Remember coming back to school from summer vacation in early years and writing an essay about what you did that summer? Even though its not over, and may yet get bad again, I decided to put down “on paper” my pandemic experience. In large part, I’ve chosen to share my experiences because while I believe they were not unusual, I’m changed by some of the things I learned about myself, not to mention the effect the pandemic had on my mental health.
Fully vaccinated & past my waiting period, on May 8, 2021, I did something I hadn’t done in 14 months – attend a studio yoga class. I tried to use yoga as my anchor during the pandemic, like so many yogis in the world. I didn’t, I couldn’t. I made a lot of excuses but I had almost an angry reaction – yoga made me long for the real world – for the studio, community, passing tips with other teachers, talking to students, participating in teacher training, preparing for or taking workshops, tea with friends after class. I just couldn’t make it happen during the pandemic. That made me and continues to make me angry and upset with myself. We are our own harshest critics.
I eventually did ok with meditation, with the physical practice and study I made excuses: it bothered my neck & shoulder, I needed a teacher to help, I blah blah blah. I just couldn’t do much more than stretch and take a few movements before I’d stop. I couldn’t focus long enough to read anything meaningful, anything that really required my attention.
So what did I spend my pandemic doing? Walking. Watching Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, etc. etc. I taught myself how to crochet. I crocheted alot, LOL. I cooked complicated, often delicious dinners – or we ordered out. There was no in-between. I Tweeted, barely Instagram’d and didn’t miss Facebook a whit nor a jot. For a period of time my husband and I did a podcast. I was obsessed with Hamilton and as I am inclined to do, I read many books about Hamilton and the other founding fathers. I realized that I may not have been explicitly taught that Washington was a slave owner, an aggressive one at that. I became the obnoxious person that said “Well, Angelica was several years into her marriage when she met Hamilton, there was never any chance they would marry.”
I didn’t blog. I tried to watch sports but it was hard. Just couldn’t focus. I did enjoy the NBA bubble and games at 3 p.m.
I am an empathetic, sensitive person. 2016 to 2020 were very difficult. Watching the news every day, seeing U.S. democracy getting closer to the edge – my stomach hurt A LOT of the time, I lost my appetite and had very little energy, which I put down to not eating enough. For some reason I haven’t yet worked through, checking my emails spikes my anxiety to the point where I put it off until I’m practically crying. Something else to improve.
By the time the pandemic rolled around, I had been experiencing increased panic/anxiety attacks; by July, 2020, I was in therapy. I’m a pretty upbeat person. During the pandemic I got depressed. There were days where I slept, telling myself I should sleep while I could. I smoked a lot of medical marijuana, didn’t have the energy to even run the vaccuum. I would force myself to do things but my heart wasn’t in it. Started many projects that I didn’t finish. Stayed up odd hours. I wasn’t me and I was so scared and nervous.
We did go away a few times – to visit our daughter, SIL and grandson and to Sanibel Island. I had to get away from my couch, the living room. We have a hotel on Sanibel we’ve gone to forever that we trust. We don’t mix with people while we’re there. We both felt safe, cocooned, even. We spent one amazing, windy and overcast day on the beach, under blankets, reading and watching the clouds skitter around. It felt incredibly indulgent after months of Netflix on the couch. Eddie was very much my support throughout the pandemic and I hope I was his. We were lucky that we never really got sick of one another. For some hours, sure. For a day or days on end – no. We worked really hard at it, not to mention working hard at recognizing when we were getting close to a line, which can be more important than crossing it. I learned a lot about my relationships during the pandemic.
I’d been using Instacart prior to the pandemic, shopping was hard on my spine & frankly, I despise Publix. For awhile in April, 2020, you had to plan groceries. Instead of the two-hour delivery window I was used to, it was more like 2-3 days. We hit up Target and Amazon for toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, etc. We realized recently that we’ve become a delivery household, we have so few errands we run now.
I had quit Facebook in August of 2019, wanting to be healthy for my surgery. Facebook wasn’t a healthy place for me. Between the stalkers wanting to show me how they could have sex with me telepathically, the mansplainers and other issues, I don’t miss Facebook. Instagram was for yoga advertising. I found so much love & support from my Twitter mutuals, I’ve just not had bad experiences on Twitter. I’ve made real friends on Twitter who will be in my life for a long time.
I’ve found so many friends on Twitter. All sizes, shapes, colors, genders, religions, nationalities, more Eagles’ fans (lots of women Eagles’ fans, which makes me SO happy!) I fell into “trans twitter” because of authors I followed from the Kinja platforms (Deadspin, Gawker, Jezebel, etc.). Although I had LGBTQIA friends and had worked with Free Mom Hugs and other local groups, I was hesitant to make friends with non-celebrity LGBTQIA Twitters. I didn’t want to be a creepy cis person. So many stories tugged at my heart. Then I met Amy, who is a great Twitter matchmaker as far as friends (“You’ll really like so-and-so. Make friends with them & I’ll tell them about you”) and my guiding light. I began commenting and making friends and my life is so much richer. The support I’ve received (and hopefully given) to my Twitter friends during the pandemic was vital. Twitter was about all my attention span could focus. I could and did delete MSM from my Twitter at various times. I can control my Twitter world.
My work with Impact the Palm Beaches kept my mind active and gave me hard deadlines that I had to deal with, not to mention forced me to routinely check my email and put on a bra. For those who don’t know, Impact the Palm Beaches is a group of 200+ women who put together money to fund high-impact grants to non-profit agencies in our community. I have been a member of the Grants Committee for several years and co-chair for two years. Its a lot of work and I love it. Early in treatment, my therapist told me to hang a white board where I could see it and each week or month, write out my schedule on the white board, giving me things to look forward to and letting me know I wasn’t just a lump on the couch. For many months, Impact is what filled my schedule, thank goodness.
Other than the year my father died, my mental health has never been as precarious as it was in 2020 and early 2021. In retrospect, I can see the depression and can feel the difference. Reframing didn’t always feel helpful but I kept working at it. It wasn’t until the vaccine that I felt things really changing. Since I was fully vaccinated and past the waiting period, there have been many moments of recognition, many moments of shedding a layer, of feeling more open and free. Of course there’s still so many stressors involved with the virus and the pandemic, its not difficult to slip back into the darkness.
I’m here. I’m doing ok. Like many of you, the pandemic changed me. I never really realized how much maintenance my mental health required. I’m trying to keep up with it. I know my symptoms of depression now. My anxiety/panic attacks have improved. I don’t cry through every therapy sessions anymore. I recognize how lucky we are: while my nephew and his family caught Covid, they did ok and are fine now, and that was it for our family. People I knew died of Covid. People I know lost their jobs and homes, cars and credit ratings. We just had to get through and I think we have. I think we’ll be okay.
I hope you made it through the pandemic safely and intact. xoxo