Whether you personally are still battling against COVID, slowly disentangling from its impact, or coming to terms with life-long consequences, I expect you’ve endured challenges you’d never have imagined pre-pandemic. My heart goes out to you. I hope this or a past or a future post offers something you might need to read.
During the global height of COVID, long before any vaccine-shaped light at the end of the tunnel, I tried numerous times to post on this site, writing one draft after another. Like in 2017, when I started this blog, I hoped to offer a place for sharing, where people could bring their own stories of what they’d overcome and find catharsis or celebration in writing it out for others to take comfort in. In 2020, living far from my favorite website genius, technical challenges repeatedly stymied my attempts and the plan of relaunching and reaching out again, was buried beneath a growing mountain of emotional hurdles. Any or all of which might feel familiar to you.
Early in the pandemic, around Mother’s Day, news came from America that my now 87 year-old parents and a beloved sibling all had COVID. Like everyone else in that situation, I was helpless to make them well and could only wait to hear how they fared. This is how far away I was:
I had also just become unemployed and was recovering from a surgery that was rushed to get in before lockdown. Dire predictions of the financial and ongoing impact COVID would have on the world then began appearing all over the headlines. Locked away in New Zealand, a tiny and relatively safe paradise, I started imploding. Worried sick for my family and for all those I love over 8,000 miles away, hurting for the millions whose tragedies and terrors I read about and imagined all too clearly, our tiny paradise became an unbearably distant and isolated prison.
And there was no timeframe for safely getting out. I wanted so desperately to get out. It felt as if a whirling Tasmanian Devil had taken over my mind and body; spinning thoughts translated to a feeling of frantic pacing inside, even if I was sitting or lying down.
Years ago, as a student feeling somewhat overwhelmed by my first university exams, my mom suggested I plan something nice to look forward to – for ‘after’. Her advice of creating a reminder / extending my view beyond a present hardship into the time when it would be over became a tried and true tool of calm, a safety valve. A shorter way of describing it might be: keep perspective.
But, last year, reality was: I could lose my mom. I knew there was a very real chance I could never see her again. Anyone I loved could be taken and I’d not even be able to go to them. It was happening to people everywhere, not only from across the world, but from across their own town. Daily.
My mind took this further: if, like countless others, I endured such an irrevocable loss there would be no comfort of a calmer time ahead. Thanks to my inner Tasmanian Devil, my safety valve of hope and perspective was malfunctioning. He was feeding me stories like: ‘I’ll never find another job, Bob will lose his, we’ll end up losing our home with nowhere to go.’
After a particularly hard morning wrestling that Tasmanian Devil with all his vivid pictures of loss and dystopia, I headed under the blankets. Taking a s-nap (‘short nap’) has been another default mood fix. That’s where I found what I needed. As I was falling asleep, my mental turmoil was nudged aside by an ‘aha!’ moment. I suddenly remembered love. What truly makes my life wonderful is that I am loved.
Even if my life changes drastically, even if the future ends up wildly different than planned, being loved won’t change. Now on the other side of my darkest phase, I can look back on it. I can read about how I conjured my Tasmanian Devil and how I might have tamed him or sent him packing: Reversing the Downward Spiral | Psychology Today
In the event a similar time comes again, or with worse outcomes, I can try to hang onto what this experience taught me about keeping perspective by remembering love. I know not everyone is so fortunate to be on the other side, with their families physically well and a steady income.
Not everyone has hope. Or feels loved. Nor can everyone call what they’re experiencing ‘a phase’. I know many, many people live their lives with ongoing mental illness.
With renewed hope – and with your input – this month seemed the right time to again start celebrating and sharing your stories of ordinary overcoming. May brings Mental Health Month in the US and Mental Health Week in the UK (starting the 10th). It’s later in the year here in New Zealand: Mental Health Awareness Week | Mental Health Awareness Week. 27 SEPTEMBER – 3 OCTOBER 2021 (mhaw.nz)
In the 1970’s animated movie Santa Claus is Coming to Town there is a villainous hermit character, called the Winter Warlock. Spoiler alert: Winter, quite literally, has a change of heart. In his new life, filled with friendship and people, he gripes over being crowded; then his tone changes to a coo: ‘at least I’m loved.’ Winter and Kris Kringle recognise change is a matter of putting one foot in front of the other ‘and soon you’ll be walking out the door’…
A Christmas cartoon can offer a lovely distraction and heartwarming advice. Of course, in real life, taking that advice can seem like a gargantuan ask, often (usually?) only possible with the help of others. It seems to me that help has never been more accessible. The currents of fresh air in the midst of the pandemic brought us podcasts, reputable articles to read, well-grounded sources to tap into, and – most if not all – at no cost. In short, the tools for ordinary overcoming are out there, in reach.
I’ll close by sharing a quote from the anonymous author of next week’s openhearted and illuminating post titled, Overcoming Mental Illness’ Complexity: ‘To stay strong, sufferers as well as their friends and family, require all the tools in the kit.’
Feel welcome to go to the page to submit your own story of overcoming – whatever that is – and how you did it. It just may be the tool someone else needs in their kit right now.