BY KIARA LEE-HEART
Let’s face it, the pandemic has unravelled just about any and every social norm there was pre-March 2020. This includes but isn’t limited to attending large gatherings without a care in the world, visiting friends, entertaining overnight guests, traveling and hopping on and off flights, and more. All the things I listed are either non-existent at this point or extremely altered, so much so, that they are virtually unrecognizable from pre-pandemic times.
Our new frontier has brought many folks a deep sense of loneliness. For many of us, we can’t see our friends and family (at least how we want to), we can’t fully celebrate major life events the way we would have wanted to, and circumstances and situations (quarantining, social distancing, etc.) have just made things very unconventional, to put it mildly — all in the name of slowing the spread of and avoiding Covid-19.
I’m going through it right there with you. My entire work life went online in an instant; my students were completely shocked and I had to put in the extra work to help them adjust and succeed, while many of them were battling ill mental health as a result of the pandemic, dealing with Covid-19 illness and deaths and other matters that caused them to feel lonely. When the pandemic started, my husband and I were in the midst of trying to start a family and boom — I was blessed with a bun in the oven. And just recently, I received a very prestigious journalism award (The Green Eye Shade!) for my work with Teaching Tolerance Magazine. Two very big things I have not been able to properly celebrate because of the pandemic. And with some of my own family and associates, there is discord on how to handle social distancing and everything else virus-related. It’s a doozy.
As I’m spending a lot of time by myself these days and as I’m very conscious about staying safe and healthy (especially with one on the way), I’m learning the best ways (for me) to cope with loneliness during the pandemic. What works for you and what works for me surely aren’t the exact same, but perhaps sharing how I cope can help you figure out how you can stay sane.
- I hash out my feelings. For me, this can happen in a few different ways. I love to write and many times, poetry can be my way out of a dark place. So I write and I read what I wrote. Over and over. It’s often my release or my “let me get that off my chest” outlet. Most of the time, even when I write, I talk to someone in my circle, which is comprised of family and close friends. They are the kind of people I can tell my truth to and the kind of people who will listen. I talk about my feelings and they validate them. The recognize that living in a pandemic is odd enough and that working from home while taking on scrupulous measures to stay safe and healthy while pregnant during a pandemic truly takes the cake. But there is a big difference between hashing out my feelings and feeling sorry for myself and I try my best to avoid the latter. My feelings can be messy sometimes, but I let the mess out to deal with. I don’t let it fester in my mind for too long.
- I validate my own feelings. Don’t worry, I’m not back-pedaling on the talking to friends and family piece I mentioned in number 1. What I’m saying is I give myself the space needed to feel lonely, isolated, sad or whatever negative emotion may be taking over me. I’m a worker bee at heart but sometimes, a day that was meant to work on my to-do list turns into a day I meditate and polish my nails. Sometimes, I give myself permission to feel blah, but only for a little while, and then focus on things that make me happy. I recognize that the blah comes and I have to figure out my own best practices to deal with the blah. I realize I can’t healthily go on if I act like the “blah” doesn’t exist.
- I embrace (safely) spending time with people who share similar views on the pandemic. This is an isolating time, but that doesn’t have to mean we can’t spend time with our people at all. I’m one of those people who is trying their best to be cautious and avoid potential virus-spreading situations. As of right now, I wear masks out, I don’t eat in (or outside at) restaurants, all vacation plans have been put on hold for the foreseeable future, and I do not spend time inside anyone’s home, even with a mask on, among other precautions. I have my household and now an unborn child to protect. So at this point, I embrace quality time spent with those who respect my feelings about the virus and my particular situation, being pregnant. I talk to my family on the phone all the time and when we visit in-person, we are outside with masks. My best friend and I have “car dates” where I make us smoothies or fresh fruit juice and we talk and spend (socially distanced) time together from our cars. Before I got pregnant, I did virtual happy hours on Facetime (which are surprisingly fun, I must say). Some people think I’m overreacting during this pandemic, but hey, that’s on them. Those are not really my people, and I’m okay with that. Quite a few of my family members contracted Covid-19 and some have even passed from it, so I already know what this virus is capable of.
- I reflect and count my blessings regularly. I find myself trying to find the bright spots of this crazy pandemic time. I need light in my life now more than ever. So I end up reflecting on all that God has done for me and mine. I was recently gifted a gratitude journal from a close friend of mine (thanks, Tanya!) and that has helped make these blessings even more explicit. Reflecting on my blessings during this particularly challenging time has helped me tremendously on some of my worst days. Reflecting on my blessings on a good day makes that good day even better. I’m thankful for being employed during this time. I’m thankful for good health in my immediate family during this time. I’m thankful for this baby I planned and I prayed for, even though living out this special time amidst a pandemic was certainly not in my plans. When I count my blessings, it really puts my temporary feelings of loneliness and isolation into perspective. Sometimes, I need to be reminded that there is a bigger picture this is all part of.
In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou struck a chord when she said “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Our loneliness, our isolation is our story. We don’t have to shout it from the rooftop if we don’t want to, but we don’t have to leave it trapped inside of us. We don’t have to let it suffocate us.
Let it be. Be lonely. Be angry. Be sad. Be fragile. Be human during this unprecedented time.
Be human and when you’re ready, deal with yourself. You deserve it, pandemic or not.