It’s Okay…to Not Be Okay

“May you live in interesting times.” –ancient Chinese curse (likely apocryphal)

Honestly, I didn’t really want to write about COVID-19 today. It’s hard enough being bombarded with constant news articles and opinion pieces and press releases and tweets (however humorous). But the more outlandish blog post ideas I tossed around in my head the more it seemed the inevitable was probably going to happen. I was going to talk about coronavirus.

But I don’t want to talk about staying home or flattening the curve or how our leadership has botched their response to this crisis, although these are all important things (and I encourage you to read about them if you haven’t already). I want to talk about you. And I want to tell you that it’s okay if you’re not okay. Because I’m pretty sure most of us aren’t.

I was reading about a woman who was diagnosed with the virus and was strongly advised to self-quarantine by officials. Instead, she went to a local bookstore, where she complained to the staff about her diagnosis while browsing books. The staff understandably asked her to leave immediately. She grew enraged, intentionally touching as many books as possible before being dragged out by security. The entire bookstore staff had to be quarantined because of this woman’s selfish actions.

Obviously, this woman’s behavior is reprehensible. But the more I thought about her actions, the more they seemed familiar. First, she reacted to her diagnosis with denial: “I don’t feel sick and I won’t stay home.” Then, those feelings transformed into anger: “If you’re going to treat me like I’m sick then you’ll be sorry!” If you’ve ever taken Psych 101 or dealt with a loss you may be familiar with these terms. Denial and anger are the first two stages of grief, followed by bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.

Not many people I personally know have been diagnosed with coronavirus yet. Hopefully, if we band together as a community and look out for each other, that will remain the case. But I think the fact of the matter is, we’re all grieving on some level as we move deeper into this global pandemic. While our responses are hopefully less negative than Bookstore Lady, I think we should all be giving ourselves time and space to explore these feelings instead of pushing them away or letting them fester. Grief isn’t a straightforward thing, and navigating novel feelings about a novel virus might not be straightforward either.

Personally, I’ve been grieving in small ways for many things. Grief for the little old lady at the grocery store who couldn’t buy toilet paper. Grief for the people who felt so overwhelmed by this situation the only way they knew how to cope was to hoard toilet paper. Grief for the high school students whose proms and graduations have been cancelled. Grief for the victims of domestic abuse for whom quarantine is a new nightmare. Grief for all those who will die from this disease. And ultimately, grief for a world that cannot help but be irrevocably changed by all this.

(If you aren’t feeling grief or aren’t sure what you’re supposed to be grieving, that’s okay too.)

So if you’re not okay, give yourself space to not be okay. My husband has been throwing himself into work. Personally, I’ve been finding it difficult to focus enough to work much. A friend confessed she’s rented two or three movies in the past week only to let the rental periods lapse without finishing the movies. Meanwhile I’ve actually been making a dent in my long-standing “movies-to-watch-someday” list because it’s one of the few things I can concentrate on.

Baking. Working out. Staring at the wall. Reading. Cleaning. Complaining online. Facetiming loved ones. Whatever makes you feel more okay, do that. Whatever makes you feel less okay? Skip it.

Obviously a lot of us still have responsibilities during this difficult time. Jobs, kids, pets, bills–the world is still turning. But in case you needed someone to tell you that being not okay is okay? Consider yourself told.

This will pass. We’ll be okay again. But until that happens, I hope you’ll give yourself the space to grieve what was while we try to make space for what is, and what someday will be. Stay strong out there!

Drum Up The Sun

night sky looking towards Orion
night sky looking towards Orion (Photo credit: kronerda)

This time of year is a dark, quiet one. The sun rises late and sets early — and in some places, it hides its face from night and day alike.

We try to fill the void of the sun with colored lights and candles, festive trees and bright decorations. It’s a time of year when the night rules the calendar. The symbolism in the many holidays that cluster around midwinter is rife with images of renewal, rebirth, of beginnings. The New Year, Christmas, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Hannukah — all these holidays are rooted in light, hope, and the start of something new even when they look toward the past.

Frankly, this winter has gotten off to an awful start for me. As of writing this, I have been sick for over three weeks. It started with a sore throat and stuffy nose and morphed into a racking cough, followed by earaches and a resurgence of symptoms. Pneumonia. Bronchitis. Sinusitis. Ear infections. I’ve had all of that since Thanksgiving.

It’s been a time where my husband and I had thought we were at financial rock bottom — only to find out that we had pickaxes in hand and were hacking away at the ground beneath our feet. I had to humble myself and ask for help. Publishing grinds to a halt, and my inbox has been a world of silence on my many queries.

And Sunday was the year anniversary of my cousin’s tragic death, the memory of which has fogged my emotions with the smoke of grief that still hasn’t faded. One of my closest childhood friends lost someone he loved on Sunday in an eerie parallel to what happened to my family one year ago.

Friday was a day none of us will easily forget. A day when we were reminded that no matter how much joy exists, there are people who cannot or will not drink from that cup and instead sow anguish and reap nothing but death.

The holidays will forever bear deep sorrow for Newtown, Connecticut and for the families who will spend these days crumpled by the agony of 26 small children and adults snuffed out from our world forever.

 

Bear with me. There’s a point buried under all these Job-like afflictions.

This is a dark time, both literally and figuratively.

But you know what they say about the darkest hour.

Three days from now will be the darkest day of the year. The sun will rise at 7:23 AM EST and set at 4:50 PM EST. It will be the longest night.

Five years ago, I had just returned from Poland. It was one of the darkest times in my memory. I had left a place I loved and come back to a city I didn’t want to call home. And on 22 December, I bundled up early in my warmest clothes and drove my sputtering, 15-year-old Nissan Sentra up to Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Winter at Red Rocks
Winter at Red Rocks (Photo credit: mattsantomarco)

I gathered there with about fifty other people. Most of them had drums. And as the sky began to pale with the shy blush of the returning sun, the drums began to thrum. They started slow and sleepy, dimmed to a muted hush.

As the sky grew brighter over the Denver skyline and the flatlands of eastern Colorado beyond, the beat turned to a pulse. The cloud-dotted expanse above turned from jewel blue to pastel to the crystal white of milky quartz. The first golden rays of the newborn sun reached shining fingers over the frozen foothills, and the pulse quickened in both drums and veins until hands beat drum-skin and knees alike, lit with the fire of the world of day given first breath.

English: Christmas Dawn The sun rises late in ...
English: Christmas Dawn The sun rises late in midwinter this far north. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A month ago when we discussed the topic for this round of posts, I knew I would write a solstice post. I didn’t know just how much life would emulate the darkening celestial events. For many people, this time of year means deep pain. Loneliness and sadness, loss and grief.

But beyond the bustle of holidays and buying gifts, beyond seasonal depression or tragedy, the sun will return.

Whether you believe in the birth of the Christ child to a virgin or the festival of lights or if you track the sun’s path as it falls through a cross-shaped constellation before rising anew — whoever you worship or not at all, the sun will return.

It will warm the planet and birth new life. It will brighten the skies and nourish our bodies. The sun will return.

The darkest hour…

Well. You know the rest.