It has taken me all of 312 days to process everything I have been feeling.
You know that meme question that’s been floating around social media, “What have you learned about yourself since the beginning of quarantine?” That and other things that had happened recently got me taking stock of my feelings and perception of the world.
So, I started writing, and words just came pouring out of me. Apparently, my subconscious has been giving it a LOT more thought.
After the first month or so, the meme was going around to check on your extroverts. And my friends were checking on me. They were surprised to find that I was doing just fine.
As a matter of fact, I was doing really well.
For work, I think I’ve done my best work being at home. I can keep better focus without people coming around to distract me. I’m super comfortable in my pajamas, not having to fidget in my business casual attire, and in a comfortable temperature instead of the usual office blizzard.
Socially, I would be lying if I say I don’t miss the hugs. But being one who’d rather stay home than go out most of the time whose best buddies are spread out across the country and the world, not seeing people doesn’t bother me as much.
That distinguish me from true extroverts who are all suffering at home, away from their people.
The last time I saw a whole lot of friends was the St. Patrick’s Day party I threw the Saturday before the actual date. I mean, weeknight St. Paddy’s is not the same in your 20s than in your 40s, am I right? By that time, the stay-at-home order was out so it was a “come at your own risk” thing. At that time, many made the decision to come by as if we all knew the actual lockdown was coming.
The world turned upside down for everyone came that Monday. I was glad we did break the rule that weekend.
My mom always worried about something. She was worried about us, or scared about something or to do something. She was horrified by dentists and hated hospitals. We said she was a scaredy-cat and a worrywart, but now that I know what anxiety disorder is like, my mom had suffered it all her life and nobody knew.
It seemed I had inherited some of her anxiety issues of which I only became aware a few years ago when I had my first anxiety attack.
I have since learned to work with and through my anxiety and I think I have managed quite well. But that’s the anxiety I know–either from work or from my personal life. But I was not ready to deal with apocalypse anxiety.
I remember going into the grocery store at the beginning of the lockdown to see if I could get extra canned goods. I mean, our pantry and refrigerator thankfully were just stocked because of the St. Paddy’s party, but I want to add something shelf-stable, just in case. I found the shelves stripped bare and refrigerated cases emptied. It was a disturbing sight for sure but I didn’t think too much of it.
About a week later, Brandon mentioned something about stopping at the store, and I broke into tears.
The anxiety about the state of the world made itself known that day.
This apocalypse anxiety monster is different than the ones I’ve dealt with before. I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night with my pulse racing, but I was/am lowkey worried all the time. The monster often keeps my brain looping on all sorts of things late into the night. So, I try to fill my head–and my hands–with projects.
I have hosted a weekly drunken talent show on Instagram. I have recapped two Thai novels for my friends on Facebook. I have sewn and donated masks. I have themed out our electrical panels in the garage as Ghostbusters. I have painted D&D miniatures. I have participated in a daily sketch challenge. I have worked in the garden. I have baked. I have cooked. I have started running again and picked up new workouts. I have organized and decluttered, at least three times.
All the busy work seems to keep the monster at bay at least on the surface. My subconscious is still feeding it just by the fact that Brandon’s at risk of getting COVID every day he goes to work with the first responders.
Now, at Month 10, the monster mutated into depression. My brain just wants to escape without my body. So, I retreated into television shows and movies. This past month, I abandoned all of my handy projects and just about all physical activities and retreated to the couch. I binge-watched and re-watched all kinds of things. I tried to shake this monster and made myself do all the creative stuff again, just to end up staring at my sewing machine for 30 minutes or sitting on the stairs with my running shoes on.
Silly enough, writing this out right now helps me deal with the monster. Being in the moment with my fingers on the keyboard typing up my thoughts, feeling all the feelings, and seeing my thoughts on the page gives it actual visibility.
The first step is always realizing that you have a problem. And I see you, apocalypse anxiety monster!
Grief Gets Smaller…and Bigger
We jokingly called Summer 2007 “Summer of Death” as I lost my mom right before our friend Justin lost his. Many friends back in Thailand also lost their parents around the same time.
In that same spirit, 2020 was “Winter of Death” for my American friends. Starting in the fall all the way through now, at least 5 friends I can remember have lost their parents.
Their losses dredge up my own.
That’s really easy to do since that grief was already buoyed by my not being able to go home to see my family this past Christmas. Suddenly 13 years felt like it was just yesterday. If it’s this hard for me, I cannot even imagine how my middle brother feels, he with the grandchild my mom didn’t get to meet.
The other day my brother sent a video of the baby toddling around the living room talking on the phone, just like how my mom used to do. My mom was a pacer. She walked when she was on the phone. She used to just pace by the phone in the olden days, but once we got the cordless phone, she would traverse the whole house while talking with her friends for hours. She often said that was her workout. She was not wrong.
In addition to my mom’s anxiety, I also inherited her pacing. Working from home now, if I don’t have to look at the computer, I would pace around the living room and sometimes up/down the stairs while on a call. I always thought of how my mom used to do it.
But my grief extends beyond that of the loss of my mother. Someone said this before at the beginning of the pandemic that we are all grieving the loss of our “normal life”. I guess that might have been a part of the apocalypse anxiety monster too, and I didn’t quite get around to process it. I also didn’t get to process a lost friendship that happened earlier last year just as the world was going to hell.
And in there somewhere is also the grief of not seeing my best friend Tamara at all this year when she usually comes down from Portland in the spring and I would go up to see her in the fall.
How did I end up processing this fresh wave of grief? It’s started by me bursting into tears when James Taylor’s “Carolina in my mind” came on a few weeks ago.
A song came on my random playlist that has no significance to any of the things I’m grieving for, and I was crying. And then I couldn’t stop. I was just in the shower feeling just fine and then I was crying. A tear-jerking moment of a TV show or a movie I was watching that I usually wouldn’t cry for, and I was crying.
Cathartic, absolutely. And clearly, I didn’t know I needed it, and thusly, it kicked start this post.
Processing It All With Gratitude
When I was done crying, I realized I have just been taking the edges off this whole pandemic emotions, but never quite dealt with it fully. I have been dealing with it incrementally though through all the busy work and whatever little exercise I made myself do.
I have to say one of the little things that helped the most was practicing gratitude. I know people say this to a point of cliche but it really does help to say out loud or write down what you’re grateful for. It helps me focus, remember what is important, and realize how fortunate I am.
When my anxiety was really bad, I would write down 5 things I am grateful for before I went to bed. Some nights if I was startled awake, I’d run that list through my head and gently tap myself over my heart/collarbone, the EFT tapping point that works best for me. (I didn’t even know it but I had been tapping my collarbone when I’m nervous even before I learned about EFT!)
One item of gratitude for that moment. One night of good sleep. One step out of bed. One day at a time.
And here we are. After 10 months of slowly processing my feelings, dealing with anxiety, working through depression, all the trials and errors of finding the best ways to care for myself, it all comes down to the key thing that got me through it all.
For all the big things like our jobs, our health, and our families–blood and chosen. And for all the small things like the super-soft $10 blanket from Target that makes me just giddy when I get in bed every night, the racket made by the birds that have taken residence under our solar panels, and how Brandon would giggle at his own joke sometimes he couldn’t breathe.
So, thank you for being here. I am grateful that you stop by.