As I write this post, 279,542 people have died from COVID19. Politics and conjecture aside (i.e., whose to blame, cities opening/staying closed, etc.), these are real people, taken suddenly, with grieving families, and lonely deaths. As we approach week #9 of shelter in-place, I am not going to tell you how to improve your mental health. You already know the basics: get enough rest, drinks lot of water, exercise, stick to a schedule, read more, stay connected to friends/family, practice mindfulness, eat healthy, recognize what you can/cannot control – then practice acceptance.
I would like to offer two things. The first is that it is okay to fall into a mild depressive malaise from time to time. Day after day of the same boring thing, over and over again, confined to our homes and apartments, watching the death tolls rise, scrambling for toilet paper and other essentials, struggling to pay bills, worrying about the grandparents and kids…the list of emotional burdens add and stack-up. This malaise, we are all feeling at times, is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. Life isn’t supposed to be like this.
Perhaps for many of Us, it is the first time we have ever felt truly oppressed, which in this case means that our freedoms have been taken away by an overwhelming outside force. Perspective teaches Us that thousands of our Bay Area neighbors struggle with this form of oppression every day of their lives. They don’t leave their homes after 7:30 pm because it is too dangerous. They are often priced-out from accessing high quality food. They are not able to afford to take their family to Pappo, then across the street for an evening movie. They don’t go to the gym 3 days/week because they are too tired from working 12 hour shifts 6 days/week. Our lives have been inconvenienced, while many others live with these incoveniences 24/7/365.
Secondly, I believe it is vital that we make meaning of our experience and gain perspective on the nature of suffering and what really matters in our lives. As a therapist, I cannot tell you how much I have missed meeting face:face in my office with my clients. Video conferencing will never outweigh the innate and primitive need we have for real human contact. I cannot wait to hug my mother (86) and father (93), friends, colleagues, and neighbors. The coronavirus has taught me to clarify what is important in my life. Perhaps you have been reminded how brave, reliable and loving your spouse has been. Maybe your children have surprised you with their resilience and good natured attitudes, as they reliably complete their online schoolwork and engage in creative activities around the house. Do you miss sitting with friends at Peets on a Saturday afternoon? I do. I miss Fred who cuts my hair. I miss catching a late movie at Alameda Theater. I miss an after-work dinner with friends at Pappo on Thursdays. I miss meeting with my meditation group on Fridays. It is the simple things that we take for granted that mean the most.
My father was asked by our country to serve in WWII. Many of your grandparents, or parents, (or you) were asked to serve in foreign conflicts. We are now asked to stay at home, sit on the couch, order takeout, wear a mask, work from home, home-school…or work long hours in the ER, checkout customers at the grocery register, teach your students on ZOOM, police the community and put out fires, or setup military hospitals in local communities. We all have a part. This is our time to serve. We are all soldiers in the foxhole, and our neighbors have become our brothers/sisters in arms. “We are all in this together” = a slogan that we can either fully embrace or cynically toss aside in favor of watching Tiger King and eating another bag of Funyuns.