’t know when this social distancing isolation exercise will end.

I am not trying to be dramatic. I am not trying to instill fear.

I am being real.

We don’t know how much longer this will last. We are hopeful that it will only be until the end of March, but that seems more and more unrealistic as these numbers continue to tick upward. We are hopeful that come summer, the virus – like many other viruses in the summer months – will recede and we will find freedom.

Holding on to Hope

And although we can hold on to hope – and it is important to do everything we can to remain hopeful – it can be so mentally draining to live in isolation for as long as we will have to. It is important to honor those thoughts. It is important to allow yourself to feel those moments of despair, to feel completely vulnerable and defeated. Because if we can’t be real with ourselves – if we can’t recognize when we are at our breaking point – how can we expect ourselves to survive?

Depression and anxiety are real. And now, more than ever, it is important to pay attention to those thoughts – even if they are fleeting. It is important to recognize when we are shutting in on ourselves, when we are isolating even further, and when our thoughts are getting the best of us.

I worry that in our quest to stay positive and remain hopeful for relief, we are forgetting that our minds are fragile. I worry that in an attempt to combat loneliness and isolation, we aren’t taking the time to pay attention to our bodies and our emotions. And folks, I feel that if we ignore those dark thoughts – if we continue to push them down and pretend they aren’t there, or worse, talk ourselves out of feeling them – that we aren’t helping ourselves. We are merely pushing them down and packing them away in a box called trauma.

And if you know anything about trauma, she will rear her ugly head at the most inconvenient of times.

So before you sweep anything under the carpet, take a moment to breath through it. Journal about the thoughts. Allow yourself to feel the emotions, and then let them flow through you. Recognize them. Call it what it is. And acknowledge that it is OK – and absolutely normal – to feel that darkness.

There is hope. We will be social – in-person – once again. Life will return – it might look different than before, but life will return.

For now, get comfortable with your thoughts. Give yourself the grace to accept them. And allow them a space in your heart. For this is a part of you, now. It isn’t something that we can ignore.

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