By Shaely Ritchey
LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
“If I think about the word ‘pandemic’ too much
I know I won’t make it out of this.
So instead I’m listening
to the rain pound on the roof.
Later, when the sun comes out,
the wooden shingles will be alive with moss.
How wonderful is that?
Yesterday I saw a video of an old Italian man
playing the saxophone on his balcony
as the whole street stopped and listened
and took out their instruments and played along.
Yes, we spend our whole lives being afraid.
And what comes next?
The flowers from my neighbor’s plum tree
have burst into bloom. I think
how strange and beautiful it is
to look outside the window
and hear the birds
First, be gentle with yourself.
In this time of uncertainty and change there is a great deal that is beyond our control. This can be quite distressing for those of us whose mental well-being depends on routine, access to regular support, and the ability to connect with others or nature around us.
For many of us with mental health struggles, we often feel guilty for struggling when there are bigger issues in the world. While COVID-19 is a large-scale trauma that is having a global impact, it does affect each of us and layer challenge on top of challenge for us as individuals. How it impacts us as individuals looks different for each person. What is important to remember is that your experience of hardship is valid even if there are “larger problems in the world.”
Our lives at the moment have become restricted in almost every way, and for good reason as we collectively focus on a common goal - to flatten the curve and protect our most vulnerable. Still, a lot has changed in a short amount of time, so much so that a week ago almost looks like a different world with each new week that passes. This is challenging, and it is okay to grieve for what you have lost (whether that is freedom of movement, connection to others, regular supports, a sense of purpose, access to treatment, or important events in your life, etc.) It is okay to be angry. It is okay to cry. It is okay to take it moment by moment and get through this time however you can.
It may also be a time that old patterns re-emerge and coping mechanisms we are striving to work through may be something we turn to again in this time of stress. This is normal in a trying time even if it is something we must be cautious about. The remedy is not to beat yourself up when you lapse into old patterns, but rather to recognize the purpose they have served in the past, what they are telling you about your needs right now, to reach for self-compassion, and to seek out support where you can (there are lots of online resource available through Looking Glass and other organizations).
While challenging to try and let go of the things we cannot control and turn our attention to the things we can, it is an important practice to take on in the coming weeks. Like any skill, shifting our focus to what we can control, is something that becomes easier with practice and patience.
One way to shift our attention to what is within the realm of our control is to maintain a gratitude practice. Whether daily, weekly, or with whatever regularity supports your well-being, practicing gratitude has been shown to be a powerful skill with many positive mental health benefits.
Practicing gratitude will look different for each of us as we all find what fits our individual needs. For me, practicing gratitude has often taken shape through visual means – I take photos, often of nature. Doing so encourages me to pause, appreciate, and reflect on the beauty in the details around me. It keeps me grounded in the experiences I can take in through my senses and in that way, it serves as a mindfulness practice as well. I keep a gratitude journal in the form of a visual account full of photos and thoughts, but others might find a diary with a few lines of writing more helpful, or just a moment of pause each night before you go to sleep. There is no wrong way to practice gratitude, it is just about finding what is helpful and realistic for you in your life.
Some days it is going to be easier to practice gratitude than others. Some days the idea of gratitude may be frustrating and in those moments, it is okay to just be angry or sad or whatever you need to be. We never owe anyone a positive attitude or a brave face in trying times. It is okay to be with our emotions as they come up through this challenging collective experience. Then there may be other moments where practicing gratitude helps you to stay afloat and the practice itself becomes something you find yourself grateful for.
All that we are facing is difficult, there is no doubt about that. But it is also true that whatever else is going on in the world, there is also the most beautiful kindness and a sense of collective camaraderie. We’re one tribe once more. One heart. One team brought together to support one another through this process. Our collective efforts making a difference towards one common goal. There is something quite beautiful about that and I hope we remember the feeling when this has all passed.
In the meantime, please take care. Seek out joy where you can, stay connected to what nourishes you, and reach out where you need to.
Shaely is a registered nurse with interest in further education in nursing or medicine. She is also a passionate mental health advocate in her community. In her spare time she loves taking photographs, getting outdoors, and petting as many dogs as she can.