Accepting the challenge of the new ‘normal’
What’s the state of your mental health these days? Are you anxious? Depressed? Scared? Angry? Frustrated? Lonely? Or an ever-changing mix of all of the above?
Yeah. Me, too.
Since mid-March when the coronavirus morphed from a nearly forgettable news headline to an omnipresent malignancy that potentially lurked anywhere — in the grocery store aisle, at the office, even on Amazon boxes — I haven’t accomplished much. I haven’t learned a new language or baked sourdough or taken a virtual spin through a museum or foreign city I’ve always wanted to visit. I haven’t deep-cleaned or done yoga or started a novel. I have yet to clean out a drawer.
But I did start posting messages on my living room window, inspired by my neighbor’s “STAY CALM LAUGH” message on her own. I cut a bunch of letters out of construction paper and brainstormed potential messages with my 10-year-old daughter. After thinking about it, she wrote, “Stay safe. Stay clam.”
“That’s great, honey, but you misspelled ‘calm,’” I pointed out.
We wound up using that message anyway (“Stay safe/stay clam*/*calm LOL!”) and enjoyed seeing people walk by, read it, and smile or laugh. Some took pictures while Haley and I high-fived each other.
Other window messages followed:
“I childproofed my house, but they still get in.”
“Thank God for Netflix … and wine.”
“My favorite time of day is bedtime.”
And the Hamilton-inspired “Talk less/smile more.”
Otherwise, I dialed way back and focused on the must-dos. Keeping my job, even while my workload doubled. Keeping my kids fed and as safe as I reasonably can. Checking with friends who are alone and feeling the isolation and stress even more than I am. Walking my dog, constantly. And relying, for quite a while, on a happy hour ritual to get through Wednesdays that feel like Mondays, and Saturdays that feel like Tuesdays, and Sundays that feel like Thursdays. No day feels like Friday anymore.
I’ve justified my slacking off with what I call my Corona Pass. I can’t summon the energy to cook a healthy dinner? Corona Pass. It’s Chinese takeout (again).
I know I’d feel better if I went for a run … but I don’t feel like it? Corona Pass.
The house is a disaster, but I don’t want to do anything but sit on the couch (in the same place where I have been “working” all afternoon)? Here’s a Corona Pass for that, too.
The Corona Pass helped, at first. But I’ve found that the less I do, the less I want to do. “It’s like I’m being drained all day long,” I told a girlfriend. “My battery is never completely recharging, and every day it’s like that energy level is even lower.”
I do have good days, and I am grateful for them. But on others, I feel like I’m inexorably sliding into a swirl of malaise and misery, and I can’t climb out. I’ve been here before, wading through a bout of clinical depression in my 30s, triggered by years of infertility and its resulting losses and heartache. I’ve struggled with anxiety (the other side of that emotional coin) on and off for years as well.
I’m grateful for an antidepressant medication that lets me function without sacrificing my goofy sense of humor or my innate optimism. But even though I’ve been able to take care of my kids, help them e-learn at home, and manage to remain employed, that takes effort. Lots of it. So when I don’t want to do something, or I can’t seem to find the energy, I pull out my trusty Corona Pass.
The problem? By taking a pass, I’ve denied myself the opportunity to challenge myself — and I usually thrive on challenges. I like pushing myself and having the satisfaction that comes with meeting a goal, whether that’s writing a book, training for a 10K, or learning to drive the ball more than 100 yards as a fledgling golfer. In making the effort, I’m able to forget about the ancillary noise and pressure of the everyday.
It sounds counterintuitive, but what I need now is to do more, not less — even while the coronavirus numbers around the country are skyrocketing, my kids are e-learning from home, and our economy is nearing disaster. So I’m changing my approach.
I took down my latest window message (“Still here/still alive/still sane*/*sort of”), crumpled up the letters, and washed the windows until they gleamed. I threw out piles of paper that had been accumulating for months on the piano and on the living room table. I started making appointments at my local Y to hit the weights again, and I picked up a book I’ve been writing for months until I set it aside (because, Corona Pass).
I extend my Corona Pass to strangers and friends alike. I never know who is hauling a much heavier burden than I am — at least at this moment.
While there appears to be no end to this strange and stressful new world, I realize now that I want to do more than simply survive these days. I want to thrive — or at least attempt to. That means revoking my Corona Pass. And tackling this new challenge head-on.