Through the Dark

This piece of writing was originally published in “2020 — Year of COVID19 — Stories of Lockdown (Vol 1)” compiled by Carol Azams. Thank you to Carol for giving so many of us a space to share!

The Milky Way — Taken on a starry night in Brittas Bay Summer 2020

We knew things were going to get worse while others wrote the world off as overreacting. We had been vigilantly following the evolving situation for a few weeks. (….Well, when I say “we” I really mean my partner was the one actually finding useful and accurate information and educating me on it subsequently. I, on the other hand, told several people how wonderful it was to hear of waters running clear in Venice and fish returning.) Eventually, through teary eyes I had to ask my partner to stop telling me the full depths of his knowledge of the global situation because I simply couldn’t take it. There was just too much negativity, a complete lack of hope…

I’ve had to put conscious effort into my mental health as long as I can remember. As a child, I knew I had to try a little harder to be happy and not to worry. I would journal lots to do my best to process my busy mind, my sisters bought me worry dolls to put under my pillow. There’s been times where I’ve managed wonderfully, full of resilience and peace. Hard-earned, but alas, a hard fall when lost.

This pandemic has been as lost as I have ever felt. I feel lost from myself and the things that ground me (while paradoxically enjoying aspects of it). Layers and layers of self-reflection chipping away alongside lost routine and mentally healthy habits; a recipe for a confusing, heavy load that varies daily in emotional affect.

Back in March, once I realised we weren’t going to be able to leave the city my heart broke. I knew the logic of course in keeping our own germs to ourselves. But as the reality set in that we would be looking at these four walls for the foreseeable future, missing friends and family with no date of reunion, my emotional manager lost all composure and began running riot with a megaphone, shouting for panic stations. A physical ache took up residence in my chest and my limbs felt wobbly. I was trapped in a concrete box, unsure if the pressure on my breathing was the virus or just panic.

Once stations were assumed in my brain, the negativity clogs in full motion and the emotional manager worn out, reduced to cradling herself in the corner, my inner critic grabbed the megaphone to keep the show running. The first lockdown was quite a superficial attack; the never-ending lists of shoulds and shouldn’t. Should be using this time wisely, should be self-developing and gaining skills. Should be learning to make sourdough bread, should be creating, should be squatting with the sofa across your shoulders. Instagram flashes reels of at-home workouts and 30 days of personal growth. Meanwhile, I am elbow deep in Hob Knobs playing the Sims until 3am. And then there’s the shouldn’ts. Shouldn’t be comfort eating, shouldn’t be procrastinating, and I definitely shouldn’t be feeling down over trivial and ridiculous things. That was with long summer days and outdoor visits.

Now we’re in the dark, waiting for the stretch in the evenings.

One thing that’s remained consistent has been what I have now learned to call ‘comparative suffering’. I feel shallow with worries, questioning where’s the perspective and gratitude? We are not sick, we can work from home, and we’re in a country that’s doing well in the grand scheme of things. My critic goes to town on the mediocrity of my worries, taunting my perception of difficulty from atop my stacked layers of privilege. “Sad about your holiday? About your wedding being postponed? About putting on weight in quarantine? How self centered. How shallow. How selfish. There’s people actually suffering, and you’re crying on your sofa without the resiliency levels to even handle that?! Pathetic.”

It happens in an instant; a downward spiral in turbo-drive. The scary piece was realising that in my brain it actually feels like a default setting. The record playing in the background that you don’t think you’re listening to until you’re singing it on your way home. I’ve known my inner critic to have an operatic voice of self deprecation. At times, unless I am on guard and ready, she bellows attacks on every fiber of myself. She’s become very skillful over this year and doesn’t appear to be putting down the megaphone…and I’m too tired to pry it off her.

This second lockdown, all that practice has her cutting deeper than should and shouldn’ts. Now I recognise where she gets her material from…the root of my self sabotage being two core beliefs; I am not enough, and I am weak.

But surely now I know the root, what am I doing about it? Where’s the resolution? The end to this story where I close saying “But now I am perfectly mentally healthy and this is all in my past!”, leaving you with my top three tips to not lose balance when feeling wobbly.

Not here I’m afraid.

There’s no quick fix on this one. I cry regularly, find it hard to get out of bed, laughing one minute and wailing the next, feeling lost. I’m doing my best here, but wobbling an awful lot.

My resolution is plucking up the courage to break down. To cry and talk my head out with people I know who will listen. (Try to) stop apologising for finding it hard to cope and just being a vulnerable human. When it’s their turn to cry I listen and echo back all the good stuff they help me to see in the dark.

That’s all we can do — be here for each other as we get through the day. Let the barriers fall to try and cradle one another. This story is far from over for any of us. I’m just trying to do things today to have less weight on my chest and shadows on my mind tomorrow.

Together, we can make it through the dark.

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