I’ve never recovered from COVID.
I figured it out the other day as I found myself crying over our most recent book club selection: Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult. It’s a novel about COVID times. About all of COVID times, the uncertainty about the disease, the uncertainty about how long it would persist, businesses shutting down, quarantine, lockdown, wiping down our groceries, overflowing hospitals, exhausted and overwhelmed healthcare workers, dying front-line workers.
And it all came rushing back. Even as I’m writing this, I’m crying.
It was a horrible, horrible time of endless uncertainty. There was no ease to be found. New moms missed out on baby groups, kindergarteners went to kindergarten online, people died, people got sick and are still feeling the effects of contracting COVID, people said it wasn’t real, vaccinations, grocery deliveries, masks, quarantine pods.
Plus, since it was a pandemic – a massive virus that mutated and changed regularly, as viruses do – there was constant uncertainty about what to do.
And we don’t really talk about it anymore, do we? I’m not reading a lot about the borderline PTSD (or full PTSD) most of us continue to deal with.
As I was writing this, I decided to look up the definition of PTSD. The NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) lists 4 groups of symptoms for PTSD.
As I read the article, I realized that I have symptoms from all the groups.
Re-experiencing Symptoms – flashbacks and dreams, always around keeping my Mom (who’s 87 now) safe.
Avoidance Symptoms – I hate going to the grocery store or anything to do with groceries, and I’m just realizing I’ve been avoiding my coworking space – the one I had to shut down during COVID while still paying rent on it.
Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms – I’ve gone from someone who was pretty steady to startling at every little thing. Before COVID, there wasn’t much that made me jump. Now everything does. I’m also always on edge – always waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Cognition and Mood Symptoms – Ongoing negative thoughts and feelings about the whole COVID debacle, including fury that people act like it never happened. And the one that hit me when I read the book, a sense of social isolation that I didn’t realize I felt so deeply.
It was surreal.
Reading the book brought it all back. More importantly, it validated for me why the surreal nature of the pandemic makes it hard for us to grasp and, perhaps, talk about, its ongoing effects.
I’m beginning to realize that the social isolation aspect was particularly hard on me as I’m a social animal. People are my jam! I like people the way some people like pets – a lot!
As I’m digging into my feelings of social isolation, I realize that I haven’t gotten comfortable again with networking. It feels like more than getting out of the habit; it feels like it’s still somehow dangerous. Then there are the constant reminders that crowds are tricky – friends getting COVID after being vaccinated and attending weddings, flights, concerts, and randomly.
It’s a crapshoot. And I’m strangely skittish and wary of risk and unfamiliar situations.
My unwillingness to get back out there and network, my edginess, my anger, and my avoidance of the workspace I created so my members and I wouldn’t be isolated have created a mammoth obstacle to my progress.
I’m in kind of emotional lockdown that, as these things do, plays out in every facet of my life.
Now that I’ve recognized and named my fears, I can begin to address them.
First, I’m confronting the fears by writing and publishing this post. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, these posts are my form of journaling. This one, in particular, fills that need.
Second, I’ve doubled down on asking people to help me fill up MAD! Workspace for Women.
Third, I’m working on my physical and mental health through exercise (every day I treat my body a little bit better.), meditation, writing, and reading.
Fourth, I ask for help.
Help, meditation, and reading
Almost every night before I go to sleep, I listen to this Yoga Nidra meditation to quiet my mind and body so I sleep better. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. I do it anyway.
After asking for help, I was encouraged to embrace my own teachings about extending relentless grace towards ourselves. So, I looked for and found a meditation on self-compassion and listened to it yesterday. It was powerful and moving and shattering. I wept. Then I felt calmer and stronger.
Reading. Y’all. Reading is one of the things that powers me through life. It’s frequently my savior because both fiction and non-fiction books help me find the way. They also help me laugh, breathe, and relax.
Reading Wish You Were Here showed me how I’ve been struggling. It’s also helped me deal with my fear of the future.
Reading this on repeat.
I’ve also been reading Jan Richardson’s Women’s Christmas workshop reader on repeat. Jan has been one of my spiritual teachers for quite a while. I keep the reader by my bed.
It’s about starting over and finding blessings and asking for help and knowing that grace is out there.
I return to it repeatedly to remind me that there are things beyond my ken – that pursuing relentless grace towards myself requires me to find those blessings, to breathe through the pain, to ask for and then accept help, to reach out into the unknown with faith in myself and others.
I find the blessings/prayers are particularly powerful. I return to this one regularly because it reminds me that blessings can be found in unexpected places. They’re right there, in our reach, waiting for us to discover and accept them.
This is the blessing
no one can write
This is the blessing
you will find
in the wall,
the tender wound.
Blessing that steals
into the clench
of your fist.
Blessing that blooms
in your opening
Blessing that lights
Blessing that sings
your new name
©2023 Jan Richardson
I will leave you with this. Every time I read this blessing I am gobsmacked by this verse: “Blessing that steals into the clench of your fist.”
You see it, right? Even when our fists are clenched in fear and pain and worry, blessings steal in.
Today, in this moment, I’m choosing to see that the blessing in my clenched fist is grace and peace.