cw: COVID, mental health, trauma
It’s such a weird time to be a person. We are rounding the corner on seven months of quarantine, some of us more locked down than others, but it is still surreal to think that we’re living through a pandemic. I was so anxious the first few weeks of quarantine like most people; no one knew anything except they had to stay home and wash their hands and have a metric ton of toilet paper in their possession. When this year started, I had no concept of what was coming for us. It kind of reminded me of hurricane days when I was a kid, the Florida equivalent of a snow day but with more people reporting from a very windy beach. I remember when Hurricane Andrew squeaked past my family in 1992 when I was just 5; I don’t remember anything except reading Dr. Seuss books by candlelight when the power went out. We weren’t lucky in many storms but we were with that one.
In therapy, we talk a lot about operating principles, or rather the beliefs and ideas so ingrained in us from an early age that they shape how we function in the world. One of my biggest OPs is that you keep it together at all times, you don’t ask for help, you don’t fall apart no matter how much you may want or need to; if you look like you’ve got it together, you’ll keep it together. It’s a great one for unsafe environments and tense situations but it’s really bad for being a person. I’ve had my moments this year where I felt not great but I also knew I was doing the things that would let me push down all the bad feelings that were bubbling up. I was distracting myself, I was throwing myself into home projects, I was surrounding myself with what was going on in the world whether it be politics or the pandemic or just people and jokes. Even with my abuela’s death in July, I could feel myself diving into every possible thing that would take my mind off of it. I’ve had moments during this trash fire of a year where I’ve told people I’m thriving which feels disingenuous in hindsight to say the least.
Today I finally hit a wall with everything. Maybe it was Trump and a bunch of Republicans getting COVID and just still treating everything as if it isn’t a big deal when as of right now, this virus has killed over 200,000 people in the US alone. Maybe it was the presidential debate a few days ago. Maybe it was thinking of Trump getting experimental drugs and top notch care after considering the pandemic a hoax for so long and then immediately thinking of my abuela whose assisted living facility had been locked down since February and was supposed to be safe only to catch this virus from someone on staff and dying just a few days later, so suddenly that I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to a person who raised me. The person who took me home from the hospital when I was born because my mom had complications from my birth and had to be rushed into surgery; the person who I had a complicated relationship but who was also a huge part of my heart, leaving me as the last woman in my family line. Maybe it’s the fact that I can’t see or hug my friends. Maybe it’s the fact that even here in Canada, things are being mishandled in frightening ways. Maybe it’s that being primarily at home leaves you a lot of time to look at yourself and your life and face things you had never even thought of before. All of this is to say, I fell apart today.
I say fell apart because there was no letting myself falling apart here. I am so stubborn that when it all came out today, it was because I couldn’t hold it back any longer not because I let it happen; it needed to happen. I cried about all of it and realized how little control I have over what’s happening in the world right now and honestly most of the time. I like to have a plan, I like to know where things are going, and the unknown of this moment in history is daunting. I don’t know how things will turn out with any of the stuff going on and I don’t want to guess. I feel burned by doing this in the past, specifically four years ago. This time in 2016, I was in what I thought was the best health of my life, in Chicago with my husband and friends, just so hopeful. I remember walking around the city and thinking “Soon we won’t have to hear about Trump anymore” and mentally planning for my 30th birthday in December. I thought about how we were planning to have a baby in the new year and I smiled as I considered that my child would never have lived in a world where there had only been male American presidents. I was so sure of how things would go and it seems so naive now.
Obviously these things didn’t happen. I still turned 30 because you can always count on the passing of time but everything else went out the window. You might think the past four years have hardened me and my heart and while I’m sometimes weary, I’m softer than ever. I’ve spent this time trying to map out what’s next only to be foiled again and again. I’ve learned that there are multitudes within us that we have yet to meet. That there are versions of yourself you had no idea existed. That you can survive the things you never thought you could and build a life for yourself. That the world is more than just you and those immediately in your orbit, that the world needs your energy and talents and passion as much as anything else. That you can change and grow and be radicalized and become more progressive. That you can step into fire itself and come out different, reshaped, changed, warm, alight. That you can live without a plan sometimes and give yourself room to just become whatever it is you’re becoming. That you can experience joy in the smallest and most unexpected places and ways.
I tweeted about this moment from Joe Pera Talks With You two days before everything locked down here in Toronto and I come back to this thought a lot, now more than ever. I can’t remember much about those exact days but I know I was coming off a rough time with depression and I felt a little bit like a balloon cut loose from earth. All you need to know about Joe Pera and his show is that it’s about a teacher in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula talking with you about different topics like fall drives, Sunday breakfast, sleeping, the Rat Wars of Alberta, Canada and so on. It’s a strange disarming show about a soft spoken man who is painfully earnest in a time where we don’t really see that. It’s weird and special and I’m always simultaneously excited and nervous about recommending it to people but as people have been saying for months, we’re living in unprecedented times.
This exact moment is probably my favorite moment from the show’s first season and one I think about often. In it, Joe hears “Baba O’Riley” by the Who for the first time on the radio and calls the station to find out the name of the song. He ends up calling multiple local radio stations and requesting the song listening to it in a state of pure uncut joy and doing everything from dancing with his dog to drinking wine to inviting the guy delivering his pizza to come inside and listen to it; it’s contagious and just so moving to see. And we all know this feeling. Maybe it was a song or a painting or a film or a forest or someone’s face but the joy you felt was palpable and restorative. These moments are rarer than we would like them to be but they are huge in their impact, in their simplicity that gets at the heart of what my tweet is about: in the darkest times, we must chase the joy that comes from the smallest, most unexpected moments. This year has left me exhausted and sometimes hopeless but I’m living for the joy that’s still out there for me and for you. I have no plan in sight except to let it wash over me; you can’t plan for joy but I think you can be ready for it.