I have been through a lot prior to this fiasco we call 2020. To say the past few years have been difficult is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. Within a period of a little less than two and a half years my dear friend and business partner was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour and died a year later, I had to relocate my business, my father-in-law had a recurrence of cancer and died after a prolonged period of tremendous difficulty, my father had a stroke and then died two years later, and my daughter was hospitalized in the middle of all that with a potentially life-threatening illness. Sometimes I look back and wonder how I made it through intact. But I did. I survived with no major issues with my physical or mental health.
And now here we are in 2020 and I seem to be falling apart. “What’s wrong with me?” I ask. “I’ve been through much worse so why can’t I handle this?” I wonder. “Why don’t you just suck it up and get on with it?” I berate myself.
When I look back at the events of previous years I see so much more pain there. I lost three very important people in my life in a short time span. The grief was so overwhelming, and yet I didn’t drown. I kept afloat despite one big blow after the other.
And now it’s not so bad right? Being a practical person I go through the checklist. Family healthy? Check. Kids happy? Check. Friends healthy? Check. Bills getting paid and food on the table? Check. Then what the hell is wrong with me? What right do I have to be falling to pieces? And why now?
The thing is, the past events were all finite in nature. Don’t get me wrong. Grief is a living thing with a very long lifespan, but the actual dying of a loved one is stamped in time. Although the pain of grief is severe and acute, there is a sense of moving forward once someone has died and there is no uncertainty in the situation. It’s not like the person is going to suddenly appear and tear open the wound again. They are quite simply gone and we are left to move forward.
While my business had its financial setbacks when my business partner died, and relocating was stressful, I knew exactly what I had to do. I was the one holding the reins and I surrounded myself with the right people to help me get my feet back under me. I knew that if I just persisted with positive action I would succeed. And I have, which is no small feat.
When my daughter became very ill and was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease we had very little control over the situation. All we could do was be grateful that we didn’t miss the window of opportunity for treatment and hope that it would work. Thankfully she improved quickly and a follow-up test three months later assured us that she had not sustained permanent heart damage, but those were a stressful three months.
It seems that the present situation has a lot of similar elements to it. There was the acute shock and grief in March, followed by the push to get through three months of lockdown. Financial challenges have been plentiful and there is a sense of not having control of the situation. So what is it about the present circumstance that is crushing me?
In a word it’s hope.
When my business had to relocate and pivot I had hope that I could still succeed. I had great people around me for support and I knew deep inside that I could do it. When my loved ones died one could argue that it was a hopeless situation, but I don’t look at death like that. The hope I find when someone’s life comes to an end is that they will live on through me. The love and kindness I received from my father, my father-in-law, and my friend Gail have forever changed who I am for the better. My children’s lives have been enriched because of their grandfathers, and knowing unconditional love from them gives me hope that they too can show it to their children someday.
And now? I am struggling to find hope. I see people doing things that are putting others’ lives and livelihoods at risk and no amount of rules and regulations are changing their behaviour. I see our children struggling with their mental health. I see business after business shuttering, and some of those that are still standing have no chance of surviving once winter sets in. I see families forced into isolation spending agonizing days wondering if they are going to fall ill. Personal bankruptcies and divorces are about to soar. I am a shut-in extrovert whose mental health is greatly suffering with no social interaction. And there is no end in sight.
I am trying very hard not to be swallowed by hopelessness, but for the first time in my life I truly understand the meaning of the expression “pit of despair”. That’s exactly how I feel. Like I have fallen into this really deep pit where I am cut off from my friends and extended family, there is no ladder in sight, and I have absolutely no idea of when rescue may come.
Questions assault me from every angle in the pit. Will my family fall ill? Will I be able to keep my business afloat? Will there be another lockdown? When will we have a vaccine? If we do develop a vaccine how many people are going to decide to get it? Will it be enough for herd immunity? How is the economy going to recover from this? Will life ever be normal again?
These questions feel like physical blows sometimes. Mostly I try to avoid thinking about them but it doesn’t take much to trigger the cascade, like the other day when my daughter came home with very red cheeks. I freaked out and ran to get a thermometer. Turns out she just had too many layers of clothing on, but of course my mind had already gone down the rabbit hole of panic.
I sometimes convince myself that I’m on an even keel but then the smallest thing like the doorbell ringing sends my body into a full-on grizzly bear attack reaction. I’m okay. Until I’m not. And it’s in those moments of not-ness that the pit threatens to swallow me. I hang there by my fingernails on the edge, my feet dangling below me with no toe-hold, torn between just letting go and trying to claw my way back up.
So what is holding my fingernails on right now? You. You are. I know that if you have slogged through to this point then you are my tribe. If you have not turned away from my struggles then you are going to form my toe-hold. If you feel empathy reading this then you are my light in the world. I have to admit I’m teetering right now, but I am hanging on thanks to you. The mere act of bearing witness to someone’s pain is a salve.
So I will continue to search for any sliver of hope I can find. I look for hope in the faces I see that are just as tired as mine. I look for hope in my children’s ability to lose themselves in play. I look for hope in nature’s beauty. I look for hope in small acts of kindness. Mostly I look for hope inside this broken little heart because I know it’s still there. It’s just feeling really beaten up right now.