I’m still recovering from my last trip to the grocery store.
An eerie silence greeted me at the door, compelling me to walk quietly, almost on tiptoe as I sanitized my cart. The air felt solemn, void of the usual buzz of smalltalk and laughter and even tantrums–in fact, children were conspicuously absent. Most shoppers wore masks over their mouths and noses, some homemade from handkerchiefs or procured from paint supplies in the garage.
The fear in the atmosphere was palpable, and it immediately enveloped me in its grip.
I felt myself almost holding my breath while I hunted through the aisles of empty shelves in search of the necessities. Shoppers avoided one another, and as I pushed my cart one way, people would swerve the opposite direction to avoid coming too close. Some visibly cowered as I walked by, turning their faces away from me while I did my best to give as much space as possible. Almost everyone avoided eye contact; almost no one smiled.
My head knew it wasn’t personal–social distancing is necessary to protect us all. But my heart still felt a stab of rejection. And I was exhausted by the time I checked out.
I’ve always been a feeler. I experience emotions big and loud and passionate–both gratifying emotions and difficult ones impact me deeply, for better or worse. Until recently, I believed my sensitivity to the world around me was a character flaw, that there must be something wrong for me to be so affected by life.
It turns out that emotions are actually a really beautiful part of being human.
Emotions are neither good nor bad; they are simply our body’s response to what is happening around us.
It’s becoming a new passion of mine, learning about the role of emotions and the way our brains and bodies are connected to what we feel. Under stress, our body works extra hard to keep us safe from perceived threats, collecting information about our surroundings before our conscious mind is even aware. Our brain processes the information it receives and tells us our body how to respond. Do we run and hide? Get ready to fight? Are we safe enough to relax?
Lately, my brain has been firing on overdrive trying to make sense of this upside down world full of isolation and social distancing. It’s exhausting. As a result, my emotions have felt like a roller coaster, climbing and plummeting without warning, sometimes even multiple days a day:
I’ll start the morning grateful to be home with my family, soaking up so much unexpected time with my kids and squeezing them extra tight. A moment later, I’m angrily sending them both to their rooms for fighting or sassing or throwing a tantrum–basically acting on the outside the way I feel inside, too.
I try to reset with exercise and a healthy smoothie, empowered and resolved to care for my body. But by late afternoon I’m nibbling on chocolate pulled from my emergency stash, struggling with self-condemnation because I can’t seem to stop.
The natural homebody in me finds partial relief in permission to stay home, but as the day goes on claustrophobia builds and I feel trapped, frustrated that I can’t find a moment or space to be alone.
I’m desperate to connect with friends in person but confused about what’s okay–can we go for a walk six feet apart? Can I sit in your lawn and sip coffee? Is there a way to both stay home and stay sane?
Not to mention the looming fear in the back of my mind, buzzing quietly enough to mostly ignore but always there, growing in volume when I read the paper or scroll the news feed or let my mind wander down the path of “what if?” It’s a constant drain on the energy I draw on to manage the other emotions in my life, all of which feel bigger in this quarantine cage.
Life feels so confusing right now. It’s hard to know which way is up, especially outside of the normal rhythms and community that keep me grounded. We weren’t designed to do life alone–we simply cannot thrive without regular, meaningful human connection.
The more time we spend in isolation, the harder it is for me to remember what normal even used to be like. And the more I wonder if I’ll ever be the same again.
Feelings are not unfamiliar territory for me, but the scope and volatility of our collective emotional experience these days is enough to make anyone feel a bit crazy.
But you’re not crazy. I’m not crazy. We’re NOT crazy. This is just plain hard. Everything is new, nothing is certain. We’re alone and afraid and forging our way through uncharted territory, which takes loads of courage and tons of perseverance.
Today I’m angry. For no good reason, except everything. I’m tired of holding it all together. I’m tired of being optimistic and cheering us on indefinitely. I’m grieving how much I’ve been forced to give up this spring and I’m mad that I feel powerless to do anything about it. I’m tired of yelling at my kids or being mean to my husband because I’m exhausted and feeling everything extra big. I’m tired of being less than my best self.
Life will not always feel this hard. It’s hard to believe things will change in the midst of a pandemic that has no cure, no end in sight. But it won’t last forever. We will come out on the other side–we’re already closer to the end than we were when it started.
In the meantime, the more honest we can be about what we’re experiencing, the healthier we will be both today and when this whole thing becomes a memory. Buried feelings don’t just go away–they will come out eventually in the form of unhealthy behaviors or physical symptoms or relational distress or worse.
So let’s not wait to deal with what we’re all facing. Let’s name it. Let’s feel it–because feelings are not meant to be held, stuffed, or ignored. They are meant to be…felt. And named. And shared with someone safe enough to care that you feel what you feel.
You’re not crazy. You’re brave and you’re tired and you’re doing the best you can. And your best is enough.