Dear Nashville……we need a hug. A huge, collective, filled with love and grace hug. It has been a couple of really difficult weeks. Just 2 weeks ago, many parts of Nashville experienced devastating damage in a tornado. For days, as a therapist I was processing with many clients their trauma from the tornado and how their life had been impacted by different losses associated with that. Before we got anywhere near being done feeling our feelings about that event, we are now faced with a global pandemic that is making changes to our daily lives at a breakneck pace. I’m not sure about you but I am having tons of feelings about all of the above.
This coronavirus so far has impacted my life personally by canceling my youngest’s spring break plans, bringing my college kid home for an undetermined amount of time, causing me to spend close to $700 in groceries and supplies as I feel the weight of providing food, shelter and medicine for my boys as a single mom, canceled my young son’s entire sports calendar as of now for the spring, threatening my son’s graduation from the Naval Academy that we have waited for excitedly for 5 years, and caused me intense anxiety about my ability to continue paying my bills and supporting my kids being a self employed, small business owner. Wow. As I list all of that I feel a tightening in my chest and tears threaten my eyes with the acknowledged weight of it all.
I have hesitated to begin to write, even though I do feel a call to be addressing issues of mental health, anxiety and self-care in this crucial time. My thought is I am very close to being in the ditch myself emotionally-how in the world can I offer any personal hope, expertise, leadership or stability? But maybe that is when I ought to speak up the most? When I am in a vulnerable place myself instead of waiting until I get it all together?
What I really want to say is…this is hard. This is weighty. This is an unprecedented time in my life. We have never navigated anything like this in my 50 year lifetime. We aren’t supposed to know what to do. Nothing like this has ever happened before. It is ok to have big feelings. It is understandable that we are all feeling a sadness and loss of all the changes we are experiencing at this time. I felt sad today when I was at Costco today and realized you can no longer sit at the picnic tables and eat a hotdog.
As I feel all of these feelings, on the heels of that is guilt and shame. What right do I have to be sad? I am not sick. I am not immune-compromised. I am not elderly. I am still considered “rich” compared to so many in the world. I did have money to stock up on food for my family. I have a warm, cozy, clean, peaceful home to spend more time in at this time. I have NO RIGHT to feel these things. The thing is….I do and you do as well. We can never know how we feel by comparing our situation to others. That is a tool we use to minimize and deny our own feelings. Feelings are not either/or-either grateful or sad. Feelings are both/and. We can be grateful and sad. Grateful for the things we DO have and sad for the things we are losing in this crazy time in our world.
One of the ways I plan to cope with this time and all my feelings is write more often. I want to write about practical suggestions on how to self care and mange anxiety. I want to write about how this season is causing some of us to spend time in a home, marriage or family that is not emotionally or physically safe. I want to write about how some of you are experiencing great loneliness during this time. I want all of us to feel like we have the benefit of a community of folks around us who are saying all at once “it is ok to feel whatever you feel” and “you are not alone in it”. I look forward to walking into this uncertain next few weeks and months with you all as we honor our feelings and look for gifts in this impossibly hard time.
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way at the beginning: holidays are hard for everyone! For complex reasons, they are hard because we live in a broken and messy world. In simpler terms, holidays are difficult because of expectations. Something about ANY special day raises expectations of what we “should” be doing and who we “should” be doing it with. I am not just referring to the biggies of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am also referring to the obscure holidays like Super Bowl, Easter, Valentine’s Day, July 4th, each of our birthdays, etc. You know we are an athletic family if the Super Bowl is considered a national holiday. In fact, this last Super Bowl Sunday began with Jack (my 7 year old) and me in tears on our sofa because our plans fell through. To add an additional layer, when we are single, divorced, widowed or in an empty, lonely marriage; holidays can feel excruciating. It is like a day designed to turn a magnifying glass on every corner of our life that feels like something is missing.
With Easter being this weekend, I am acutely aware of my feelings around holidays. This is not my weekend to have my youngest son-he will be with his dad. My oldest is at college for the first time on Easter. I feel sad about all of this. No one to cook Easter dinner for, not sure what church to attend (church home has been a bit up in the air since my divorce), no reason to stage a visit from the Easter bunny for Jack, not sure who to spend the holiday with, and at this point not sure I want to get out of bed. Maybe I am acting dramatic (I do have some decent skills in that arena) or maybe I am the only person who feels this way. I realize I am a grown woman and I have a rich, sweet, full life with great friends. But Facebook and TV tells me this is a day to be with your husband and your 3 perfect children and dress in your finest and go to church blissful and happy. Only to return home and have your entire extended family over, who you get along with perfectly, for whom you have prepared a gourmet meal, and have nothing but fun, laughter and sweet memories. Let me say that even married, even in my sweetest season of life, I have never had a holiday unfold just that way. Ever.
There also seems to be certain ‘triggers’ that can occur around holidays. If we grew up in a home with any dysfunction at all, (which ought to cover all of us) the holidays were a time when all of that dysfunction was on display. If there was alcohol use, then we all drink more at the holidays. If there was rage, anger or verbal abuse, there is more stress and thus more abuse at the holidays. One of my biggest trigger holidays is Memorial Day. I spent many years attempting to figure out why that particular holiday causes such an instinctive, emotional low for me. I drive home from work on that Friday every year feeling such intense feelings of loneliness and being ‘left out’ that the emotions threaten to choke me. What I believe to be true is that my home during my school years was the least safe place, emotionally and physically for me to be. School was a place where I felt safe, known, loved and successful. School usually gets out for the summer at the end of May. So my body has a stored response of what I believe I felt when I knew I was going ‘home’ for the summer to be with my family; sad, lonely, scared and hurt. That still happens for me today.
So what do we do? It is certainly an option to stay in bed and wish for the day to hurry by. I have no judgement for that response. But I want to find additional options to honor holidays, both for myself and my children in a way that cares for myself and others. Well, one thing I do is attempt to be intentional. I reach out to my ‘safe’ people and let them know I am struggling and ask for help. I reach out and try to plan something that feels good to me for that day. That may be staying in my PJ’s all day or that may mean getting out and being with others. I have found it is also helpful to temper my social media usage on those days. It is a known fact that if you get on social media, you are going to get the best scenarios in everyone else’s life. Those may be authentic or not; nevertheless it is not helpful to expose ourselves to this idea that everyone BUT us is having a peaceful, content, fun-filled holiday with their loved ones. As simple as it sounds, I have also found a lot of freedom in accepting that it is OK and normal for holidays to hold sadness and loneliness. I now let myself feel my feelings about that. I welcome the feelings instead of attempting to run from them, ignore them, or numb them (except for Christmas when I drink my face off). I also work to quiet my shame that tells me things like “you have plenty to be thankful for,” or “get yourself together,” or “you should be stronger or in a better place than this”.
Lastly, during major and minor holidays may we ALL live a life of inclusiveness and LOVE. For example, my brother John can find any stray in this city-he has a gift! Many Thanksgivings ago he started inviting all the strays to my house for our family Thanksgiving. Initially I was frustrated. I love to be in control. I have a lovely home and I like having things “just so” when I entertain. His laid back nature, the more the merrier attitude, and inviting people up to the last minute did NOT work for me. I mean, how could I set the tables? How many places should I set? What if I had the table set and he called and said two more were coming? What if they were annoying? Or worse, not safe people? I had kids didn’t I? I feel a lot of shame that is, at times, the spirit of my heart. But let me tell you my perspective from years of having strangers at my table. It changed me for good! I still keep in touch with many of them. I am richer from having met each and every person who sat at one of my tables for a holiday. My kids are better people for it as well. Let us be intentional about finding the lonely and hurting people in our community and welcoming them to our tables, especially on days that may be difficult to some. Sometimes they are weird people from another country and sometimes they are me and my 7 year old. I want to love people more than I love a decorated table perfectly set for Thanksgiving dinner. Loving well always means getting messy. May we be mindful of those around us who have had a devastating life change at the holidays-every year because it doesn’t always get better with time- and welcoming them to be with our imperfect family. I want to be open to letting my holidays be filled with authenticity and whatever emotions or changes may come my way.
So who is having me over for Easter? I will be in my pajamas.