Yesterday I came down with what I have dubbed ‘the COVID blues’. This ailment presented itself as a kind of hopeless melancholy coupled with floating anxiety and restlessness. At the same time, I was riddled with guilt. What was the matter with me?
My husband and I have the basic necessities of life. We are retired and able to protect ourselves from the virus. We look after our grandkids regularly and they fill the house with love and light. I kept telling myself, “You have no right to feel this way when some people don’t have enough to eat, some don’t have proper shelter, some are lonely, some are sick, some are dying…” However, these internal admonishments did nothing to mitigate my gloominess.
It has been almost a year since the world folded in on itself, longer for parts of Europe and Asia. We have all experienced significant changes. Despite some horrific negatives—economies in near-collapse, the enormous toll taken on the poor and disenfranchised, many families grieving the loss of loved ones (to name but a few)—there are some positives. This pandemic has been a wake-up call for humanity. Our insatiable consumption and destruction of mother earth have brought us to the brink. If we don’t change our ways we will likely face worse in the future. This is our opportunity to learn and change.
But what about ‘now’? Many of us are in limbo, wondering how much longer we can go on with never getting together with friends or being by the side of ailing or elderly family members, never travelling beyond the neighbourhood, forever masking and avoiding others every time we leave the protective cocoon of our homes, being hyper-aware of everything we touch, and always cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. I know that this is a small price to pay compared to the alternatives—getting sick or dying from this virus. But living like this can be lonely and isolating. Despite the smiles and determination to carry on, I see the impact on the mental health of those around me—both family and friends. Sometimes it feels like there is no end in sight.
It’s winter in the northern hemisphere with lots of dark, overcast days. We miss the warmth of sunlight on our faces, fragrant flowers, parking lot coffee time with friends. Vaccine rollout is slow in Canada. Time seems to be stretching out into a gaping abyss. What can we do when it all becomes just too much?
Well, as I discovered, feeling guilty doesn’t help. There is much suffering in the world. We all need to be aware of that and help out wherever possible. But we can’t properly help others if we don’t first extend compassionate understanding to ourselves. We can begin with accepting that whatever we feel is ok.
And that is what I did yesterday. I gave myself a break. My husband and I went for a long walk. We stopped by the bakery and treated ourselves to some freshly-made flatbreads and peanut butter cookies for lunch. We spent the afternoon watching our favourite TV series. By sunset, we were starting to climb out of our funk. This morning we woke up ready to greet the day.
I’m not saying that peanut butter cookies are the ultimate cure for the blues. Each of us has to find what works best—calling a friend, adopting a pet, watching a good movie, finding a counsellor. But most of all we need to love and forgive ourselves. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we will get through this—a few peanut butter cookies at a time.