"Coronalone". It's like "Home Alone", but without Macaulay Culkin. And without the burglars (we hope). It's our ridiculous name for the surreal and strange circumstances in which we currently find ourselves.
And we currently find ourselves playing catch-up yet again to stay on track with this “weekly” blog. I really thought I had better scheduling skills than this! Between working from home, handling the Union Church virtual worship materials, ordering groceries each week online, scheduling— and doing— whatever Mom needs, processing the mail, paying the bills, and trying to remember to shower at least every few days, I am apparently swamped. Who knew that staying home could be so hectic?
Don’t get me wrong: I am still incredibly grateful to be able to work from home and for the beautiful home in which I get to work. It’s just that “self-isolation” initially sounded so solitary and calm and quiet, but I have yet to see any of those qualities in our current situation. I guess I wasn’t taking into account that the fear of a potentially deadly disease and watching the continued spread of a pandemic tend to suck the joy out of life just a little bit. My bad.
The effect on our mental health of what is currently going on in our world cannot be overstated, and should not be overlooked. Even when I think I’m “OK”, there is a pervasive sense of dread in the background that seeps into every aspect of my daily life. I know, I know: You’ve all gotten used to my attempts to remain positive and find the silvery lining in the clouds, right? I’m sorry, but since my writing tends to flow from whatever I am currently experiencing, I am afraid that this week, the clouds are slightly tarnished.
I oscillate between looking around at the beauty of the New Hampshire landscape with gratitude, and wanting to crawl back under the covers and sleep until 2021. (It’s my guess that this is not a bipolar trait, but simply the way that many of us are feeling at the present moment, in the face of what feels like an insane world.) It is vital that when we do an assessment of the state of our own mental health, we are honest with ourselves. Oftentimes, I don’t want to admit to being down. I don’t want anyone else to know. But I have also learned what a slippery slope that can be, hiding those moments from the people around us who love us and could be supportive when needed. So in my case, my first “reach-out” is always to Mike. I alert him when I am struggling and— even if there is nothing in particular that he can do about it— it helps to know that someone else is aware of the struggle. More importantly, if I alert him early on then he can help me monitor the direction my mood is headed, and potentially advocate for me if I hit a point where more intervention is needed.
These are lessons I’ve learned over many years, and even though I don’t think my current downturn is indicative of anything serious, I am trying to follow the “rules” I’ve set for myself throughout the couple of decades I’ve spent learning about myself and my mental health. Whether you have a “diagnosis” or not, I think a little self-introspection and a deeper understanding of how you handle life’s inevitable twists and turns and celebrations and crises can be extremely useful. Once you know how you tend to react to things, you can decide whether you’d like to change those reactions. For me, some of this was accomplished with Cognitive behavioral therapy. It sounds like a big, fancy term, but it's really just a way to change how we feel by changing how we think and behave. I found this definition at psychcentral.com, which I really like: “Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel.”
I’m not suggesting that everyone go out and find a therapist— especially not right now, “in the time of Covid”— but I do think we can be critical of our thoughts and actions and do our best to align them with how we want to feel. I will continue to try to hold thoughts of gratitude and appreciation, I will continue to reach out (virtually) to people I love, and I will continue to look for ways I can be helpful to others. Those thoughts and actions will eventually steer me back to my silver-lined clouds. And if I falter along the way, I will know that someone is always there to advocate for me.
I hope you, too, will find ways to match your thoughts to your intentions and to reach out when help is needed. Find yourself an advocate. We all need one. As I’ve said so many times before, we are all in this together.
So… wear your masks, be kind to each other, and know that you are loved.